This week, racism in sport was highlighted when a 13 year old girl called AFL player and legend, Adam Goodes, an ‘Ape’ during an indigenous match. He pointed her out to security and she was ejected from the game, but Goodes spoke later of the pain the slur caused him and that it came from such a young source.
Goodes was given an opportunity by Victorian police to press charges, but he refused, saying: “It’s not her fault, she’s 13, she’s still so innocent, I don’t put any blame on her. Unfortunately it’s what she hears, in the environment she’s grown up in that has made her think that it’s OK to call people names. I guarantee she has no idea right now how it makes people feel to call them an ape. We’ve just got to help educate society better so it doesn’t happen again.”
And so he nailed the problem on the head: she is a child, and she has obviously been raised in an environment where this type of attitude is acceptable.
I watched a YouTube video last week of the Westbro Baptist Church: the most hateful and most hated church in America. They have no right calling themselves Christians; they spew nothing but vitriolic hate. When an interviewer asked a little blonde boy, no more than 5 years old what he thought about picketing venues, the boy defiantly said, “God hates fags. And I hate them too. They will burn in hell forever.” When the interviewer asked the child if he “knew what a ‘fag’ was”, the child became confused, irritated and replied “yeah! Someone that God hates!” It was clear that the boy had no idea what a ‘fag’ was. He is the product of his parent’s hate and ignorance.
‘Prussian Blue’ was an American band, formed in 2003, consisting of 11-year-old twin sisters, Lynx and Lamb Gaede who sang about white supremacy and mocked the holocaust in their lyrics. Their mother was the ‘brains’ behind the band and took great pride in her daughter’s ‘hate music’. They disbanded around 2009 and have since commented that their ideology had changed as they matured, making the following statement: ”I’m glad we were in the band,” Lynx said, “but I think we should have been pushed toward something a little more mainstream and easier for us to handle than being front-men for a belief system that we didn’t even completely understand at that time. We were little kids.”
Again, the common thread between these stories is the parents and the immediate community around the children. Adam Goodes could have made an example of the girl who called him an Ape. He could have pressed charges. Instead, he asked for calm and expressed his pity at the situation, using his twitter account to confirm that the girl had called him and apologized. He asked that his fans not ‘go after her’ as she is a child.
When he pushed the need for education, he got it right. Hate is bred from ignorance. So let’s find a way to educate children about different cultures. Let’s work at breaking down barriers that have been created by their families. Children repeat what they hear at home. I recently had a young student say “Miss! I hate boat people! I wish they would just drown!” I asked her WHY she hated ‘boat people’ and she looked straight at me and said “’cos we are meant to hate terrorists, aren’t we?” Upon further discussion, it became clear that she was simply repeating comments she had heard her father making. She was unaware that there were women and children on the boats, and that many are actually fleeing terror- not wanting to cause it.
I applaud Adam Goodes for behaving with dignity and sensitivity in the media aftermath of not only being racially abused on field, mid-game; but also being abused by a 13-year-old girl. He saw the sadness in the situation and chose to respond thoughtfully.