What’s it got to do with me?


July 15, 2013

Sam de Brito

All Men are Liars

Sam de Brito takes the pulse of Aussie manhood.

Lovin’ those no shared borders.

After the Adam Goodes/Eddie McGuire fiasco kicked off last month, I heard the return of one of my favourite White Person Excuses: “I didn’t kill any Aborigines or take their land, what’s it got to do with me?”

It’s kinda sweet Aussies have retained this live-and-let-live attitude because it’s one that’d see you in a teensy bit of trouble in thousands of different parts of the world.

As of this moment, Australia and the good ole’ bustling Arctic are the only two places where there’s not some kind of ongoing territorial dispute between a national or sub-national entity.

The majority of these disputes are non-violent but most of them are also old; older than tall ships, muskets and keeping Indigenous Australians in pet collars.

It seems to be a universal human trait – when someone steals your land and kills your relatives, you remember it for a long, long time.

The Middle East and Balkans are handy reminders of the elephantine memories people have for atrocities committed against their forebears.

History is not linear in many cultures: the repression of the Hazara people – who often end up on Australian naval vessels as refugees from Afghanistan – dates back to them sharing too much blood with the Mongols, who killed everybody they could get their hands on in Afghanistan and Persia 800 years ago.

Of course, in places like Syria, Sudan, Mali, Pakistan, Iraq and Egypt, things are even more heated and what you did or did not do makes as little difference as what your great-grandparents did or did not do.

There are vicious square-ups happening in those countries right at this moment dating back hundreds of years and in others (thanks to the Shiite/Sunni divide) over a thousand.

So, whenever I hear “what’s it got to do with me?”, I suggest we’re kind of a special case here in Australia because …

1. We’ve no shared borders with expansionist neighbours with whom we have long-standing bad blood and …

2. We reduced the Indigenous population to a numerical minority that struggles to insist we rethink history from their point of view.

Of course, the other side of the “what’s it’s got to do with me”? coin is our shared human heritage.

You might just as well ask “what does electricity have to do with me?” as you open your fridge. Or agriculture? Or aspirin? Or numbers and letters?

Every newborn inherits an immense body of knowledge, delivered via a struggle that’s dragged humanity up the ladder from supernatural to legendary and now scientific explanations of the world and, frankly, that’s also got nothing to do with you.

You didn’t invent democracy, currency, navigation, hygiene, law and order or shower heads – but you benefit from them every day.

It’s simple humility to respect the debt we owe billions of great minds, soldiers and civilians for where we are now in history.

It’s also common decency to recognise that with the good, we also should accept responsibility for the bad.

When that comes to Indigenous Australians, a humble acknowledgement of past injustices is a nice place to start.


Racism in sport – it’s there in black and white


  • Saturday, 08 June 2013 08:32
  • Written by 

I have been trying to understand what would motivate a 13 year old girl to call an indigenous man “ape”.

What thought process had to go through her brain for the word ape to be her word of choice?

And it was a choice. It was a choice influenced by upbringing, adult influence and lack of education.

During the opening match of the AFL Indigenous Round, no less.

In the following days the media was awash with both people rightfully supporting the stand taken by Adam Goodes and those who dismissed the story as being political correctness gone mad, clearly unable to make the obvious connection that being called “ape” is a racial slur.

It only takes a small amount of exposure to those on the wrong side of this argument – the “I’m not racist, but…….” elements in society – to realise their ignorance is what holds back the eradication of racism.

What everyone can agree on is that Eddie McGuire is an experienced broadcaster. He is Eddie Everywhere. He has an Honorary Doctorate of Communication from RMIT and promotes indigenous football through his chairmanship of the Michael Long Learning and Leadership Centre.

Despite his media profile and experience in the public domain, McGuire thought his audience would appreciate an obviously racist joke about Adam Goodes. This says a lot about the level on which he thinks his audience operates.

His back-pedalling only made the situation worse. When called to account, he issued a non-apology from the Alan Jones Apology Instruction Manual and blamed a slip of the tongue or fatigue or some other weak excuse.

