A great fortnight for people who aren’t racist

29 05 2013

Disclaimer: I am a privileged white female who loves football, football and cycling.

Last week, Captain Kangaroo – the late, great Johnny Warren – would have turned 70. I couldn’t help of thinking, ‘WWJD’ if he’d heard GWS Giants coach Kevin Sheedy’s comments about immigration officers recruiting fans for his cross-code football rivals, Western Sydney Wanderers.

The paltry crowd that gathered at Skoda Stadium to witness the Mother’s Day clash between Essendon and the Giants may frustrate Sheedy. My feelpinion is he’s embarrassed. A man used to being feted or hated for his every utterance in Melbourne has come to Sydney to start a new club and no one really cares what he says, unless he’s starting faux hostilities with the Swans or needling Melbourne clubs.

It was never going to be an easy task – something the Sydney Swans’ retiring President, Richard Colless, had warned Sheedy. For every Johnny Come Lately AFL convert like me, the Swans have, at its core, a group of supporters who have stuck with the club through the razzle-dazzle of the Edelsten days and been there financially when the club almost folded. The Swans also had the head start of being a relocated Melbourne club with a rich history it refers to at every opportunity; but enough about my team.

What I found jarring was the number of people who came out to support Sheedy. He’s not a racist. He’s done more for multiculturalism than anyone else. He’s not a racist. He said the wrong thing but people who are objecting are really blowing it out of proportion. Yep, Sheedy said the wrong thing. On the scale of wrong things, it was a lazy throwback to the ‘sheilas, wogs and poofters’ view of football (at least):

“That’s what happens when you channel a lot of people into a country and put them into Western Sydney.”

Seriously? This from a fella who thought he could drag in the leaguies by recruiting Israel Folau? When that didn’t work (embarrassingly), turns his attention from competing with rugby league as the game of the Western Suburbs to whining about the success of the Wanderers in building a club – yep, pretty much overnight. I don’t think anyone could have predicted just how big an impact Wanderers would make on the A-League. I have a hometown bias towards the Newcastle Jets. Having paid to see A-League games in Sydney, I don’t go anymore. The reason? The worst racism from a crowd I’ve ever witnessed from the cheap seats in any sport. I’ve heard Australian cricket fans call the greatest player I’ve ever had the privilege of watching an, ‘Indian takeaway delivery boy’ – much to the mirth of an Australian player fielding on the boundary. I stood up, full of drink, and abused them in some florid and foul language. I think I got more daggers from the Indian fans around me for swearing in front of their children.

Back to the A-League, and why I won’t go again. A Brisbane Roar player, Kosovar-Albanian international Besart (Mark) Berisha, was taunted (if that’s what you can call, ‘die in a gas chamber, Gypsy’) by a group of low-life Sydney FC ‘supporters’ whose pea-brains use the worst excesses of 1970s terrace action as their template. Oh, the irony of their club’s owner being a Jew who escaped the Holocaust. This time, I said nothing. I’m ashamed to say I was scared of them. A few weeks ago, I had it ‘splained to me that I didn’t understand Berisha’s ‘history’ with Sydney FC. Whatever. I was intimidated, and saddened by what I heard. I’m ashamed that I didn’t say anything, more ashamed that I stayed.

A few weeks ago, I tweeted this. The source was at the game and saw the incident first-hand. I had no reason to doubt his word. An AFL journalist retweeted me, and I am proud to say that the response was 95 per cent positive. Unfortunately and infuriatingly, I was accused of making things up. Interestingly, few of the people having a pop at me went for the person who said he saw the incident. Nothing came of it, unlike previous (and jaw-droppingly) continuing reports of racist abuse targeting North Melbourne’s Majak Daw. UPDATE: while Goodes may not have heard it, but as per the original tweets, it appears Swans staff did & the club reported it to the AFL. We await its response … or not.

The most infuriating thing is being seen as biased or overreacting if you object to racism. I’m biased because Goodes is ‘a protected species’. Well, that explains this, I guess. It is as ugly as the day when St Kilda’s Nicky Winmar pulled up his guernsey in front of a section of Collingwood supporters, defying their idiocy in a gesture which screamed, ‘yes, I am proud of the heart beating under my skin – and yet all you see is the colour of my skin.’ Fast forward to last Friday. Watching the Swans-Collingwood game on TV & live tweeting it, it was very evident late in the game that someone had said something that made Adam Goodes stop in his tracks. He didn’t ignore it. He stood tall, he stood proud, and he pointed out his abuser. That she was a 13 year-old girl makes the point that ‘casual racism’ breeds ‘overt racism’. This tweet sums it up for me.

Today, Adam Goodes woke up to the news that Collingwood President, Eddie McGuire, had tried to riff off last Friday’s incident in his morning radio show. Not funny, Ed. Not even remotely amusing. Harking back to ‘ye olde days’ when talking about King Kong subtly perpetuates the worst of the eugenics argument: that black people are somehow less evolved. As Richard Colless said today, the best thing that can be said is the whole thing is ‘bewildering’, particularly as McGuire had been widely praised for his fast and emphatic response on Friday night. The AFL is ‘dealing with McGuire under its racial vilification policy. Goodes’ message on Saturday – that the 13 year-old needed education, support and to take responsibility for her actions – was the mark of the man. Eddie McGuire would have been well served to take notes before his press conference.

