Indigenous All-Stars & “white pride”
The following article by John T. Patten is the second in a series examining some of the most commonly stated and ridiculously racist beliefs held by many Australians.
“The NRL Aboriginal All-Stars is a racist team. If we were to have a whites only team, we’d be called racist!”
This is an idea that comes up as a matter for discussion on football forums and in the media every year. It rolls up at the start of February, a week or two before the annual NRL All-Star game is played. Typically, the faux victim rant arrives with a two-pronged approach, which acts to highlight the accusers’ startling lack of awareness regarding the make-up of the “Indigenous” team, and their dearth of knowledge relating to the First Peoples of this continent.
The basics of the accusation
It’s posited quite openly by some that the existence of an Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander team is restrictive in nature as well as patently racist. One can’t deny that it’s restrictive to some degree, but its restrictions are not to be found along racial lines, nor are those restrictions any more discriminatory than the team being held to a single gender.
Is it racist?
In order to qualify for the Indigenous All Stars, a person must identify culturally as belonging to one of over 350 distinct Nations, which preceded the establishment of Australia. Although Aboriginal and black are terms associated with race, they are also shorthand terms for those who belong to a specific set of cultures.
Now, this might come as a shock to some of those who have been beholden to accusatory thinking, but maintaining such ideas year in and year out, betrays the fact that those who hold such ideas might just be extremely deficient in having any sort of observational prowess.
For most people it shouldn’t take more than a minute of watching the game and observing the team list to recognise that the players who qualify for the Indigenous All-Stars come from very diverse racial backgrounds. Some have dark skin, some have what might be termed white, and most have European and sometimes Asian surnames. It’s not about being black.
The Indigenous All-Stars team is restricted to people who belong to a number of different cultures, where race is irrelevant, except to those critics on the outside, looking in, because all they see is race, and are often blind to culture and its importance.
How’s that you ask? Well, take a look at the team’s make-up. Were it a racist team, there wouldn’t be a large number of people playing in it who have English, Irish, Scottish and Torres Strait Islander heritage. And yes – Torres Strait Islanders belong to a completely different race, and a very different culture to those belonging to people from mainland Australia and Tasmania. The Indigenous All-Stars are multicultural and multiracial. Indeed, Australia was multicultural long before Europeans arrived.
What about a white team?
So, the second part of the ugly rant that regularly rears its head is the suggestion that if there were a “white” team it would be banned for being racist. Well, yeah. Because it would be. Never mind that there’s a whole other conversation to be had in relation to people who think not having a racist team is somehow “unfair”.
The difference in the matter is that an all white team would have nothing to do with culture, or anything of relevance. It would exist purely as a racist construct.
In this debate a number of important facts have been ignored. There have been many culture based teams that white Australians have been part of and continue to be part of. Many of the teams at the Rugby League World Cup, World Nines, and Sevens in years gone by have been the equivalent of the Indigenous All Stars. The Scottish and Irish teams have at times consisted almost entirely of what might be termed white Australians. Indeed, if an Australian based Celtic All-Stars, Cornish All-Stars, or Anglo All Stars were to come into existence, those would also be reasonable approximations of the Indigenous All-Stars concept.
Would such teams be racist? No. Not unless they told a black person or any other player who held the appropriate cultural credentials that they weren’t allowed to take part.
Regarding the existence of the Indigenous All-Stars and the idea that it sets a dangerous precedent, well that too is ridiculous.
Long before the All-Stars concept was dreamt up we had clubs like the Redfern All Blacks. They were founded in 1942 by Bill Onus as one of the first, and certainly the most high profile “black” football clubs. Their very existence was based on the fact that many players found it difficult to find acceptance in what was still a very racist world, despite rugby league having always been by far the most progressive and inclusive of Australia’s 4 major football codes. Today the same Redfern based club welcomes people regardless of their ethnicity.
Every October sees the Koori and Murri Knockout tournaments played, where players aren’t selected on race, but on their cultural connections to First Nations. Whilst a mercenary element has entered into the fray, for the most part players are connecting with their Country, their families, and their culture. Watch the games and you’ll see plenty of freckles, blondes and redheads taking the field, all of whom share those cultural connections with great pride.
Even overseas we see similar examples that pre-date the Indigenous All-Stars concept. The Haudenosaunee (also known as Iroquois) are a confederation of 5 First Nations, whose lands straddle both the US and Canada. Their constituency are the people who brought us the game of lacrosse. Because of this, and due to the cultural pride maintained by the Haudenosaunee, their confederacy sends a representative team to the Lacrosse World Cup, and have done so ever since being recognised as a sovereign nation by the IFL in 1988.
An opportunity to learn
What this illustrates is the fact that when February rolls around, most of those who have offered their commentary on the right or wrong of having an Indigenous All-Stars team have entered the conversation with very little information. For matters relating to the land’s First Peoples however, that is very much par for the course.