What Eddie McGuire did was confuse larrikinism and racism.

He though his blokey charm would let him get away with making a joke which he must at the time have thought was perfectly acceptable. Those Aussie larrikins down at the footy ground would be splitting their sides laughing, surely.

Again, sections of the public came out in defence of free speech and stuck up for Eddie and his “slip of the tongue”, even attacking Goodes for not being able to handle a joke.

What these ignorant sections of the community don’t get is that these types of remarks are racist and hurtful. Sport gives the people who peddle these remarks an outlet for their racism, whether it’s on the field, in the stands or behind the microphone.

Take the incident several weeks ago of ABC Radio sports commentator David Morrow – he of 30 years’ broadcasting experience – thinking his microphone was off and making a racist joke at the expense of indigenous inhabitants of Darwin.

Again the apologies were issued. But doesn’t this show the true character of the person, revealing deeper prejudices when at their most comfortable?

Morrow was temporarily suspended and will be back at work before too long.

Three years ago, the NRL was deep in a scandal involving league ‘legend’ Andrew Johns racially vilifying players during State of Origin training. Again apologies were issued; he kept his jobs with Channel Nine and News Limited and went on to be a star witness in the Waterhouse/Singleton imbroglio.

More recently, the sacking of ARL Indigenous Council chairman Percy Knight during their All Stars Week lead him to remark “There is rampant racism within the NRL’s administration and it is very toxic.”

Former player Larry Corowa took the NRL to task over its lack of consultation with the Indigenous Council, even over the All Stars Game. He suggested the ARL Indigenous Council was simply used as a marketing tool (read PR gimmick).

FIFA, the world governing body of football, has recently voted for tough new powers to relegate or expel teams for serious offences of racism. This follows several recent incidents of racial slurs between players and between spectators and players.

Jeffrey Webb, head of FIFA’s anti-racism task force is quoted as saying “We’ve got to take action so that when we look to the next 20 or 50 years this will be the defining time that we took action against racism and discrimination.”

This will hopefully be more than window dressing and lead to meaningful progress.

The Federal Government put a different spin on racism in sport this week when Immigration Minister Brendon O’Connor introduced a bill in to parliament to amend the Citizen Act to allow a Pakistani born failed refugee to be promptly issued an Australian passport – because he is a talented cricket player.

Too bad if you are a doctor or surgeon, you can stay in the ‘queue’. Sports star? Step this way.

Perhaps we could fast track more teachers through immigration. Then they could teach those uneducated boors what it feels like to be thought of as less than human because of the colour of your skin.


Australia’s political heartland: hate, fear, prejudice

By ABC’s Jonathan Green

Posted Thu Jun 6, 2013 7:59am AEST

The great Australian shame is that not only are there votes to be had in hate, fear and prejudice, but that this is the heartland in which our political game is lost and won, writes Jonathan Green.


So where does it come from, this simultaneous sense of shame and licence over racism in this country?

Our twin capacity to tolerate a political discussion that fixes on stopping the boats and Aussie jobs while generating storms of righteous indignation over high-profile instances of racial abuse and denigration?

In all the suddenly inward looking wonder since a single hurled syllable from an irate 13-year-old set off this latest pricking of the national racial conscience, the role of our leaders has been all but ignored, the critical mood set by those who would guide, inform and govern us.

How can we be so detached from what is one of the ugly realities of Australian democracy: that there are votes in a subtle dog whistle to racist sentiment, that an appeal to xenophobia or worse is at the very core of some our most significant and constant national discussions.

What else is at the heart of the bipartisan embrace of our cold-hearted policy aimed at resisting the arrival of refugees from war, hunger, poverty, oppression and simple fear? Policy that masks an appeal to a suburban distaste for an imagined invading mass of ‘others’ with pious mouthings over the safety of lives at sea and noble distaste for the ‘evil trade’ of people smugglers.

We value the assumed order, dignity and righteous process of ‘the queue’.

We honour the now timeworn maxim: “we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come”. But surely we also sense the darker truth at the heart of this discussion: that there are votes in pandering to xenophobia and outright racist loathing and fear.

