How to Tackle Racism – On and Off the Sports Field

In the wake of the Do Better Report and Eddie McGuire’s forced resignation as president of Collingwood AFL club, we sat down with Evolve’s co-Directors, Carla Rogers and Aunty Munya Andrews, to talk about racism in sport and Australian society more broadly. They shared the practical steps we can all take to create culturally safe workplaces.

The problem is far from new, in 2015 Sydney Swans footballer Adam Goodes (pictured with Aunty Munya above) retired after experiencing persistent racial abuse.  The final three years of his playing career, and the controversy surrounding him, are documented in the 2019 Australian film, The Final Quarter

As an Aboriginal woman and Elder, Aunty Munya has grown up with racism and experienced it all her life from overt to covert.

“Racism affects you deeply and personally,” she shares. “Over the years it can wear you down, make you sick and even kill you.”

“Unfortunately,” adds Carla Rogers, “I think that racism is an inherent part of my identity as a white Australian.”

Are nicknames really racist?

Many people might think that the racism we sometimes witness on the sports field, particularly name calling, is just high jinx. All meant in good fun and part of the spirit of the game. This is reinforced when we hear reports that former Collingwood AFL player Heritier Lumumba gave himself the nickname ‘Chimp’.

Aunty Munya strongly disagrees, as an Aboriginal woman, who has personally experienced racism throughout her life, her observation is that what happens on the sports field is a reflection of what happens in daily life in Australia.  

“For far too long, people think its funny or okay to call other people racist names like ‘Chimp’, ‘Choco’, ‘Blackie’ or ‘Darky,’” she explains, “and they add further insult to injury by suggesting the recipient doesn’t have a sense of humour. ‘What’s the matter, love? Can’t take a joke?’ implying there’s something wrong with you not that the behaviour is wrong.”

“The suggestion that former Collingwood AFL player Heritier Lumumba gave himself the nickname and therefore that makes it okay, is not only ludicrous but ignorant of racist, colonial history and discourse that shapes and affects societal behaviour and attitudes towards groups of people who are different and are deemed inferior.”

Lumumba has himself said he went along with the nickname initially, and a lot of other racist behaviour, as he felt pressure to fit in at the powerhouse club.

As a keen sportswoman, Carla struggles with the spectator culture in Australia and the disproportionate hero worship of players. She acknowledges however that this does create a massive opportunity for sports players and teams to lead the way, role model culturally appropriate behaviour and shape attitudes more broadly.

“Sport can bring people, cultures and countries together,” observes Carla. “On the flip side, it has also shown the ugly underbelly of racism in Australia.”

While the focus at the moment is on Collingwood and AFL, we know it’s not an isolated issue. This is just one example of many playing out across the country in our sports clubs, school grounds and workplaces.

So, what practical steps can we take to create culturally safe workplaces?

“First of all, I congratulate any individual or organisation that has the grace and insight to acknowledge that the problem of racism exists in their lives and the workplace and is committed to positive change,” says Aunty Munya.  

Systemic racism is a reality in most western cultures, including Australia. Defensiveness is not helpful. Ownership and responsibility of one’s actions is.

“We all have unconscious bias and beliefs that shape our reactions and behaviour,” Carla explains. “This is why unpacking those beliefs (as we do in step four of our Seven Step™ Program – unpacking our cultural baggage) can be so enlightening. Once you become aware of your bias, then you are more able to act without making incorrect assumptions – or in a racist way.”

One simple action we can all take is to identify an old or current belief that we may have about a race or culture – and with curiosity ask ourselves, is it true?

In the workplace, we can also use tried and tested models such as Evolve’s R3 Culture Approach® 

The R3 Culture Approach

Evolve’s R3 Model™ has been distilled from years of experience, both in driving Reconciliation, and managing relationships in the workplace.  The approach is so universal that it can be applied specifically to building relationships with Indigenous peoples, or to improving any communications.

The concept?

When presented with confusion or conflict, work through these three actions, in order: 

  1. Reflect: Stop, pause and consider what led to this situation.
  2. Relate: Consider things from the other person’s point of view, or attempt to place yourself in his/her shoes without making too many assumptions.
  3. Reconcile: If possible, work with the other person towards a solution.

So how might this look in the context of witnessing racist behaviour at a sporting event? 

Here’s an example:

  1. Reflect:  Identify the issue – for example other spectators are yelling out racist names.
  2. Relate: Ask yourself, how would you feel as a person of that race whether spectator or player? 
  3. Reconcile: In this case it means taking positive action. You would need to assess your own safety and might decide not to confront the spectators, instead you could talk to a security guard or write to the sports organisation.

All of Evolve’s programs cover the R3 Model as part of the Seven Steps to Reconciliation, and we can arrange to explore it in more detail in a live online Q&A session or interactive Workshop.

Curious about how we can help you create a culturally safe workplace, improve diversity and inclusion and/or activate your Reconciliation Action Plan? Book a call below with our Client Experience Manager, or contact us today and let’s explore what we can do together.

Schedule a time to talk with Carla Rogers

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