Racism in Australia – it needs to be acknowledged, not denied

Let’s talk about racism in Australia. Racism, simply put, is where an historically oppressed group (or individual from such a group) is treated differently on the basis of their race. (I don’t really have the space here to explain why ‘reverse racism’ doesn’t exist – for a humorous explanation take a look at Aamer Rahman’s stand-up piece on the topic.)

Hanging in our office; Aboriginal artwork and a signed Adam Goodes jersey

Hanging in our office; Aboriginal artwork and a signed Adam Goodes jersey

Applying this very basic definition of racism, it becomes easy to pick out instances of race discrimination in Australia. At the group level, racism is apparent in the fact that Aboriginal people are incarcerated at 13 times the rate of non-Indigenous people. As Tim Dick points out in the Sydney Morning Herald, this means that “at any one time, over 2 per cent of the Indigenous population is locked up.” The fact that this one group is so disproportionately affected by incarceration indicates a systemic problem with race.

At the individual level, an obvious example of racism is the bashing of Nassir Bare by police. During the assault, it is alleged that one of the police said: “You black people think you can come to this country and steal cars. We give you a second chance and you come and steal cars.”

A less obvious example of racism is the booing of Adam Goodes every time he touches the ball in a game (which, appallingly, was going on for almost two years). This example is less obvious because, as certain media commentators have pointed out, Goodes is the only one of 71 Aboriginal professional AFL players to be consistently booed. Said media commentators claim that this is proof positive that Goodes is not targeted solely because of the colour of his skin. They are partially correct – Goodes is not being booed primarily on the basis of his Aboriginality, but rather because he called out a 13-year-old spectator for a racist remark (a move which some people thought was unfair). However, the booing of Goodes is nonetheless racist behaviour. If a person from an historically oppressed minority takes a stand against racism, and is subsequently discriminated against because they took a stand, that simply means that they are twice a victim of racism.

From these three examples, it is clear that racism is alive here in Australia. But if racism is so obviously wrong, why does it still exist?

The problem begins and ends with a dogmatic denial that racist behaviour is actually racist. It is this kind of evasiveness that is apparent in extremely thin post-hoc excuses to explain away racist behaviour; excuses such as “He was beaten up because he was antagonising police” or “We boo Goodes because he stages for free kicks”. Paul Sheehan’s recent comment piece argues against bringing “blanket accusations of racism” into the debate – however, if racism is what is occurring, it needs to be called out for what it is. A self-insulating knee-jerk denial that racism exists in Australia prematurely precludes the nation from examining its own conduct. There is no way that racism in Australia (in any its forms, on a group scale or at an individual level) will be confronted unless it is first acknowledged.

This is not a particularly light topic, so for a bit of comic relief read The Shovels article: “We’re Not Racist” Say Fans Who Only Boo Black Player.