It must be hard to be a racist these days

I wonder if it is hard to be a racist these days.

It’s definitely harder than it was to be a smoker, with so many restrictions on the use of what is still a legally sold product.

And there seems to be constant advertising putting pressure on us that every drink or afternoon in the sun is a threat to your life and those around you.

But life for the good old fashioned racist is being made more difficult every day. I wonder how a racist gets by these days, finding so few places to cling onto their strongly held views, which they know to be true.

A few years ago, we hoped or assumed that racism would go the way of the fax machine, Liquid Paper or the printed Encyclopaedia Britannica. They would be quaint reminders of a past era; museum pieces or trivia questions, something that our children would be staggered once existed.

In wonder though if racism is more like the vinyl record; less popular, sure, but never actually gone for good, and making a subtle comeback in select niche areas.

It is within reasonably recent memory that it was the policy of the Government of this land to make determinations on voting or immigration based purely on colour or country of origin. The irony was that for some of these restrictions, the country of origin we objected to was our own, as we treated indigenous people with shameful regard.

It is also within recent football memory that racism played a major part in on-field sledging and off-field abuse.

The rise in the numbers of indigenous footballers in the AFL and the focus on vilification has made us a wiser and more tolerant nation, as well as a group of supporters.

However, it is sadly naïve to think that racist language, beliefs or actions have disappeared, or ever will.

It is also worth considering if, whilst we have rightfully embraced indigenous footballers to the extent that we sensibly believe that comments about their skin colour are offensive, we haven’t extended that tolerance to other cultures as yet.

Maybe we believe that we’ll curb racism one group at a time and we feel comfortable that we have solved the indigenous issue, but haven’t got to the others just yet?

Intolerance will never disappear. More people have been killed around the world in the name of  faith, colour, political persuasion or belief than any grab for land, politics or desire for revenge. For every piece of common sense that tells us that character is more valuable than colour, there will be another person that clings to a strongly held belief that the location of your birth, contents of your faith or pigment of your skin tops all else in judging you as a person.

The continued rise in numbers of evangelical Christians in the US (and interestingly enough, in China) has in part a corresponding impact to those who would use the Bible as their total guide when it comes to all decisions on tolerance. The reaction to same-sex marriage and the comments from some about Jason Collins’s declaration of his sexuality, shows that dogma can still guide people when it comes to acceptance and understanding.

For some, the rules are simple. As an example, the good book says creation not evolution, so that’s the way it is, all evidence of dinosaurs notwithstanding.

(As an aside, how would you feel if you were a US white supremacist or believer in an Aryan nation who also loved basketball, gridiron or baseball. Must be hard in the deep south to have to watch swimming and ice hockey instead)

If we are an open society who values everyone, a sad fact is we have to respect the right of the racist to hold their views. We can legislate that they cannot act upon them, but we cannot remove their right to hold such a view. However uncomfortable we may feel at the holding of these beliefs, we are in a quandary if we seek to restrict someone’s right to hold them, however we feel about them. We can ensure that these beliefs are not acted upon, but can’t stop them happening.

In a way, this is good, as a place where everyone thinks the same and never disagrees, is a cult.

Allowing the few to hold and, yes, express these views, can be a positive way to bring it out in the open, and reinforce that it is wrong in the eyes of the many. The limited but occasional resurfacing of views of anger and criticism based on colour etc. is actually a short-term piece of pain towards greater education and long term understanding.

But it won’t go away, and football, much as it has admirably led the way, will not solve everything.

Racism isn’t logical in football support. How can it be; football support isn’t a logical enterprise itself. How can one person truly believe that every free kick awarded against their team is a conspiracy, or that every person who plays against their team is evil, lacking in talent or of dubious parentage.

How can a supporter of one team praise the efforts of one group of players (Rioli, Hill and Franklin) and in the next breath, damn those of another (Wells, Thomas and Daw). This is the occasional illogical nature of football support, in that the jumper you wear is worth more than anything. That’s why Lynch and Russell are now cheered by Collingwood supporters, Scully pilloried by Dees fans, and why Lockett went from a Caven-crushing thug to a prelim final hero to the Swans people in a short space of time.

Cockroaches are seen as dirty and a sign of trouble. They are hard to eradicate, reappear when you think they have gone for good and show (at times admirable) resilience and resistance.

The racist in our society is similar. They are not pleasant, but will not disappear. We must learn to act when we see them and reduce the risks of them returning in any force.

It must be hard to be a racist these days, when you seem so right to yourself but so wrong to so many.

About Sean Curtain

"He was born with a gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad". First line of 'Scaramouche' by Sabatini, always liked that.


  1. Sean Gorman says

    Sean – I don’t know if we (whitefellas) have fully understood issues around intolerance and prejudice – especially when it refers to Indigenous peoples. The most obvious reason for that is if we were mature enough as a nation then we would not need an anti vilification law in the AFL. The racism you speak of is only one kind of racism – it is the blunt verbal kind. There are many more ‘strains’ which need challenging. Waleed Aly spoke of it a few weeks ago. Until we look at this institutionally only then will it change. As for the fools who have a crack at opposition players despite a visible and celebrated Indigenous cohort on their own sides – you are gutless and you don’t deserve this game.

  2. Thanks Sean, your breadth of knowledge in this area is excellent so I am glad to see that I am not too far off the mark.

    You pose in the attached article a really interesting hypothetical: what if indigenous Australians didn’t play or never played AFL, what would be our (mainstream white society) view of indigenous Australians, as I think some of our (admittedly delayed) understanding of culture and acceptance has come from there.

    I note that the AFL will run ads on fan behaviour, and include in it comments from soemone like Luke Hodge saying that if you abuse Thomas, you are abusing Rioli, so why do it.

    Again, looking for logic in an emotional situation, but a step in the right direction.


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