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The depressing message from the boo saga

Image © 2015 AAP/Tony McDonough

By Project writer Toby Halligan

Virtually everything about the Goodes booing saga has been profoundly depressing.

Even if we put the question of whether the booing is ‘racist’ aside for a moment, it’s saddening to realise that there are so many Australians who regard their right to boo as more important than avoiding the en-masse vilification of one of football’s most celebrated players.

It’s even more saddening, though, to realise that a substantial portion of our community is entirely unwilling to listen to indigenous Australians speaking honestly about their real experiences.

So far a range of prominent indigenous figures, football commentators, the NSW, SA, WA and Victorian Premiers, the Prime Minister, the Opposition Leader, every captain and most of the coaches in the AFL, James Packer, Hugh Jackman, the CEO of the AFL, and more have emerged to condemn the booing.

But despite all those figures above condemning the booing, here’s a tweet from 3AW

#INSTANTPOLL: We asked if Adam Goodes deserves to be booed, 80% of respondents said he sure does.
— 3AW Breakfast (@RossAndJohn) July 26, 2015

And in a Wednesday poll on the Herald Sun, of 60,000 people, again 80 percent said the booing was not racially motivated. 

Admittedly these polls are unscientific but to anyone who’s spent any time on social media in the last week, they’re not that surprising. What makes this so depressing is how many people, when confronted with the calls from other indigenous players, the AFL and all the figures mentioned above, are inclined to disbelieve Indigenous Australians accounts of their lived experience.

On the other side there’s been a range of ex-players and media figures who either defend the booing as part of the game, deny that it’s racist, or blame Goodes for it.

Much of this debate around boogate has been intentionally inflammatory and, at times, intentionally misleading. If you haven’t read enough arguments about arguments, Sean Kelly’s piece at the Monthly is a good summary of how these break down.

There’s been a lot of other stuff written but there’s a couple of pieces in particular that are worth reading. If you find Indigenous dance so confronting, ponder this, how is it that New Zealanders have been able to come together to celebrate the Haka for years? The Conversation had a good piece on it

It’s worth noting that the particular accusations that Goodes is responsible for all that happened to the 13 year old who racially abused him in 2013 has been, disgracefully, misrepresented. There’s a good piece in the Australian recounting what actually happened here

For one of the best perspectives on the entire saga, and a rare indigenous perspective on it, read Stan Grant’s piece on the Guardian. In it he says:

“To Adam’s ears, the ears of so many Indigenous people, these boos are a howl of humiliation. A howl that echoes across two centuries of invasion, dispossession and suffering. Others can parse their words and look for other explanations, but we see race and only race. How can we see anything else when race is what we have clung to even as it has been used as a reason to reject us.”

So when it comes down to it, what is booing? It’s the public, verbal, shaming of another person. In football it’s overused, partly because the size of the arena means that it’s rare that a player will be directly impacted (having done stand up for 10 years I can tell you that, even during terrible shows, people almost never boo when their target is a few feet away from them). Partly it’s an ingrained aspect of footy culture. Go to the game, cut a bit loose, have a few beers, shout some abuse at your opponents, go home.

So what’s actually being asked of people? People, who attend a specific football game are being asked to restrain from publicly shaming a widely respected member of the game. What kind of imposition is that? Whether, in your heart of hearts, you accept Goodes objections, whether you like him as a person, shouldn’t that be enough? Where’s the empathy in this entire debate?

Because underlying all of it is the fact that this issue requires sacrifices from virtually no-one, except Goodes.

The challenges facing Indigenous Australians are intimidating, and resolving those issues will require substantial effort and cooperation from the entire community. From Indigenous incarceration (Aborigines make up 3% of the population and 28% of the prison populationsource), to the life expectancy gap (in 2009 Indigenous men died 11.5 years before their non-indigenous peers. For indigenous women the gap is 9.7 years), from rates of domestic violence and addiction, to the disgraceful state of Indigenous health.

Even starting to deal with those problems will require a concerted effort from the whole community, substantial resources, and, at the very least, a recognition that racism plays a role in propagating many of those problems.

If any part of this means non-indigenous Australian’s have to give up something – economically, socially or culturally – no matter how small; you can bet that’s going to be a bigger and harder thing to sacrifice than the right to boo.

Yet, even while virtually every credible voice in the AFL condemns the booing, so many Australians either don’t believe it’s racist, or think it should continue.

If we can’t even come together to recognise that Goodes, an ex-Australian of the year, and two time Brownlow medallist, deserved to be cheered and not booed, the people who really deserved to be shamed are all of us.