Editorial: Racism – it’s just not cricket

Hashim Amla has been dubbed a "terrorist" several times while on tour in Australia. (Gallo)

Hashim Amla has been dubbed a "terrorist" several times while on tour in Australia. (Gallo)

There is a certain satisfaction in seeing the Australian cricket team crumble under the weight of a South African attack. It is especially gratifying to see a Proteas team that is in the process of looking demographically representative of the country dominating the sport. Mostly it’s just wonderful to see our Australian colleagues crying crisis on their back pages.

But if South African ascendancy on the field reassures us about the joys of cricket – and affirms our belief in the integral place of sport in the world – another incident of racism in Australia against a member of a touring party leaves us bemused.

“Hashim Amla terrorist” is the message reported to have been scrawled on a fence near the Proteas’ dugout at the Bellerive Oval in Hobart last weekend. Cricket Australia said a 24-year-old man suspected of committing the act had been banned from attending any official match in Australia for three years – the cricketphobes among you may well argue that this is more of a blessing than a punishment – but the man in question was also summoned to appear in court. The Aussie authorities have been very clear that “anti social” behavior will not be tolerated.

Amla and the rest of the team have responded to the incident with admirable poise, expressing their confidence in the process executed by Cricket Australia and the relevant law enforcement agencies. Remember, it’s not the first time an Australian has used “terrorist” in reference to Amla.

Dean Jones lost his job as commentator for referring to Amla as a “terrorist”. Then too, Amla responded with his characteristic poise. He just wanted to get on with his game after all.

Good on Hashim. He’s not been described as one of the best batsmen of his generation for nothing.

But not all of us are blessed with the same inner strength and outside support to be unaffected by such statements. Indeed, for many of us, it is exactly the sentiments couched behind those statements that impede progress.

So how are we supposed to respond to acts of racism? What exactly is the right and proper way to respond to a negation of another person’s humanity? Because no matter which way you analyse these incidents, the inclination to label another person in such a way is ultimately a denial of their humanity. It stems from an inclination to treat people who look unlike you as somehow inferior.

So, well done to Amla for shrugging it all off.

We do wonder though what the response would have been if Amla was more inclined to throw his bat in frustration with racial stereotyping.

And indeed, as far as racism goes, a comment from one commentator and graffiti in a stadium is relatively benign. But this is not just about Amla. And it’s not just about Jones or the graffiti. And it’s not just about a bearded brown-skinned man being called a terrorist in Australia a couple of times. These statements don’t birth themselves into existence. It is about the social context in which these statements are allowed to be constructed that must be exposed here.

If we are to refer again to cricket, remember that time Makhaya Ntini was taunted with a variety of k-words in Australia?

And then there was that time Darren Lehmann walked into the Australian dressing room and shouted out “black c—-s” after being dismissed in a game against Sri Lanka.

And just the other day, Ian Chappel telling Australian television that Rabada must have developed his bowling technique while bowling to the batsmen in his village. Because of course, the only possible place from which a black man in Africa could learn to bowl is a dusty village. Chappel’s comment would be laughable if it did not also reveal how he relates to black people.

Australia has a racism problem and it’s not confined to cricket. But we don’t have to get onto a plane to Perth to find these sentiments.

These are the same attitudes that fuel the actions of men in Mpumalanga forcing another man into a coffin, threatening to bury him alive. Every act of racism is significant because every act of racism is a rejection of another person’s humanity. Every act of racism ought to be treated as a crime. Because entire empires were built on this pre-supposition of racial superiority. And we are yet to recover.

Still, the American writer Toni Morrison is right. Racism functions as a distraction. “It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being.” We cannot be drawn into explaining why every act of racism is wrong. We cannot be drawn over and over again to explain how racism functions.

And yet, people calling in to talk radio this week were ready to tell the world to wait for an explanation before condemning the coffin assault. What exactly in that video needed an explanation first? A black man was brazenly assaulted by two white men. No contextual explanation is needed to understand how wrong that is – or how two white men in relative power to a black men are abusing the rights of another human being.

Much as we cannot respond to every act of racism, because it is so pervasive, we also cannot be expected to shrug it off and get on with the game.

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