The real reason people are outraged over Adam Goodes' 'war dance'

Controversial: Adam Goodes' post-goal dance.

Controversial: Adam Goodes' post-goal dance. Photo: Supplied

Early in 42, the 2013 biographical film about Jackie Robinson, major league baseball's first black player, Robinson is warned by Brooklyn Dodgers executive Branch Rickey of the racial hatred he will face, both from fans and other players.

Rickey asks Robinson if he has the temperament to withstand these taunts without ever retaliating. The implication is clear: if Robinson should do so, his career would be as good as over. In a later scene, a rival manager hurls racist abuse at Robinson as he steps up to bat. It takes all of Robinson's resolve not to respond, knowing full well that, should he do so, the newspaper headlines wouldn't be about the invective to which he was subjected but about the angry black man attacking the white opposition.

Robinson learned quickly that any response to racism would be used to 'prove' why blacks should not be allowed in a white man's sport.

That film was set in the US in 1947. Fast forward to Australia in 2015 and, incredibly, one of our best-known sports stars is embroiled in a 'scandal' with some people seriously asking if he has "gone too far" by celebrating a goal with an Indigenous war dance.


Like other Indigenous players before him, Adam Goodes has been subjected to racial abuse throughout his career. Most famously, a young fan called him an "ape". Most infamously, Eddie McGuire suggested he could be used to promote the musical King Kong. These epithets, and more, Goodes is expected to take in his stride, just as Robinson did so many decades before.

That this is still the reality for people of colour is almost beyond words. At all times, we are expected to remain polite, calm, and non-aggressive. Anything otherwise is seen as a failure of our character, a sign that it is our own moral failings that are responsible for our disadvantages.

No matter how many black Americans are violently killed by police, for instance, much of the public outrage remains directed at those who take to the streets in protest.

While black Americans implore their compatriots to see that #BlackLivesMatter, so much of white America chooses instead to dismiss them as rioters, troublemakers, looters who are the products of an inferior culture and a disgrace to the memory of Martin Luther King Jnr, who is praised for his 'peaceful' approach. Forgotten, it seems, is both the anger that King did not shy away from expressing and the fact that, for all his peacefulness, King was nonetheless violently killed by a white man.

It is hard, as a person of colour, to understand the impulse behind the white claim that people of colour must never respond to oppression and racism with emotion or anger, that we must never, even, speak out loud about racism at all.

This hasn't changed since the time of slavery, as I recently discovered in the museum at the African Burial Ground in New York. "Any hint of revolt evoked extreme oppression," one exhibit explains. The white "fear of uprisings led them to restrict enslaved people's rights and behaviour". After one such uprising, in which slaves set fires and ambushed whites, the local government swiftly applied collective punishment, executing 21 blacks.

Uprisings. Collective punishment. If this sounds familiar it's because it is happening right now to Palestinians in the West Bank.

For decades Israel has justified (with overwhelming support from its Western allies) its treatment of Palestinians by positioning them as innately violent hordes whose every movement must be strictly controlled to defend Israel. The military Occupation to which Palestinians are subjected, the "price-tag" attacks by Jewish settlers against Palestinian people and property, the bulldozing of Palestinians homes to make way for ever more settlements, and even the open calls for genocide by elected Israeli officials barely raise an eyebrow in the West.

These are the conditions that Palestinians are expected to meekly accept. To never protest or resist. Any attempt on their part to resist oppression is used to justify why they must remain under Israeli Occupation forever.

Yes, Goodes' dance was defiant. It was angry. It was cheeky. It was proud. And it was exhilarating.  

There is a reason so many are grasping at straws- his invisible spear!- to portray it as an intolerable act of aggression. The qualities Goodes expresses are ones that white Australia so often detests when it stems from Indigenous Australians because it is a painful reminder; a reminder of what has been done to the Indigenous population and a reminder that, despite it all, their culture lives on and it does so unapologetically.

After all, it's far easier to justify or at least ignore the wrongs committed against them when they can all be relegated to either useless drunks or polite assimilators. Both of these categories imply the superiority of white, Western culture. The former is taken as proof of their weakness and inability to fit in, evidence that they are to blame for their own misfortunes. The latter cements how much better white culture supposedly is.

Goodes does not fit that mould. An Aboriginal man who has achieved major success in a white-dominated field, who is nonetheless proud of his culture and ancestry, who doesn't bow down and act like he is expected to act, who doesn't just take abuse as if it is still 1947, is something many can't accept. For this, they demand he be punished for "going too far".

What this whole manufactured scandal shows, however, is that, for people of colour in a white-dominated country, going too far can merely be synonymous with standing up for yourself in the face of relentless racism.