I’ve been spending many waking hours this past week talking and reading about the Adam Goodes booing incident and the resulting polarity of ‘It’s not racist’ to ‘It is racist’.
I am a white middle aged guy, I’m gay and I believe I am racist. I am working with awareness to notice when I have racist thoughts or actions. It’s hard work because it’s so much of who I am.
I was born into a middle class white family in Sydney. I played with other whites kids, went to an all-male private white catholic school. I heard racist comments about the Italians, Greeks, those who were seen as different to us. And I never felt inclined to do anything about it. This is how I grew up in the 1960s in Sydney. I lived under a system of white privilege although at the time I did not know it, it just was how things were. I live in a white, mainstream dominant culture; with this I have huge privilege.
I often hear politicians and commentators saying Australia is a tolerant society and not racist. I squirm in my seat when I hear this because a white person always speaks it. In my gut it just doesn’t feel right. How can a white person who does not experience racism say there is none? You have to ask the person experiencing it to answer that.
As a gay man when a straight man tells me there is no homophobia, it drives me crazy. He has no idea of my experience, of my fear of walking down the street holding the hand of my partner. Fortunately I can hide the fact I’m gay by choosing not to hold hands. If I’m black I don’t have that privilege. It’s much easier to see the privileges I don’t have but much more challenging to own the privileges I do have.
This culture I live in gives me rank. Breakthrough Consultancy★ in their article on ‘Rank, power and privilege’ define rank as ‘a way of indicating a level of status, privilege and power [which] can be derived from different sources, such as economic, social, cultural, educational, economic, sexual and so on.’
With rank comes benefits and privilege. When rank and its effects are unconscious we tend to judge others with lower rank as less valuable, ignore them or marginalise their concerns. Being unaware of rank can hurt others with less rank. Those with low rank in a culture often experience being excluded, marginalised and disrespected. This impacts greatly on their self worth and sense of being valued in society. This can apply to people of different cultural backgrounds, disabilities and religions.
Some rank is earned, others we are born into. I have not earned my cultural rank, I was born a white male, in a white dominant culture, into a middle class family where I was expected to go to university. This gave me great privilege. It is not about me getting rid of my rank but being conscious of it and how I use it.
Breakthrough Consultancy★ in their article say: ‘Typically when we are unconscious of our high rank, we have the luxury or privilege of being able to ignore or dismiss the concerns of others – it is not my problem – the outcome does not affect us. We exude an air of detachment, objectivity and coolness as if above it all or unaffected by the issues at stake. We often judge those of lower rank as being irrational, abnormal or lacking in some way. We demand that they be like us and cannot understand why they do not take responsibility for the plight in which they find themselves. After all we work hard so why can’t they just stop complaining and get on with it?’
This, I believe, is where the Alan Joneses and Andrew Bolts come from in believing there is no racism in booing Goodes. They have work to do; we all have work to do owning our rank and privilege.
Charlie King a Darwin journalist asked Andrew Bolt on the 7.30 Report last Thursday to put himself in Goodes’ shoes. To imagine you were the only white footballer on the field, amongst a sea of black spectators. The referee is black, the side-line guys are black. The coach is black as are the journalists reporting your dance supporting your race. The owners of the newspapers and TV channels are black. The legal system is run by blacks. Black judges make the rulings. This is the world you live in.
When I go into this place, it crystallises for me the enormous rank I have as a white male. I live in a culture that marginalises people of lower rank. The reaction around Goodes’ war dance, I believe, comes from not wanting to be disturbed or challenged about our rank and privilege. ‘I’ll tolerate you as long as you don’t make me feel uncomfortable. Don’t call me on my rank and privilege.’
Being white means I don’t have to think about it. The system supports me in so many ways.
Racism is painful and agonising for those who experience it. Fairfax columnist, Waleed Aly nails it:
And it’s not as simple as it being about race, it’s about something else. It’s about the fact that Australia is generally a very tolerant society until its minorities demonstrate that they don’t know their place. And at that moment, the minute someone in a minority position acts as though they’re not a mere supplicant, then we lose our minds. And we say, ‘No, no, you’ve got to get back in your box here’.’ The reason Goodes attracts such vilification is because he speaks up, he doesn’t back down, he demands to be heard.
Dr Arnold Mindell who has developed processes to work on racism suggested four solutions to stop Racism
- STOP RACISM; Everywhere and every time it appears, help all to Wake Up. Recall the pain created by history.
2. RANK! Be aware of your big/small social rank and get others to join you in discussing how to use and notice how that social/financial/color/age/and sex orientation ranks work best for yourself and others: create open forums.
3. SUPPORT SPIRITUAL POWER! Those with less social power may have equal or more spiritual power. See the power in everyone, and help use it wisely.
4. ALL GROW TOGETHER. Minority communities sometimes behave like mainstreams against ‘minorities’ in their own group. Everyone, wake up…together. ****NOT 1 BUT ALL 4 POINTS TOGETHER WILL HELP
★ Breakthrough consultancy; Rank power and privilege.
Anand Anderson is a therapist, activist and radical thinker. He lives on a north coast intentional community.