White lies

Shane Warne was late to the slagheap of opinion offered on Adam Goodes, but his argument was emblematic of much commentary: We should not be talking about this, and whatever it is, it is certainly not racism.

“This whole Adam Goodes drama is ridiculous,” Warne wrote on Thursday. “The public can boo or chant whoever’s name they want! It’s nothing to do with being racist.”

The other argument, made by helpful white commentators, is that Goodes brought the treatment by fans on himself. Alan Jones is a particular exponent of this theory: that Goodes is being punished for complaining that a small girl called him an ape. This, of course, has nothing to do with racism.

“They just don’t like the fellow,” Jones said this week. “And Adam Goodes can fix all this by changing his behaviour. But what’s he say today? ‘Oh, I’m going to leave. I may have to resign. I can’t hack it.’

“Ask the little 13-year-old girl how she handled that. She was paraded over the national media as a person who really had to apologise.

“She wrote a letter and apologised. I mean, the poor little thing, 13 years of age, disabled mother. I mean, give me a break.

“The bloke’s a rich Australian athlete. He humiliated a 13-year-old girl who didn’t even know what she was saying, and the public haven’t forgotten it. Someone’s got to ask the question: Why are they booing Adam Goodes and not the other 70 Indigenous AFL players? Adam Goodes can fix this by changing his behaviour. He again today plays the victim.”

There is another view, however, put eloquently in The Guardian by Stan Grant: “I can tell you what Adam must be feeling, because I’ve felt it. Because every Indigenous person I know has felt it... This is how Australia makes us feel. Estranged in the land of our ancestors, marooned by the tides of history on the fringes of one of the richest and demonstrably most peaceful, secure and cohesive nations on earth.”

The truth Grant speaks is a difficult one, written with pain and hard-lived reality. It is the same truth that booed Goodes from the field for the simple fact of the skin in which he was born, for being proud when he is meant to be grateful. It is a truth not enough spoken and it is part of a conversation that, if any good comes from this week, Australia might now have.

Adam Goodes has been trying to have this conversation since he was named Australian of the Year, and bravely responded by acknowledging the sorrow of dispossession. He has been trying to have this conversation since two years ago he refused to be called an ape. He has been trying to have this conversation since in celebrating a goal this season he raised his arm and celebrated his people.

The reason commentators do not want to have this conversation is because it is about more than football. It is about sadness and disadvantage and loss and mistreatment. It is much easier to simply not like Goodes, to call him a bad sport or a victim. But white men should not decide what is racism. White men should not decide what hurts. White men should not decide, after 200 years of oppression, what is painful and what is not.

The little girl who Jones mentioned, who called Goodes an ape, wrote a letter after the incident. It was brief, but it said more and made more sense and served a greater purpose than did all the ink that would tell you Goodes is the problem.

“Dear Adam. It was good to talk to you on the phone. I’m sorry for being racist. I didn’t mean any harm and now I’ll think twice before I speak.’’

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 1, 2015 as "White lies".

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