Friday, 07 August 2015 16:10

Commissioner's statement: “It's time to cure the sickness that is racism”

This time last year Adam Goodes was one of the most celebrated Australians; this year he is one of the most vilified. Just how that has happened has been the subject of endless speculation and commentary in the media over the past fortnight: some of it illuminating but most of it deeply polarizing.

However, it is important that momentum is not lost on this important national conversation.

I have been glad to be able to make a proactive contribution on the Commission’s behalf through interviews with a number of leading media outlets including Jon Faine’s program on 774 ABC as well as the Geelong Advertiser in the lead up to tomorrow night’s match between Sydney and Geelong which will also coincide with Adam Goodes’ much anticipated return to the game.

Although the focus has been on just one man in reality it places all of us in the spotlight. Although we like to see ourselves as a welcoming tolerant nation—and for the most part we are-- the reality is that racism does exist and for those at the other end of it, it’s deeply hurtful and offensive.

At the Commission’s recent cultural rights discussion, Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda spoke of how being on the other end of racist taunts or abuse had actually made him sick.

That has helped me in my understanding of what it is like for Adam Goodes who, in just showing up to work has been called an ape, spat on, told to ‘go back to the zoo’ and booed by growing numbers of crowds some of whom are not really sure why they are doing it in the first place; many of whom seem unaware of the impact of their actions, some preferring to blame the victim.

It is up to all of us to call out racism when we see it. This is a matter for the whole community. It’s everyone’s responsibility to stand up to racists and say “that is not ok”. As bystanders we all have a role to play in changing attitudes and we know that most people want to help put an end to this behaviour.

Twenty years ago the Commission played a pivotal role in supporting the AFL in its groundbreaking racial anti-vilification policy. The Commission has been in contact with the AFL over the past week and will continue to work closely with the league, and other sporting groups, as we have in the past, and support them in practical ways in their efforts to stamp out racism in sport.

One commentator last week made the point that racism as a subject is a tangle of morality, law, rights and emotions that defies the drawing of distinct lines. However, he also made the point that we know when we are on the wrong side of it, or have crossed it.

Over the past couple of weeks many lines have been crossed.

It is now time to draw a different line, this time in the sand.

It’s time for the discussions to move away from vilifying a culture to celebrating it and, to use Mick Gooda’s words once again, to cure the sickness that is racism.

- Kate Jenkins, Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner

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