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Opinion

Taylor Walker racism response shows we have a long way to go

Opinion

The Adelaide Football Club star’s video apology for a racist comment was poorly judged and made a fundamental error, writes Joel Bayliss.

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I have been following the Adelaide Football Club since day one.

I attended the second game we played, against Carlton. My father and two uncles were lucky enough to attend both the 1997 and 1998 Grand Finals.

We spent a lot of years as a family as season ticket-holders, watching the club through a lot of ups and downs, through all types of weather. We did it for the love of the club.

As an Aboriginal boy, I loved seeing the likes of Eddie Hocking running around the man-on-the-mark, or Shane Tongerie jumping high to take a grab in his debut at the Gabba.

Arguably the greatest player for the Crows was Andrew McLeod – who could forget his majestic skills, which gave him the opportunity to win back-to-back Norm Smith medals?

As life changed for me, I found it easier to watch the Crows play from the comfort of my lounge chair rather than from a seat at the ground. This didn’t diminish my love for the club.

When news broke of an alleged racist incident at the club last week, my immediate thoughts went to brother Robbie Young.

We are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander first: Crows, North Adelaide or (in my case) Glenelg second.

Then the sadness and disappointment kicked in, that someone who is a leader and role model would make comments such as this.

I can’t be more clear – a victim should not be the one consoling the perpetrator, as we saw this week.

Then the praise for the official who had the courage to call out Tex. This is how we stamp out racism. We as Aboriginal people need non-Aboriginal people to get out of their comfort zones and call it out.

Studies across the globe point to the fact that those who experience racism have poorer health outcomes, from depression to low birth rates. Most of these studies come from an African-American experience, but in an Australian example, Professor Yin Paradies, chair of race relations at Melbourne’s Deakin University, says those who experience racism are:

We have seen racism play out in sport for far too long.

We can remember the incredible Nicky Winmar blitzing it against Collingwood at Victoria Park. After a game in which racist expletives were fired off from Collingwood supporters, Uncle Nicky lifted his jumper up, pointing at his beautiful black skin.

Only a week later the late Collingwood president Allan McAlister, while explaining that his club was not racist, said: “As long as they conduct themselves like white people, well, off the field, everyone will admire and respect them.”

Two years later Collingwood’s Damian Monkhorst made racist comments towards Essendon’s Michael Long. From this negative incident came a positive – the development of the AFL’s current racial vilification laws.

Adam Goodes’ resumé speaks for itself: 1999 rising star, dual Brownlow medallist, two premierships, four-time all Australian, 372 games and 464 goals.

He was one of the greatest players of the modern era.

But unfortunately, he may well be remembered for the racist vitriol he received – all for calling out someone who made a racist remark towards him.

Constant booing led to him ending his career prematurely. When he turned down the Hall of Fame honour a few months back, people had the audacity to say he should have gotten over it. This is what racism does.

What concerns me, though, about the latest incident with Taylor Walker is what has been said since on social media; the number of people saying that “he hasn’t done anything wrong” or that it’s all an overreaction.

This shows me that there is a long way to go.

The comments by Crows coach Matthew Nicks, who played with Adam Goodes, were genuine in his press conference on Friday. He looked hurt and saddened by the whole affair.

You can tell he is wanting to change the culture of the club, and I was actually prepared to leave it at that.

Then I watched the video with Tex and Robbie.

While I don’t doubt that Tex is remorseful, for mine it felt rehearsed and staged.

Aboriginal people have been experiencing racism for 233 years.

Laws have been made to ensure we were excluded from society; children have been ripped from their mothers.

This week we conduct our Census – a national audit in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were not counted until 1967.

Picture this: for the first seven years of our late mother’s life, she was considered an “alien” in her own country.

If we call this out – in sport, or anywhere else – we are told you shouldn’t mix politics with sport.

We are supposed to educate the population about racism and where it stems from, but we can’t do it angrily or people will get upset.

We are supposed to have people “lean on us” to learn from the past.

But I think it’s time for non-Aboriginal people to observe the injustice we face and fight beside us.

Because the connotation of “leaning on us” suggests that we’ll be squashed and trampled so as to ensure the non-Aboriginal person feels empowered.

I can’t be more clear – a victim should not be the one consoling the perpetrator, as we saw this week.

We would never allow that to occur in any other context.

Joel Bayliss is a proud Gudanji/Wambaya man who has lived on Kaurna land his whole life. He is passionate about social justice and is a current member of the Premier’s South Australian Aboriginal Advisory Council. At the beginning of the year Joel was asked to write a letter to his son Isaiah for an anthology of letters from First Nation Australian Men to their sons. Dear Son will be published next month. 

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