“I’m not a racist, but…”
Those five simple words sum up why those claiming the AFL – and by extension, football fans – have struck a fatal blow against the scourge of racism are naïve, or at the very least overly optimistic.
The signs of respect shown to Adam Goodes across the weekend were a much-need tonic after a week littered with sickening commentary surrounding the champion player, as well as the broader issue of what is considered racist and who makes that decision.
However, let’s not trick ourselves into viewing them as some sort of new touchstone for society’s approach to race.
One fact reaffirmed by the past week is that the heinousness of racism so unquestioned, even those with it in their heart or mind swear off it. In a number of recent incidents, people were simultaneously being racist and saying racism is bad.
Unlike any of our other ‘isms’, there is comparatively little pushback as to whether it is actually a bad thing that should be stamped out. The almost universal bias against racial biases is a rare phenomenon amid of sea of other bigotries proudly paraded by people from all walks of life.
Which brings us back to the events of the weekend.
Due to the continuing – and disappointing – controversy surrounding the racial abuse directed at Goodes, the proverbial eyes of the nation were on our Indigenous code and those who worship at its altar.
People from all sides of the argument knew the searing-hot glare of a public with an insatiable desire to shame and judge was fixed on football grounds across the country. In such an environment, speaking out against something almost unanimously deemed one of society’s gravest ills is easy.
For the almost 40,000 fans who packed into the SCG on Saturday, many of whom walked to their seats after passing a litany of television cameras and photographers outside Sydney’s old stadium, the only acceptable option was to decry discrimination.
To be clear, the overwhelming show of support was tremendous, albeit somewhat artificial. An army of lurkers, shielded from the deserved shame their statements would bring if they were uttered in an office or public place, were unwilling to acknowledge the presence of racism in this torrid saga, let alone confront it.
That same group has hurled every possible explanation into the debate, in a disgusting attempt to ignore our country’s seeping racial wound.
In a Daily Mail Australia poll, 78 per cent said booing the Brownlow Medallist is not racist. Similar polls on News Corp’s tabloid websites yielded comparable figures.
Ignoring this overwhelming ignorance spouted by people from myriad scenarios and circumstance would be as devastating as those same racially-blind among us ignoring the black and white facts in front of them.
The urge to deem the fight against racism a fait accompli on the back of the weekend’s displays must be resisted.
Admitting we are a racist society is an incredibly uncomfortable thing to do – which says nothing to how debilitating it must be for those Australians who are forced to face such prejudice on a daily basis.
No one wants to admit they are racist, and anyone tarred with that brush will fight with almost unmatched vigour to deny accusations directed at them. As a result, when we do accept it is there, even those willing to admit to its presence are often quick in their attempts to decree it defeated. Understandable, as doing so is without doubt the easiest course of action on offer.
But this isn’t something that will be cured by taking the easy way out. Make no mistake; racism isn’t over on account of a small group of football players speaking out against it when everyone is watching.
The real test of racism is how we act when we think no one can see. When those glaring eyes that drag us all into societally acceptable line are elsewhere.
This weekend proved we are more than capable of being on our best behaviour when we have to be. Last week also demonstrated how our standards devolve into close-mindedness when our doors and curtains are closed.
Collectively, we need to stop congratulating ourselves and admit this is a small step in a long journey. One that won’t be complete until our actions in private mirror those we present to the public.