I’m a privileged white woman. I don’t know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of racism, ‘casual’ or not. I’m over the ‘casual racism’ tag. It’s starting to sound like a cheap way out of for people who don’t think what they say or do is racist. Like Eddie McGuire or Kevin Sheedy. Is this racist if it’s preceded by this? Nah, totes casual. I saw this and felt uncomfortable, but I said nothing. It’s not enough. Twenty years’ ago, Nicky Winmar pointed to himself. Adam Goodes pointed at all of us and said enough. Watch the vision of AC Milan’s Kevin Prince Boateng walking off the pitch after he was racially abused by fans of fourth division team, Pro Patria, during a friendly. Then watch as his teammates follow in support. Hear Adam Goodes’ pain trivialised by a radio host. Read Harry O’Brien’s response – to HIS club President. You can be sickened and heartened in a few minutes and reminded that all of us can be better – at a football match, on social media, when our Dad’s 1960s worldview deserves public challenging, on a bus. We are all capable of following these simple words, and standing up – not for people, but with them.

Racism. It stops with me.

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Kenrick Tucker, tactics and the Malvern Star Kid

14 05 2013

In 1982, my 5th class Social Studies assignment was on the Brisbane Commonwealth Games. We had to choose an Australian team member, write a story about their sport and glue newspaper clippings into a project book. ‘Kenrick Tucker’, Dad said. ‘All the other kids will choose swimmers. You should learn about track cycling’. I didn’t like getting help with my homework but I didn’t know who Kenrick Tucker was, so Dad watched the races with me and answered my questions. Why are they riding so high? Why do they swing up and down? Why aren’t they going fast from the start?

‘A kilo sprint isn’t just about going fast, Kimberley,’ he said. ‘It’s a game of chess on wheels’.

I liked playing chess with Dad. I would watch his face as my fingers hovered above the board, and wait for his pantomime expressions. ‘It’s not about getting to my side of the board fastest. Think about the next move, and the one after that,’ he said. ‘That’s how you win. Tactics’. If ‘kilo’ sprinting was like chess, Kenrick had to see the next move, and the one after that. He might be the fastest, but he would be knocked out without ‘tactics’. He’ll ride on the bank, or swing up and down the track, and then he’ll go, Dad said. ‘He’s smarter and faster than those other bastards. Wait.’ Then Kenrick went, and Dad was saying go, go, get in there, yelling at Kenrick Tucker like he did at Kingston Town. I jumped up and down on the lounge when he won and Dad didn’t even notice.

I don’t remember what I got for my assignment, but I thought about what Dad said about tactics. I had a yellow bike with gold glittery handlebars, a glitter stripe on the seat and spokey dokes, but I was getting too tall for it. My Dad had a big bike, a Malvern Star. It looked like the one Kenrick Tucker used, and my gangly legs could touch the pedals if one was at the top, or they were both even, and I didn’t move when Dad helped me up on to the hard ‘saddle’. Big bikes didn’t have long seats like mine for doubling someone behind you. If Mum was at work and we were going to my grandparents’ house after school, my Pop would meet us on Collier Street near the bike racks and double my sister on the flat handlebars, my brother and me riding behind. I could have had a double off ‘Old Arch’ or sometimes with Dad, but I was too scared to sit on the handlebars and keep my legs away from the front wheel. I was always cranky at how fast Old Arch would go, because it meant my sister would get a glass of lemonade and a scone from Nan before me.

Dad always put his bike in the garage after he knocked off from work, and walked over to the club for a drink. When we came home from Nan and Pop’s, we were supposed to put on our play clothes before we raced all of the other kids to the edge of the gully above the creek. I couldn’t go as fast as the kids with BMX bikes, even my brother. That’s when I remembered what Dad said. I wasn’t the fastest, but I had a plan. I put a milk crate next to Dad’s bike, moved the right pedal until it was at the top and held onto the edge of the garage while I swung my leg over. I tapped at the pedal and rolled down the driveway.

I hit the unsealed road on the thin tyres and turned left, towards the creek instead of riding up to the start line at the top of the hill. As the pedals ticked over by themselves, the boys started yelling at me to brake. They were riding after me and I knew I had to push the pedals back to make the bike stop or I was going over the edge and all the way down the gully. I looked down for the left pedal to come up and pushed my foot down. That’s when I learnt big bikes didn’t work like mine. The back of the bike started to slide on the dirt road and down we went. While the boys rode down on their BMX bikes I lay in the dirt, my left ankle caught on the pedal, its teeth clamped into me like one of Pop’s rabbit traps. I cried as they pulled the bike and me out of our own private dust storm, ankle, knee and elbow bleeding, school uniform and a sandal strap torn. The boys wheeled the bike home while I hobbled, crying, snotty with a big, googy egg bruise starting to rise on my temple. Mum came down the drive and yelled at me to get inside.

That was when I wished I had headed straight down the gully.