Indigenous footballer, Adam Goodes says that racism in Australia was given a face and a name this week. And that face was a 13-year-old girl.
The teenage Collingwood fan was at the MCG on Friday evening, watching her beloved Pies lose to the Sydney Swans. The match was part of the annual Indigenous round, through which the AFL acknowledges the amazing contribution that Aboriginal players make to the game.
13-year-old, Jessica*, frustrated and angry at her team’s poor play, yelled out at Adam Goodes, calling him an ‘ape’. Goodes turned around, visibly shocked and upset at this racially charged abuse, and watched as the girl was ejected from the stadium by security.
Immediately following the match, Eddie Maguire, who is President of the Collingwood Football Club went to the Swans’ team locker rooms to apologise to Goodes for the behaviour of one of his members.
Goodes, the man on the receiving end of the abuse, has graciously refused to blame Jessica for her racist taunt. She has since spoken to him on the phone and written him a letter to apologise.
In the simple and honest language and hand-writing of a kid just embarking on a high school career, Jessica wrote:
“Dear Adam, it was good to talk to you on the phone. I’m sorry for being racist.
“I didn’t mean any harm and now I’ll think twice before I speak.”
Jessica’s mother has explained to the press that her daughter didn’t know that calling someone an ‘ape’ was a racial slur.
But let’s think about that for a second, while Jessica herself may not have realised quite how offensive her comment was – she is 13-years-old, her language and her behaviour is learned from those around her; and those around her WOULD know that such a term would cause tremendous offence.
Collingwood Football Club President Eddie McGuire has been asked whether Jessica should be allowed to remain a member of his club. His comments in response, were poignant and affecting. He said:
“We want her to know it’s side by side we stick together. You made a blue, but we all do.
“We’re a forgiving club, and we want to make sure that she feels she can come to the football and help her get through this situation…
“It’s really important, though, that we remember she’s a young girl and not to walk away from education rather than humiliation.
Education not humiliation. Spot on Eddie (somebody give that man a million dollars, eh?).
But while this individual teenager is entitled to be left alone now and will no doubt have learned from her mistakes – how many more like there are her?
How many teenagers are growing up in households, or school yards, or peer groups where a racial slur is commonplace and acceptable language?
What kind of generation are we raising, if calling an Indigenous man an ‘ape’ is standard practice?
Footage has emerged on Youtube today of yet another football fan yelling racially charged derogatory statements at some of the game’s Indigenous players on Friday night. Sadly, this shows that the exchange between Jessica and Adam Goodes was by no means an isolated incident.
When it comes to tackling racism, surely the work of a tolerant and inclusive Australia begins with our kids. And there is a hell of a lot more work to be done.