Monday, August 24, 2015
Identity politics and Adam Goodes
The Piping Shrike, who posts about as infrequently as I do these days (must be a father also), has pronounced on the Adam Goodes situation. It's a long, meandering essay, as all of his are, with a number of juicy nuggets of wisdom, but is typically hard to sum up. I would take issue with a couple of his points, nonetheless.
Primary among these is the repeated phrase of "the anti-racism campaign against the public", his criticism of which forms the main part of his screed. I suspect the Shrike does not live among or talk to a lot of football-immersed people, thus he would not understand how much racism there was around this issue among the public, and how lonely it was fighting the good fight against people convinced that their racist attitudes weren't racist. The Shrike calls the loose collection of individuals battling white privilege in bars, backyards, dining rooms and social media across the nation a "campaign", as if it was conducted against a united public solely by an elite. No, there are people out here in the public who argued at the grass roots along with the anti-racists in the media.
Anti-racism campaigns are not meaningless, as the Shrike asserts. You only have to look at the wins that anti-racism campaigners are having in the US over removing state support for the Confederate flag and are now starting to have over state-authorised statues of Confederate heroes. In itself, those things won't change living standards for African-Americans but it is an early and vital manifestation of anti-racist strength that will eventually get other things achieved, most notably through the #BlackLivesMatter movement which will shift the Democratic policy platform and thus affect policy of the forthcoming Clinton administration. Symbols matter, culture matters, otherwise we wouldn't be having culture wars over it.
The Shrike asks why the inevitably non-zero cadre of racist Swan fans didn't boo Goodes. In this, he shows he doesn't understand sporting tribalism. If you're among a bunch of supporters of your own team and you start booing one of your own because he's black, you will swiftly discover the rest of the supporter base will turn on you and eject you from the tribe. Fans who go to the game are primarily there as part of their sporting team tribe, not their racial tribe, and the former trumps the latter when there is a clash at a home game filled with team members. Racist Swan fans simply shut up while opposition fans booed Goodes, in solidarity with their dominant tribe.
Much is made by the Shrike of the lack of convictions under anti-racism legislation, but again, that ignores the very real effects that such legislation has in discouraging anyone from engaging in conduct that would come close to meriting a conviction. The threat of incarceration can change attitudes almost as much as incarceration itself. Of course, this effect is hard to quantify, but I don't think anyone who denies it exists has much of a leg to stand on.
Finally, the Shrike asks why the media has moved on, asking if the crowd has stopped booing, why there hasn't been an outpouring of joy at Australia suddenly finding a solution to a seemingly intractable problem. The crowd has stopped booing, but unfortunately there were no miracles to be verified by the Vatican. AFL industry elites effectively made a bargain with the public: let's agree not to keep calling you racists if you agree to stop booing. It was a ceasefire, not a victory. Goodes' withdrawal for a week took the heat out of it, with the home Sydney crowd's voluble support for him in absentia that weekend further turning the tide.
Overall, I was disappointed with the tone of the Shrike's piece, but then that's nothing new on this issue because it seems to cut across political boundaries and many of those on the left or centre have been on what I consider the wrong side of this one. It's the sort of identity politics that we could do without in this country. I'd like it if we didn't turn into America, thanks.