Racism: Do you know how to have the conversation?

This week’s news cycle (at least in Queensland and New South Wales) has been filled with the Andrew Johns racism saga.

It is alleged that Andrew Johns, the assistant coach of the New South Wales State of Origin team, told a player that he needed to stop Greg Inglis (from the Queensland team) by saying he needed to “stop that black c***” as well as other offensive remarks about Tongan-Australian player Israel Folau.

It ended when Timana Tahu angrily left the training session and ultimately the State of Origin team for 2010, offended and disgusted (and rightly so) at the language and the racism behind it.

Over the last few days there have been endless articles & TV spots by professional sports commentators, commentators in general as well as by former and current rugby league players. Some articles and opinion pieces have dealt with the issue well, but unfortunately mostly not. Here is a small collection of a few online newspaper/magazine articles on the topic –

As an Australian who has witnessed and experienced racism, reading & listening to the commentary is frustrating to say the least. But listening to Dr Chris Sarra from the Stronger Smart Institute today, it became clearer to me why I am/was so frustrated. It wasn’t just because the commentators disagreed with me, or didn’t share my point of view. It wasn’t just because those in charge were silent on the issue (ie, NRL headquarters), or too quickly forgiving (ie. Channel 9).

What it is that makes this topic so frustrating, is as Chris Sarra points out, because most Australian commentators (professional & armchair) are unable/unwilling/un-skilled to have this type of conversation, ie the conversation about race and racism.

But we need to be able to have this conversation. Earlier this year, nearly every Murri I knew headed down to the Gold Coast for the NRL All Stars vs Indigenous DreamTime team. People were absolutely busting with pride. If you weren’t at the game you were watching it! As Preston Campbell has said, what was the game for, if wonderful young men like Timana Tahu feel unsafe and excluded.

We have to learn to have the conversation about race & racism.

And this isn’t just about cleaning out the racist-potty-mouths of people like Andrew Johns and Mal Brown. Its about getting square with the idea that the Australian “way of life” is founded on racism – the racism that led to the British Government declaring the continent terra nullius, which made way its colonisation and all the pain and suffering that colonisation brings with it.

Discussions around racism do NOT have to end in tears and finger pointing – though sometimes they do.

Racism – overt/covert, externalised/internalised, systemic/hidden – prevent our classrooms from becoming safe, engaged, innovative, creative, free, and empowering places of learning. Racism in all its forms inhibits a student’s self-expression and their learning.

Do you know how to have the conversation about racism? No? Then take the time to learn it. Read, Think, Engage. Don’t be afraid. Be daring. Be bold. Be humble. Listen.