AFL: Why do racist prejudices persist?

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For the past couple of months the Australian Football League (AFL) has been marred by racist attacks on Sydney star Adam Goodes. After slotting a goal against Carlton at the SCG, Goodes rushed towards the boundary line and celebrated with a ‘war-cry’ dance directed at opposition fans. The celebration which included the throwing of an invisible spear was condemned by many in the football establishment.

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan said he admired Goodes’ celebration, but denied that “the racist angle” had anything to do with abuse constantly directed at the two-time Brownlow Medallist. Commentators, such as Dermott Brereton – who admitted to using racial slurs against indigenous players throughout his career – condemned Goodes. “I didn’t like it,” he said with conviction. “No good could come of it”.

No stranger to controversy, the longstanding president of the Collingwood Football Club, Eddie McGuire, scorned on Fox Footy that “we’ve never seen that before, and I don’t think we ever want to see it again”. In early June, a Herald Sun poll found that 56% of people thought that Goodes’ celebration went too far.

That a tribute, in Goodes’ words, to the AFL’s under-16s indigenous football team, the Flying Boomerangs, sparked condemnation from the football establishment not only exposed the rotten underbelly of racism in football, but prompted many to question why these incidents persist.

Since the 1990s, the AFL has made efforts to eradicate racism within the game. Nicky Winmar defiantly pulling up his jumper and pointing to his black skin, in response to racial abuse from Collingwood fans in 1993 forced the AFL to adopt racial vilification measures, both on and off the field. Yet in recent years the number of racial abuse at matches has spiked.

The most famous of these incidents occurred in 2013. During a match against Collingwood at the MCG, Goodes was called an ‘ape’ by a 13-year old girl. He was salvaged by the Murdoch press, even labelled ‘King Kong’ by Eddie McGuire, for calling it out.

After being named Australian of the Year in 2014, Goodes wrote in The Age “I now find it hard to say I am proud to be Australian…(knowing) the Europeans, and now the governments that run our country, have raped, killed and stolen from my people for their own benefit. The total injustices that have been played out since colonisation are absolutely shameful”.

Racism against Aboriginal people is rarely accidental. Since 1788, Australian capitalism has been built upon the historic and continuing destruction and dispossession of Aboriginal people. From the earliest slaughters upon European arrival to the flagged forced closure of remote communities to clear the way for Gina Rinehart and Andrew Forrest to make their billions, Australian capitalism has always been contingent on Aboriginal subjugation.

It is because of this overlay that racist narratives continue. The problems of Aboriginal Australia, the products of hundreds of years of systematic oppression, are distorted, manipulated and employed to justify destructive racist policies like the ongoing Northern Territory intervention, and, more recently, the Barnett Liberal government’s plan to close 150 remote communities in Western Australia.

When politicians and the media cynically portray Aboriginal people as incapable of looking after themselves and their families, is it any wonder racist stereotypes and prejudices persist?

Capitalism provides fertile ground for racism because it is a system based on inequality, exploitation and violence. The most effective way to campaign against racism is to campaign against capitalism itself. This means fighting for a society in which the vast wealth that exists is used to improve the quality of life for all.

A socialist society cannot erase the hundreds of years of misery and mistrust caused by racism. It can, however, remove the basis on which racism flourishes and allow humanity to, for the first time, build a society based on prosperity and genuine equality for all.

By Conor Flynn