It’s the sentiment that lies in the populist pit Kevin Rudd feared when he warned of a “race to the bottom” in refugee policy. This issue in our politics is a comprehensive failure of vision, execution and communication … and has been prosecuted with an eye not to the realities of global human movement, but against the prejudices of a populist rump, voters whose preconceptions of asylum seekers as disease-laden, terror-tainted, queue jumpers have been pandered to by successive administrations.

Why? Because it has been a political convenience to do so.

Watch the recent parliamentary rhetoric, from Coalition spokesman Scott Morrison who railed against the ASIO “light touch” that has allowed the ready egress of boat-borne ‘jihadists’, to Werriwa MP Laurie Ferguson who challenged the PM on Tuesday to make plainer the ALP strategy for arresting the flow of refugees.

Without more sound and fury waged against the tide of boats and their fearsome cargo, the ALP would be ‘dead’ in western Sydney, clearly the heartland of national concern over questions of orderly migration.

And all of this dark heat around an issue that is essentially a fabrication created for purely political purpose. The trickle of boat-borne arrivals does not by any objective international measure constitute a crisis. What it does constitute is an opportunity to rake fear in a sometimes xenophobic and insular public.

And it’s not just in migration that exploiting a sense of racial disquiet can be a political positive.

What else other than a subtle racist underlay could have enabled the quickly imposed apartheid of the NT intervention, policy at first carried out by our armed forces under the cover of a suspended race discrimination act and that years later still leaves citizens innocent of any offence other than their race with limited control over their own income and the most mundane details of their daily life.

We should think on this when we wonder how it is that somehow, weirdly, inexplicably, racism seems so ever present, such a purulent constant under a thin scab of well-cultivated, sometimes cynical, civility.

And it is of course too quick and easy to blame our politicians for the populism that uses the community’s darker instincts as an easy path to votes.

Politics is nothing if not a mirror of the society it serves … that it, in every sense, represents. We provide the clay they work with.

If there wasn’t a vote in hate, fear and prejudice then there would be no gain in pandering to any of them. The great Australian shame is that not only are there votes to be had here, but that this is the heartland in which our political game is lost and won.

The likes of Eddie McGuire aren’t even a pimple on its backside … and in many ways the star chambers that assemble around these public transgressions just blind us to the greater reality of a public whose blind-peeping anxieties breed an agenda that turns that suburban fear to populist political profit.

Jonathan Green is the presenter of Sunday Extra on Radio National and a former editor of The Drum. 


Australia – Can racism be funny ?


Racism was certainly a subject I had planned to write about in this blog. The recent events around racial comments aimed at Adam Goodes have caused A LOT of debate in Australia, some arguments are very heartfelt and true, some of it.. are rather stupid and unproductive.
I won’t even go into the comments itself, they have been discussed in depth on tv, in newspapers, online, certainly also in homes of many people in Australia.

Both comments were racist without doubt; both comments, I believe, were impulse-driven and thoughtless. No intend to actually harm? Probably. It certainly could be (and was) discussed if  “it wasn’t meant racist” or “I meant the opposite” are a acceptable excuses from a 13yo and from a public personality like Eddie McGuire. 

But what is more saddening is that these comments and the aftermath were triggers to a debate that showed a very UGLY face…

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Kicking Against The Pricks

A slightly different take on Eddie McGuire’s comments


Like many others I awoke to the news that Eddie McGuire did not need to take the “phone a friend” option to say something stupid.

I won’t repeat what Eddie said as it was stupid and foolish, and clearly many people took offense at it. Although it’s available all though the press, and you’ve probably heard it anyway.

I will however say some things in Eddie’s defence if I may.

In the context of how it they were used, his words were clearly meant as a joke. Now I know that is not an excuse, however I think the line with jokes comes down to intent.

I don’t believe Eddie had a malicious intent when he uttered the words he is clearly now regretting. He now seems genuinely upset that he has foolishly caused offense.

He has however done the right thing so far, he has fronted up and…

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