The jeering was loud. Almost deafening in its unison - as hundreds of voices simultaneously uttered a long, slow “Boooooo” at the defiant man who stood before them from his position of power and privilege. The crowd refused to be silenced, their eyes fixed on him in an angry glare that reinforced the hatred coming from their mouths, the mocking tone of their cries reaching a crescendo that seemed to confuse their target, before his trusted advisor could intervene.
“They’re not saying ‘Boo’, they’re saying “Boo-urns”.
Just as Wayland Smithers protected Montgomery Burns in The Simpsons, sections of our media, together with the hierarchy of the unnecessary at the AFL, are now lying to protect Adam Goodes in much the same way. “They’re not booing you Adam, they’re just displaying their deep seated racism the only way they can”, or in Smithers-speak, “They’re not saying Boo, they’re saying “Boo-oong!”
Of course, we have the regular roster of apologists come out, shaming the country and our society for cutting down a sports star who happens to have Aboriginal blood as part of his racial make-up. The caring, informed and sensitive city dwellers who, despite their alabaster skin tone and lack of racial diversity, can not only see, smell and hear racism, but tragically, are so deeply affected by it that they feel they must differentiate themselves from the white person next to them by pointing at them and screaming racist long enough and loud enough that somehow, somewhere in the midst of all their righteous shouting, their own skin tone will be forgotten or ignored.
One thing I’ve come to understand about our society is that often, those who see themselves as the most tolerant, educated and enlightened are usually most racist, close-minded of all. These types were the first to pick up their keyboard or a microphone and declare that speaking negatively about the so-called ‘war dance’ effort from Adam Goodes over the weekend means that we are culturally ignorant, yet in making such a claim, have themselves ignored an entire segment of the Aboriginal community, who are appalled at the ‘performance’. In wanting us to be a homogenous community capable of only thinking and feeling one way, therefore enabling them to have the correct information and be ‘right’, they are guilty of the same crime they are continually accusing an entire nation of – RACISM.
The fact is, some Aboriginal people, myself included, saw that embarrassing display and did not feel pride. Instead, we felt shame, and a sense of sadness and loss. Some of this stems from seeing yet more of our traditions mocked and traded upon, invented and earning overnight acclaim, for little more than cheap thrills while the long standing traditions are ignored, left to die quietly and uncelebrated until they are forgotten and lost forever. Some of this comes from the fact we're tired of the theatrics, and how his need for attention will play out for the rest of us, and creep a little into our own lives. For an urban blackfella like me, I hate the fact that all of a sudden my opinion is relevant. I haven’t written a blog post in almost a year, or bothered to watch free to air television in even longer, yet received two messages on my phone today – one from SBS and the other from 2GB, wanting to know what I think about the whole Goodes drama and depending on what I think, whether they want to hear from me. They aren’t the only ones. Friends, acquaintances and even the random guy standing next to me in line at the supermarket suddenly wants to hear what I have to say, but only on this one topic, just for now. The easiest way to get rid of them is to gauge their personal feelings, then just agree with them. If someone is genuinely looking for a discussion, they are easy to tell, but most people just want me to be the token black who validates their own feelings on the matter.
Views like mine, that are contrary to the representations being made by the rabid, name-calling media, are ignored or rejected by all those who simply want to brand every incident or comment with an ‘ism’, because the object of their outrage is never to stimulate an educated debate or a discussion, but rather they wish to simply stand on their given podium and recite their narcissistic lecture, a pointless exercise for them to reinforce their followers that they alone are a bastion of cultural relevance, understanding and compassion. Sadly, theses ‘enlightened’ folks also tend to take their cues on history from the most removed people of a culture, merely because they tend to occupy the cubicle or apartment next to them, or speak with the most authoritarian voice or sense of victimhood – a sure sign that they must know what they are on about, according to our current high standards of journalism in this country – instead of seeking the truth and looking for those with knowledge that comes from a life of lived tradition, rather than being well removed from it.
I used to dance as a kid. Most of the kids who grew up in our house did it, but I have no intention of my own children doing the same. My reluctance has nothing to do with them being of mixed heritage though, and everything to do with cultural appropriation. I said I used to ‘dance’ as a kid, because that is really all it was. I was dressed in a lap-lap and painted up, was taught the moves the rest of the kids were doing, but it was all just a show. The dances were not ones passed on to us from our Elders, performed for a specific reason or during a time of unique and special celebration that led me to understand my culture in a meaningful way, but rather a collection of dance moves put together by a choreographer who may or may not have had a distant Aboriginal ancestor she found out about in her mid-thirties. A few documentaries and books from the library later, she had all the cultural awareness she felt she needed, and as a bunch of children not yet trusted with much knowledge, we didn’t know any better. We danced for smiling crowds of educated, enlightened people who clapped politely while murmuring “Oh, how cultural”, as they watched us enraptured. I would smile back at them and dance harder, oblivious to what I was doing and simply happy to receive positive praise and attention from a crowd of people I didn’t even know. But I was no better than a performing monkey to them, and for all their education and compassion, those crowds were the most racist people of all. Their wisdom and understanding of Aboriginal people and culture was a passing fetish, and in an effort to appease them, I was walking all over my own culture for their amusement, all of us completely ignorant to this heartbreaking fact.
After becoming a man, I learned better. I learned that our chants, and our dances are sacred. They are powerful and special secrets, not entertainment for the masses or political statements designed to make sure you get yet another mention in the nightly news. I also took it to heart that the title of ‘Warrior’ is like respect. It is always earned, not merely given because of the colour of your skin or your heritage. I am proud to say that some of my own ancestors include great Warriors - men who fought and died to protect their families and their way of life, and faced enormous battles that I could never fully comprehend from where I sit today, in a relative position of privilege by comparison, however you look at the statistics and facts. It would make a mockery of the suffering and heroism of my ancestors to assign a title of great reverence and historical significance, such as ‘Warrior’, to a person whose fame and heroism is derived from little more than the ability to show up a few weekends a year and kick a leather ball around an overly groomed piece of paddock.
As Adam walks out for his next game, before making his way onto that perfectly manicured stadium lawn, I suggest he take a deep, slow breath and reflect upon the reality of his life. Rather than having to emerge from the sheds for the ‘coloured people’, kept separate from the white folks playing beside him, he will run out after being supported by his entire team, not kept to the back. When he is thirsty, he doesn’t have to take a drink at the appropriately labelled drinking fountain, set aside for only folks with his racial identity, but rather will be served like a prince, with a special servant whose only job is to provide refreshments for the thirsty players, regardless of their skin colour or heritage. As he drives his brand new sports car to training, where he looks around at the other players arriving in their equally expensive vehicles and stops to realise he is paid just as much as them, if not more, he should perhaps pause a moment and wonder about whether he is fighting a war that has already been won, and instead of complaining from his position at the top, realise how those on the bottom rungs might be sick of hearing him whinging and would much rather he just got on with life.