Aamer Rahman On What Adam Goodes' Invisible Spear Shows Us

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Four days in, and #InvisibleSpearGate is still going strong. Last Friday, Carlton fans consistently abused and heckled Adam Goodes at a match at the SCG. After kicking a goal, he ran towards them and, for a few seconds, celebrated with a ‘war-cry’ dance – complete with the throwing of an invisible spear – as a tribute, he explained, to the young men of the Under 16 Flying Boomerangs who taught it to him.

But the post-match explanation came too late and, in any case, was irrelevant. White people were very scared and very, very upset.

What has followed in the last few days has ranged from racists vandalising Goodes’ Wikipedia page with pictures of monkeys, to dissections across major media outlets as to whether his celebration – during the Indigenous Round no less – was ‘appropriate’ or not.

The saddest and most predictable responses came from within football; the good old boys of the AFL were not impressed. Thankfully, they were all available to make excuses for the crowd, explain why Goodes’ actions were wrong, as well as to offer some high quality, passive-aggressive White Man advice on how to properly fight racism.

Dermott Brereton, who has openly admitted to systematically using racial slurs against Black players, was quick to defend the crowd. Surely the people booing Goodes "…couldn’t all be racist? He might not be liked by that many people.”

Brereton also offered some deep cultural insights: “To actually run at somebody in a war dance… it actually signifies ‘I want to be violent against you,’" he said, with all the conviction and authority of someone who may have read a book about a thing once. "I didn't like it. No good could come from it."

Nothing, I guess, other than Adam Goodes being able to display pride in his culture at the highest level of his profession. Or the young kids who taught him the dance feeling a sense of affirmation at seeing their mentor and hero represent them on a national platform. Or a bunch of jeering racists being put in their place by the excellence and skill of the man they were trying to cut down.

"I am all for Adam Goodes being Australian of the Year,” Brereton said generously, “…every Australian of the Year has the absolute right… to push his cause, but you don't do it in this manner.”

Which, with subtitles reads: “Look, it’s ok for Adam Goodes to be Black, but not in a way that makes me have to think about being white, ok?”

During the Channel 7 broadcast, Denis Cometti thought it was, "probably best not to do it… won't stop the booing though, will it?" Apparently, the best way to stand up to racism is to shut up and not stand up to racism.

Because colonialism is a perpetual exercise in blaming the victim, Eddie McGuire’s comments also came as no surprise.

“We’ve never seen that before and I don’t think we ever want to see it again to be perfectly honest, regardless of what it is,” he scolded.

McGuire, who had previously compared Goodes to King Kong soon after an incident where Goodes was called an ape by a Collingwood supporter, is uniquely placed to provide cutting edge commentary on race relations in Australia.

The ‘disappointment,’ he explained later, was that police and security had to be called in to deal with the crowd ‘as a result’ of what Goodes did.

Apparently it’s not particularly disappointing that, in 2015, the AFL still has a culture that allows entire sections of a crowd to target a player based on race.

Later, on morning television, McGuire tried to insist that Goodes should have ‘warned’ people about what he was going to do. “It’s a made up dance!” he protested, as if it had zero cultural importance.

Yes, Eddie. It’s a ‘made-up’ dance. People create culture all the time. Incidentally, I have also seen white people invent dances, but none of those should ever be repeated, ever.

McGuire and his colleagues' focus on Goodes is classic sleight-of-hand: by concentrating on Goodes we can avoid a real discussion about pervasive racism in the AFL, and Australia. For a country that hates to admit that it’s racist, admitting that the culture of its national sport is infected with the same disease is equally painful.

Everyone remembers Sam Newman mocking Nicky Winmar in blackface on the Footy Show in 1999. It was surely one of the worst moments in a show that has regularly delivered a cheerful, Logie award-winning stream of racist, misogynist and homophobic content to an adoring fan base for over 20 years.

But people forget that it was McGuire who set up the joke – announcing that Winmar ‘could not be on the program’ before the camera quickly cut to a smirking Newman with shoe polish all over his face.

I suppose the only thing more pathetic than a bully is a bully’s cowardly sidekick. Eddie laughed, the panel laughed, and everyone else was told to love it or leave.

I have no doubt that Winmar’s reputation was subject to this form of public lynching precisely because he had made a historic stand against racism. This was the old boys' network’s way of declaring that they could still say and do what they wanted, in public and on national television.

It’s over 20 years since Winmar’s defiant stand, and exactly 20 since Michael Long historically demanded that the AFL change its approach to tackling racism. So how much has changed?

Andrew Bolt asked whether Adam Goodes was challenging White Australia to a ‘race war.’ Because Andrew is not keen on facts or history, he doesn’t know that when it comes to race wars, white people need no invitation – it’s something of a specialty.

The level of delusion it takes to elevate Goodes’ invisible spear to an act of violence is the same level of delusion required to ignore centuries of actual violence on this continent; genocidal massacres, rapes, kidnappings and systemic apartheid.

This level of delusion is, unfortunately, the national status quo.

While Goodes’ single victory dance mutates into some bizarre moral panic about the threat of symbolic assaults with non-existent weapons, there is no such panic or outrage over shortened Aboriginal life expectancies, third world living conditions, incarceration rates or deaths in custody.

And why should there be? The Australian public’s attitudes towards Aboriginal people has been carefully engineered by generations of propaganda by both major parties.

The Abbott government’s most recent line – that Aboriginal culture is merely an outdated ‘lifestyle choice’ – is barely disguised code for the idea that Aboriginal culture is not something to even be tolerated, but to be done away with and exterminated altogether (Jenny Macklin, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs under Rudd, made almost identical comments when rolling out the Northern Territory ‘Intervention’ – that remote communities were simply ‘not viable’).

 

 

Almost 30 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, Aboriginal people in Australia remain the most incarcerated population on the planet. The last death was only a few weeks ago – a man who was arrested under the Northern Territory’s new ‘paperless’ arrest laws which give police the unprecedented right to incarcerate people on the spot without appeal or review.

Adam Goodes’ invisible spear tore through the thin myth that sport in this country is some magical uniting force. It exposed, instead, the glaring truth at the core of Australian culture – that a handful of outsiders can come to the party as long as they shut up and entertain; dissent is simply not tolerated.

In an instant, Goodes exposed a colonial psyche so fragile that all it took was a few seconds of Black pride to send it into total meltdown.

White Australia has long told its minorities to ‘harden up.’ It’s time to take your own advice – nobody likes a whinger.

* Aamer Rahman is a writer and standup comic in Melbourne. You can follow the great man here on Twitter.

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