The booing of AFL player Adam Goodes has quickly become yet another contest in the culture wars, with some right-wing commentators rushing to insist the treatment of the former Australian of the Year is not racist.
They’re wrong. The booing is a particular kind of racism, one we’ve seen before from Australian sporting crowds: the resentment of Australians toward non-white athletes who dare to be good and who aren’t content to conform to our preferred racial stereotypes.
The “no-balling” by Australian cricket crowds of Muttiah Muralitharan was another example of this ugly mob mentality. It is a form of group bullying directed at people of colour perceived to be unwilling to acknowledge the primacy of white Australian culture, sportsmen who play by the rules — but not by our rules.
Confronting this mentality is difficult — its perpetrators hide behind weasel words and declarations of innocent intent (screaming “get back to the zoo” at an Aboriginal player is not, apparently, intended to be racist). But cultural warriors make it even harder by using the issue as just another front for their ceaseless attacks on their opponents; the racism that is at the heart of the booing must be denied, just like the scourge of domestic violence is dismissed, and just like climate change action is fought tooth and nail for fear it might give a victory to “the left”.
Common across these examples is denialism. In the Goodes case, it is a particularly clumsy and ridiculous form of denialism. The booing of Goodes is inescapably, fundamentally, racist. Dealing with it is not a matter of left versus right, but of decency versus bullying, of an Australia accepting of diversity versus one that obsesses over a white past.