There has been a dark, delicious irony to the commentariat’s crying over the booing of Adam Goodes. These mostly white, footie-dodging, city-based scribes present themselves as implacable opponents of racism, an ideology they despise for its treatment of one group – whites – as superior to another group: in this case Indigenous Aussies. And yet their Goodes-backing word-churning is fuelled by a superiority complex of its own, by an urge among the chattering class to distinguish itself from what it views as the throng of dim footie fans who holler and bellow like beasts. Yes, to these culture warriors, the really foul thing about the handful of idiots who called Goodes an ape is that they got the wrong target: the true apes are the ill-read rednecks who go to the football. Welcome to the era of racially tinged anti-racism.
Without so much as a flicker of self-awareness, pro-Goodes, anti-masses commentators simultaneously bemoan prejudiced football followers who generalise about whole groups of people before going on to make sweeping generalisations about a whole group of people: working-class whites, the kind who don’t read the Age or own a Nespresso.
These ‘drongos’, as Francis Leach of the Age branded them (drongo being a famous insult that has its origins in animalism: it was the name of a lame racehorse of the 1920s), show that football has become a ‘redneck wonderland’. Leach branded this amorphous blob of rednecks as ‘obnoxious school kids’, who are probably really angry over ‘the spiralling price of a pie at the footy or the quality of the rubbish beer you force yourself to drink’. They’re uncultured, you see, these beastly drongos. Not like Leach, who doesn’t eat pies and no doubt prefers Pinot Gris to bad beer.
A Guardian hack looked down sniffily at the dark underbelly of Aussie society, where apparently odd, gruff people lurk and spout claptrap. The ‘murky waters’ in which bad people swim. Over at sports website the Roar, Elias Clure slammed the ‘uneducated and misinformed drivel’ that swirls around football, fuelling its ‘subtle racism’. He said the ‘less educated’ folk who attend football matches – Them, the Other, Not Us – are having their ‘racially motivated vitriol’ stirred up by the right-wing media. They’re sponges, you see, thoughtlessly soaking up and regurgitating the prejudices of others. Monkey see, monkey do.
Meanwhile, liberal blogs and serious newspapers’ discussion threads have been stuffed with bilious rage against football’s uncouth bogans, who, as one blogger fumed, have been ‘brought up without taste, courtesy or tolerance, and who [are] hostile to people who are better’. Crikey says many footy fans clearly look upon the likes of Goodes as ‘less evolved’ and ‘primitive’. Yet the most brazen instances of peering-down at the primitive, of having a fit of the vapours over the behaviour of the less educated, the less sophisticated, the less evolved, came not from footy fans but from the haters of footy fans: ‘anti-racists’ who fear and despise lumpen whites.
It’s the same in Britain. The great and good rage against football fans who stupidly throw bananas or make ape noises at black players – an incredibly rare occurrence these days – yet they think nothing of referring to those fans themselves as apes. Ian Buruma branded fans ‘primitive and tribal’, saying they bring to mind the days when ‘warriors donned facial paint and jumped up and down in war dances, hollering like apes’. They’re the real apes: the dumb white hordes. Echoing Francis Leach’s labelling of footy fans as overgrown children, a writer for the British Independent says ‘the mentality of the football fan is essentially that of a child’. An Evening Standard columnist called them ‘foaming dogs’.
If this all sounds familiar, this description of a swath of adults as children and animals, as dogs or hollering apes, that’s because it is what racists once said about blacks. This is the twisted heart of handwringing over football fans’ rough talk and abrasive behaviour: it poses as anti-racist, and pretends to be concerned about the instinct of white supremacy, and yet it rehabilitates the oldest form of white supremacy: the feeling of supremacy that the cultured white elite gets when it peers into that strange world of poor whites who have bad habits, lots of babies, and, shock horror, different values to Ours. From Victorian fretting over the white mobs of London’s slums to more recent scare stories about a white underclass destabilising Western societies, racially charged commentary has historically been white-vs-white as well as white-vs-black.
The Goodes episode confirms the extent to which anti-racism has been hijacked by a new cultural elite that is really more interested in advertising its virtue than in making society freer and more equal. Probably the most noble cause of the 20th century, anti-racism has now been reduced to a badge that Good People wear in order to show – here comes the irony again – how morally and culturally superior they are to the allegedly racist underclass.
Once, anti-racism was about liberating downtrodden blacks, allowing them to take their place in public life. Now it is about satisfying the moral needs of well-fed, well-connected whites, who in these morally unanchored times need every opportunity they can get to distinguish themselves from the swarm. Where anti-racism used to demand that blacks ought to have access to all the good stuff of life in Western democracies, now it’s little more than a way for exhausted, disillusioned, leftish whites to sneer at the hollowness and wickedness of Western democracies, and at their coarse, disgusting populations. This is the true tragedy exposed by the Goodes hysteria: where in the past anti-racism said, ‘Our societies are good so let’s grant black people access to them too’, now it says: ‘Our societies are shit. We’re all scarred by history. The lower orders are untrustworthy. Blacks, stick with your own, you’ll be better off.’
Brendan O’Neill is editor of Spiked. A collection of his essays ‘A Duty to Offend’ is published this week by Connor Court.