Racism: Out Of The Mouths of Babes

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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.

 

 

  • Monique Fischle

    I was really impressed by the way Adam handled this. He very easily could have been extremely rude toward this girl and pressed charges, instead he was kind and understanding of the fact that she wouldn’t have said that if she hadn’t heard it used before. I have so much respect for him.

    One thing that annoyed me was seeing a television interview with the girl’s mother who said that at 13, she didn’t understand what a racist comment was. I disagree. At 13, I was well aware what a racist comment was and I wouldn’t dream of using one because I was brought up by respectful people. At 13, this same girl would have been aware that it was a racist comment but was unfortunately in an environment where that kind of language was deemed okay to use.

    This makes me so sad for society. I really hope that things change.

    • http://kikiandtea.com/ Tamsin Howse

      While I agree that a 13 year old is not entirely responsible for their views, and that Adam handled this with grace and decorum, I agree with you, Monique, that it’s not true to say a 13 year old does not know what a racist comment is. I also think that while people of that age (I say people, as 13 is technically a teen and I don’t like saying “child” for people who are old enough to no longer be considered children) are likely to parrot back what their parents or adults they look up to are saying, they are also capable of thinking for themselves and it bothers me that society continuously underestimates the capability of youth.

      A 13 year old is more than capable of independent thought, opinion, analysis and when I think of myself at 13 I don’t think that I was as naive and innocent as it’s assumed this 13 year old is.

      That said, I think Adam did the right thing in this situation and I do hold the girl’s parents responsible for the comment as they’re the ones who taught her this kind of thing. Everybody matures at different rates and perhaps this particular 13 year old did not understand what she was saying. I know 13 year olds who wouldn’t.

      • Monique Fischle

        I completely agree with you. While I do hold the parents accountable, I was very capable of independent thought at 13 and I’m sure most 13-year-olds are.

        • maree Talidu

          Again, there are many 13 year olds capable of free thought who know better. I actually think this girl isn’t one of them, or I wouldn’t have written the piece. To me, she is echoing what she has heard around her. Is she blameless? Of course not. But 13 year old kids can still be children, not teenagers who have the maturity and clarity of mind to think things out. The age is a fine line. I teach kids that age, some of whom are ‘young adults’ and some of whom are still behaving as though they should be in Grade 4. It depends on the individual, you can’t make a sweeping statement that at 13, they all know better etc because many of them don’t, which is sad.

          • Monique Fischle

            That is true and it’s very sad. Like I said in my original comment, she would have said it because she is surrounded by people who use that language and think it’s okay.

      • maree Talidu

        I think you are giving the average 13 year old too much credit. I am not saying she is blameless, however I am saying she has been conditioned to think that what she said and did is acceptable. If she’d called him the ‘N’ word, it would be different. But kids these days don’t refer to people of colour as ‘apes’. They have a vast vocabulary of other hurtful names, but ‘Ape’ is from an older generation. The fact that I had a 14 year old telling me that “boat people are all terrorists” goes to show that teens aren’t necessarily as capable of independent thought, especially if they are hearing it at home on a regular basis. You were obviously (as was I), raised in a home where we were educated and taught to think for ourselves. The girl wrote a letter of apology to Adam Goodes as well- if you get the time, have a look at it. It’s not the writing of someone who is genuinely aware of the ramifications of their behaviour.

    • http://twitter.com/PerthWife PerthWife

      I was brought up in the opposite environment to you Monique but I understood racism and did from an early age. I actually blogged about it literally hours before the Adam Goodes incident. { http://perthwife.wordpress.com/2013/05/24/growing-up-racist/ } Very spooky timing.

      While I am IN NO WAY, SHAPE OR FORM in favour of launching an attack on a kid, I agree that the child in question wasn’t entirely ignorant of the meaning of her words. Despite our upbringing, its our choices that define who we are – not our parents/role models or the environment we grow up in.

      • Monique Fischle

        Great post PW. I don’t see you as attacking the child at all. Even though there are varying levels of maturity at any age, I think she knew that what she was saying was meant to insult, whether or not she recognised it as racist.

        My reason for thinking this is she is a supporter of the team who was playing AGAINST Goodes. Australian sporting culture unfortunately sees a lot of name calling towards the opposition. Goodes was the opposition.

  • maree Talidu

    Just to clarify, I’m not saying that children shouldn’t have to deal with the repercussions of their poor behaviour, whether it’s as a result of the way they’ve been raised or not. I DO believe for the most part at that age that they certainly know right from wrong, but don’t always exercise mature judgement. I can’t say whether or not the girl in question knew exactly what she was saying and the impact it would have, or whether she thought it was funny, or was echoing what she hears at home, but I can say that even at that age, there are plenty of kids out there who will repeat what they hear at home without being aware of what they are actually saying.

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