On Thursday morning I overheard a group of senior citizens discussing whether or not Eddie McGuire was racist. They decided that he was not, and that calling someone an ape was not racist, and they were quite upset that the whole thing was an issue at all.
‘If I call a woman a cow, that’s not racist. It’s just mean,’ said one gentleman.
‘And I call my husband a hippo, but that’s because he’s fat,’ added a lady.
‘I call my grandson a cheeky monkey all the time, and that’s not mean, or racist,’ commented a woman with a spectacular blonde beehive. She continued, ‘He is fat, but if I was being mean I’d call him a cheeky elephant.’
Over the last few days I’ve heard several similar conversations and even been involved in a few.
I’ll say something like, ‘It’s a racial insult because of the history and pain attached to the word.’
The common reply is, ‘But if I called you an ape, would you be offended?’
I say, ‘No, I wouldn’t.’
And the other person says, ‘Well there you go. I’ve just proven my point.’
Then I reply, ‘Actually, you’ve missed the point entirely.’
Any effort to explain further is dismissed with allegations that I take things too seriously, shouted down with cheap insults, or I’m called a white who hates whites.
If I were given a chance to explain, this is how I’d do it.
To say that you don’t understand how the term ‘ape’ can be offensive, all you’re saying is that it’s not offensive to you.
That’s like saying because that you’re not allergic to peanuts, you don’t understand why anyone else is. If you have a car, why we need public transport. Why anything needs to be gluten free.
Just because it doesn’t apply to you, it doesn’t mean it’s okay.
The word ‘ape’ as an insult is part of a language that has been used to discriminate against groups of people that have suffered horribly at different times through their history. Usually as a result of the actions of white people. Using the word ‘ape’ carries all this weight.
I’m a white middle class male. It’s not offensive to me, and because I’m part of the group that has caused that pain, using it and claiming that it has no effect further increases the hurt. If you’re standing with the rock throwers, of course you’re never going to understand how it feels to be hit by that rock.
Eddie McGuire claimed that he did not mean to be racist, and I believe him. However with any potentially racist slur, there are two ways it can cause damage. The way it is meant and the way it is perceived.
Consider a meal that’s taken you all day to prepare. You were up early at the Farmer’s Market to get the best ingredients, and you’ve spent all day chopping, marinating, broiling and roasting. Then it tastes awful.
You had the best intentions, but you can’t change the result, and you certainly can’t taste an intention. If you could, I imagine that they would not be filling at all. Apparently all they’re good for is paving the way to hell.
So does Eddie McGuire deserve to be fired?
He claims to have been overtired and not thinking clearly. However that he even had the idea that it might have been acceptable in the slightest to link King Kong and Adam Goodes shows a core misunderstanding of the issue.
That he otherwise says and does all the right things hints at a person whose private persona is far different from that paraded for public consumption. It speaks of someone who knows the correct ways to act and speak, so goes through those motions, however in truth thinks something else entirely.
If this two-faced approach to the issue is allowed to persist without the proper punishment, it makes our sports media look like a boys club where what matters is what you say, not what you actually think. I don’t believe it is, but it will feel like it is, unless Eddie McGuire is fired from all media commitments and as the President of Collingwood.
Not taking action against Eddie spreads the idea that racism is okay, as long as you have good intentions.
A few years ago, I’d just started playing with an amateur football team, and was hanging out at a music festival with them as a pre-season bonding exercise.
One of the players was Asian, and his nickname was a common insult for Asians. I’m not going to repeat it, because I don’t want to offend anyone. In the great Australian tradition of nicknames, an ‘a’ had been added to the end, to give it a friendly colloquial feel.
The Asian guy’s name was Rob, and after a few drinks he confided in me that he hated the nickname.
‘So why not tell them?’ I asked.
‘I have. Again and again. They just tell me that they don’t mean it like that. It’s just a joke, and they mean it in a good way. How do you insult someone in a good way?’
‘Why not tell the coach?’
‘No way,’ he said. ‘What would the guys think of me then? And if I want to play for someone else, that’s an extra hour drive. If I want to play footy, I just have to put up with it.’
‘I’ll have a chat to the boys,’ I offered.
He glared at me. ‘Don’t say a word. It’s nothing to do with you.’
I’ve had many similar conversations, and if this is how we continue to excuse racism in the media, I expect I’ll be having many more.