Prejudice warps thought. People who have made up their minds and do not want to change them do not think straight. They will go around corners to avoid a result that they do not like.
You can see two instances of this kind of warped thinking in the reaction of people like Bolt and Jones to the controversy about Adam Goodes. They say two things – Goodes asked for it by provoking people (a view endorsed by silly people like Kennett and Latham); and at least some of those in the crowd giving offence were bullies and not racists. It is not clear whether these arguments are said to be a defence or merely something put in mitigation of the offence. I rather fear that it is the former.
Let us take the bully first. Bullies are people who use their superior position to intimidate and hurt those people who are not as strong as they are. A racist is a person who thinks less of another person because of their race and who as a result is more likely to hurt such people than others. The racist will usually see themselves as being in a superior position to the person of a different race. We can then see that using a superior position to hurt others will be common to many acts of bullying and racism. Put differently, the racist in action is just one type of bully.
Is this not just what we see in the people booing Goodes? They are using their superior position to intimidate and hurt Goodes, and part of their felt superiority and his perceived inferiority is that they are white and he is black. Can you imagine a member of the Thought Police asking those booing – are you doing this because you do not like aboriginals, or just because you are a bully?
But even if you could separate some bullies from the racists, where does that get you? Does the abuse of power become any less vicious or hurtful because the wrongdoer is miraculously oblivious to the difference in race?
Let us then look at provocation. If there is provocation in some relevant moral sense, it is not generally thought to offer a complete defence, but only some extenuation. And you may have to be careful how you put the argument and in what company. If a person charged with rape admitted the offence but said that the victim had asked for it – the argument of the President Zuma of South Africa – or provoked him by getting out in public so scantily attired, the net result might be another couple of years in the slammer.
But when you get down to look at what Goodes has done that is said to have been provocative, you find tension if not conflict between the two arguments. The mere bully says that race is irrelevant. Can the person provoked claim this when both acts relied on as provocation – maintaining a complaint of racial discrimination and performing an aboriginal dance – are inextricably bound up with the race of Goodes? Indeed, at least some of his accusers maintain that it is Goodes who is creating racist division by asserting pride in his own history. People who discriminate against others and hurt them almost inevitably say that the victim has done something to earn their fate, and that claim in my view only aggravates the original offence.
In my view, each suggested answer is bullshit that only makes the offence and its defenders worse.
There is in truth an air of unreality to this whole discussion, which is a discussion that we should not need to have. It is only made necessary by the warped judgment of people whose minds are closed, and who refuse to try to look at the position of other people involved. No one says that the booing of Goodes is good or healthy. But what its defenders refuse to concede is that real people are being hurt by it. A blackfella in the Kimberley said this (if it matters, in The Australian):
Hope and opportunity are not words that are used up here very often. This latest furore has given all those kids who want to be the next Adam Goodes a kick in the guts. Why would you want to succeed if all you do is cop abuse? If we are to get ahead, to hope and aspire, our young people must have role models to look up to. There is no greater role model than Adam Goodes to us blackfellas. We are proud of his achievements, his drive, his ambition and the recognition he has won in the toughest arena of all – white Australia. So, the next time you boo a footballer like Adam Goodes, remember you’re booing those young hopeful kids in the backblocks of Australia who only want a chance to showcase the unique skills and talents indigenous footballers bring to our wonderful national game.
And that is before you get to the pain and suffering inflicted on a dual Brownlow medallist and Australian of the Year.
Bigots like Bolt and Jones do not think of this. It is not just that they will not allow mere humanity to stand in the way of a good conspiracy theory, it is that their livelihood depends on conflict. People like Kennett and Latham do not want to confront the evidence because they are pig-headed and big-headed, and their people gave them the boot for just that reason. Even God-fearing doubters like me pray for the day when Bolt and Jones go the same way.
But the Alice in Wonderland – the bullshit – does not stop with silly speculation about the state of mind of the crowd. We get it with speculation about the state of mind of the victim – or, for Bolt and Jones, the man who is the culprit.
It is apparently said that when Goodes performed his dance, and spear-throwing routine, he was being threatening and warlike. The blackfellas have a different view of the effect of this ritual and they are insulted by being lectured by whitefellas who do not understand them. Let us put that to one side. Let us also put to one side that the three preeminent football codes played in this country are essentially war-like and threatening in their nature: it is of their essence that they are tests of manhood and courage. Is it suggested that when Goodes performed this dance he was threatening war? Was one blackfella picking a fight with about thirty thousand whitefellas? Are we not here in the realm of diagnosable insanity?
Two of the best blackfella footballers in the country play a different code. Ingles and Thurston are of the ilk of Franklin and Ablett. Ingles celebrates a try – sometimes for Australia – with a goanna crawl. Andrew Bolt is relaxed about this. Why? ‘That’s not a threatening move’. Is this what the national debate has come to? If it is, Bolt should not go to watch Thurston against the Raiders, because J T, as he is known, will perform his own war jig in solidarity with Goodes if he scores a try – and poor Andrew might be scared out of his tidy wits.
In my previous note, I said that the political savoir faire of Adam Goodes may be open to discussion. If he had asked my advice about the conduct complained of, I may have been cautious. But who am I to criticise him? I am a white babyboomer with a public school and university education, topped up now and then at Oxford, Cambridge, or Harvard, a member of an exclusive and privileged profession that involves a monopoly that encourages people to charge like wounded bulls, and who for nearly thirty years has been invested with the full power of the State of Victoria over other Victorians. I have never been spat on, looked down on, or just abused in public by people who regarded me as racially inferior. What bloody right might I have to sit in judgment on the conduct of blackfella footballer? Just where does the arrogance come from for those who claim this right?
That brings me back again to the Prime Minister. I am very sorry that his response was so late and so anaemic because I had thought that his attitude to the blackfellas was better than that. His problem is not just that Bolt and Jones are friends and allies – they are soul-mates and political warriors who all thrive on conflict. It is an old saying but true – if you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.
Marcia Langton was shocked by the ‘the widespread tolerance and support for the most vicious kind of racism that I have seen since the dark days of apartheid.’ As ever, the cover-up is worse than the original offence. I was not shocked by the attacks on Goodes and the reaction to those attacks, but I was shocked by the viciousness of the attacks on Julia Gillard and the simple refusal of so many people to see that she was being attacked as a woman, just as Goodes is now being attacked a blackfella. The whitefellas have some awful demons in their Dreamtime that they do not want to confront. Perhaps we should take lessons from the Germans. Either way, these failings make you ask just what being an Australian might decently mean.