There’s a certain sting you feel when someone tells you you’re wrong. In fact, studies have shown that being told you’re wrong actually hurts your brain.
That’s why the question of whether Australia is racist or not is often met with strenuous denials and heightened emotions.
But it’s not unpatriotic or un-Australian to admit Australia has a problem with racism. Australia is racist and that’s a fact.
On Sunday, at Sydney Cricket Ground six people were ejected and play was halted for nearly 10 minutes after Indian cricketer Mohammed Siraj reported that he’d heard racist abuse coming from the crowd.
The men who allegedly hurled the racist abuse were removed and the incident is now under investigation by Cricket Australia and NSW Police.
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Mohammed Siraj making a formal complaint to umpire Paul Reiffel. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
As news of the shocking incident filtered out, Indian spin bowler Ravichandran Ashwin said he’d been subjected to abuse from Australian crowds for almost a decade.
“If I take myself back to my first tour in 2011/12, I had no clue about what racial abuse is and how you can be made to feel small in front of so many people,” said Ashwin.
After Sunday’s incident, many Australians were disgusted and embarrassed that this had happened on our watch, in our country.
However, the keyboard warriors also came out to give their hot take: “He played the racist card,” they said. “He shouldn’t be listening to the crowd,” one other commented. “He should keep his head down and play the game”, more suggested – like somehow Siraj should just accept racist abuse while he’s simply trying to do his job.
But by far the most prevailing opinion from the naysayers seemed to be that Siraj had made the whole thing up.
It’s extremely unlikely that Siraj would have made this incident up. After all, Adam Goodes is an example of what happens in Australia when sports stars report abuse.
In May 2013, in an incident similar to what we’ve seen this week, AFL star Goodes was racially abused by a member of the crowd. The spectator was a 13-year-old girl who was escorted from the stadium.
The next day, Goodes told media he was “gutted” by what happened but he didn’t blame the girl, instead saying she needed to be supported and educated about what happened.
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Adam Goodes of the Sydney Swans speaking to media. Picture: Scott Barbour/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
Instead of sympathy being sent Goodes’ way, he was called a “bully” and subjected to two years of incessant booing from crowds. The constant goading became too much and in 2015 he told his teammates he could never play again.
For Goodes, the moment where he was the victim of racist abuse became the beginning of the end of his career. The emotional strain of how he’d subsequently been treated by sports fans, by Australians, was too much for him to bear.
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Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack. Picture: Kevin FarmerSource:News Regional Media
On Tuesday, acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack came under fire when he told reporters “all lives matter” a phrase criticised for detracting from the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the fight for racial justice.
He used the phrase as he rejected criticism for comparing pro-Trump rioters’ attack on Washington D.C.’s Capitol to anti-racism demonstrations across the US last year.
He claimed the BLM protests cost 19 lives that “should not have been lost”.
While saying “all lives matter” may seem like an innocuous statement, someone as politically aware as McCormack must know that speaking like that fans the flames of an already raging fire around racial inequality worldwide.
The Black Lives Matter movement isn’t about how black lives are more important than any other, it’s about how black lives are undervalued and there needs to be an end to this inequality.
It’s a problem everywhere but is especially stark in Australia where Indigenous children are 17 times more likely to go to jail than non-Indigenous kids.
So when someone asks whether Australia is racist, the answer is yes, no matter how much it hurts to say it out loud. This isn’t because Australia is better or worse than any other country, it’s because all countries are racist. Sadly, all people are racist.
We aren’t born racist, it’s something we learn, and in order to be better people we need to actively unlearn the prejudices we’ve taken on.
A 13-year-old child hurling abuse at an AFL player is a prime example of something that has been learnt. And it can also be unlearnt.
But being racist isn’t just about hurling abuse at sports star, it’s about the small things that happen every day. Making a snap judgment about someone based on their colour; CVs going in the bin because of a foreign-sounding name; or assuming someone can’t really be Australian because they aren’t white.
It’s also about how structural inequalities benefit some while harming others.
Australia is on precipice of where it can go with racism.
Do we try and educate ourselves about racism and the micro-aggressions people of colour face every day, try to better ourselves and be a better country? Or do we keep denying we have a racism problem and keep blaming the victims?’
For the country founded on fairness and mateship, I know which direction I think we should take.
Riah Matthews is the commissioning editor for news.com.au and Kidspot
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