Four young people – three of them indigenous, the other a youth worker with an Aboriginal community organisation – talk about their experience of racism and the recent controversy surrounding footballer Adam Goodes, as Peter Ah Sam reports.
It was the “hot topic” for a month, as many people expressed their opinion about the Australian of the Year, Adam Goodes. When the Sydney Swans indigenous player had performed a war dance during the Indigenous Football Round, at Melbourne’s MCG, he wanted to celebrate his culture. But many were concerned and felt threatened with the performance in which he wielded an imaginary spear.
After the Indigenous round Australian Soccer player Griffin McMaster tweeted, “Adam Goodes calls Australia Day invasion day. Deport him. If you don’t like it leave.” Many were not exactly sure where you could deport an indigenous Australian but these comments were only the start of it.
A 2014 study of non-Indigenous Australias aged between 25 and 44, found that one in five (19 per cent) Australians do not recognise that discrimination impacts on mental health.
“I face discrimination every day,” says Victorian Aboriginal Health Service worker Nicholas Dempsey. “When I catch public transport, when I walk into a shop, even when I walk down my street, I come across it every single day. But what can I do? I can’t lose sleep because it’s not my fault that I was born with brown skin. I am not going to change that and I don’t want to. But what I can do is change people’s perspectives about Aboriginal people. However, it does not help when you have the news media talking about how the Australian people felt threaten and uncomfortable about the war dance Adam Goodes performed. They should have spoken about the topic of racism in Australia. We had professional journalists on television talking about Adam Goodes and being racist but (they) will end the sentence or even start the sentence with ‘I am not racist, but… I just don’t like them!”
Dempsey is wary of generalising about others. He warns against typecasting Muslims, for instance, by wrongly associating their religion with terrorism. “…People need to remember one person or a small group of people does not represent an entire race or religion. So why do many people do it and get away with it?”
Katie Smith is a youth worker at the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation. Though she is not indigenous, she says she would never leave her job because Aboriginal people inspire her and she has great respect for their culture and their morals.
“We are extremely proud of Adam Goodes,” Smith says.
“I think it was brilliant what he did. I am not indigenous but for him to stand up for his people is incredible. Many people seem to forget they attended an indigenous round and the purpose of the event was to celebrate the indigenous football players. It is sad to see what he went through and what he is still going through, but also to the Aboriginal people. What many people forget is that they are not just being racist towards one person. They are actually being racist towards many others. I have seen the comments on social media and it is disgusting. I work with many Aboriginal people and they are the most well-respected people. But it does not help when they are portrayed in a negative way in the media. It’s a shame on their behalf.”
According to the racism study – which was conducted by TNS Social Research for beyondblue – one in five (21 per cent) admit they would move away if an indigenous Australian sat near them. What many people are not aware of is that many indigenous Australians pick up on certain behaviours like that.
“I always get comments like, ‘are you really black?’” says 15-year-old high school student Nara McMillan. “’Wow, you speak really well for an Aboriginal’; or, ‘I like you. You’re not like the other Aboriginal people. You’re cool’. These comments make me think, why are people like this? Why are they so against Aboriginal people? I was reading some statistics about racism that said that one in five-20 per cent believe that terms used to describe indigenous Australians that are now considered racist are not that bad. When will it stop?”
The racism study shows that one in 10 (9 per cent) would not hire an Indigenous Australian for a job. Indigenous student, Kaleishia Ross left home in Katherine, Northern Territory when she was 12-years-old to attend Scotch College, Adelaide. She says people treat her differently and without explanation because of the colour of her skin.
“It hurts,” Ross says. “It makes you feel like you’re not good enough and it creates insecurities. I get people telling me, knowing that I am Aboriginal, that they hate them, they can’t stand them. Asking me how I turned out good. I am like, are you serious? I hear people saying I won’t get with her because she’s black. Should I be sorry for being born black? You would be surprised with what people say to me about aboriginal people.”
Many indigenous Australians believe that education is the key to change everything and will allow people to understand what Aboriginal people are going through. “We were taught when we were young that if we didn’t have anything nice to say, then not to say it at all,” Nicholas Dempsey says. “Then, why all of a sudden has that been forgotten? What are we gaining when we disrespect someone’s culture, religion or skin colour? It inhumane and it is cruel and disgusting.”