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Issue #1920      June 22, 2020

AFL racism resurfaces during Black Lives Matter

Three years ago, retired Collingwood player, Héritier Lumumba, detailed the racism he experienced during the twelve years he played AFL professionally in an opinion piece in the Guardian (UK) and a documentary titled Fair Game. Instead of acting on, or even simply acknowledging, the racist culture embedded in the AFL and Collingwood Football Club, the two organisations simply gaslit Lumumba. Lumumba was accused of not providing enough detail and of being too mentally ill to be credible. The players at Collingwood hid behind what Lumumba calls a defence of “collective silence,” except for Leon Davis, Andrew Krakour, Chris Egan, and Shae McNamara.

Back in 2017, Lumumba detailed how he was called a “chimp,” “slave,” “black c*nt,” and the n-word by his colleagues during his career. He said that it became clear that he “was only of value if [he] didn’t challenge the status quo.” AFL responded to Lumumba’s story by remarking that it is a leading organisation in fighting racism. Yet, as Lumumba noted, this is the same organisation that turned its back on Adam Goodes, defended Eddie McGuire, and reinforced a sexist, racist culture through programs like the Footy Show.

The AFL also lied about meeting with Lumumba to talk about the racism he experienced, while publicly stating that the “issue is really about where he’s at and his state of mind and his welfare.” McGuire also joined in on the lies and stated that Lumumba had come to him in private to apologise for, presumably, in Nathan Buckley’s words throwing McGuire “under the bus” after Lumumba denounced him for comparing Goodes to “King Kong”.

AFL started up again on 11th June with a Collingwood vs Richmond game. The 2020 season had been on hold since March because of COVID-19. A day before the match, on 10th June, Melbourne based comedian Aamer Rahman made a Twitter thread detailing how mainstream media, the AFL, and the Collingwood Football Club gaslit Lumumba and discredited his experience.

The thread leans heavily on an interview Lumumba did on Channel 10’s The Project with Waleed Aly, liberalism’s favourite Muslim TV personality. Waleed Aly is notorious for presenting safe and liberal views on politics that reinforce the status quo. Because of Waleed’s identity, he can provide a tokenised voice without enough criticism from the liberal majority of Australia who do not want to acknowledge the deep-seated racism within our culture and capitalist system.

Aamer Rahman includes clips from The Project that show Waleed spinning Lumumba’s story and discrediting his character, as the AFL and Collingwood Football Club had done. Peter Helliar, who is known as Collingwood’s number one fan, lied on the show by saying they couldn’t find anyone to corroborate Lumumba’s story. Waleed corrected him by saying Andrew Krakour confirmed Lumumba’s experience, but then subtly discredits Krakour’s testimony because he is a “rare person,” i.e. an Aboriginal man whose testimony does not carry the same weight as a white man’s.

Lumumba continues to fight for a public acknowledgement of his experience with racism at Collingwood Football Club. He published another statement on the matter on 9th June that included a confession to using drugs to cope with the experience. Unfortunately, this has led to mainstream media publishing articles again trying to discredit Lumumba’s character. Nathan Buckley has recently come forward, not with a public acknowledgement or apology, but stating that he would be willing to have a chat with Lumumba. Lumumba, however, won’t accept this, especially when previous experience of “private chats” with Buckley consisted of a gruelling eight hours of gaslighting. McGuire also responded to the resurfacing of Lumumba’s story by saying he’d never heard the nicknames and performed some subtle victim blaming by stating that Lumumba was involved in the nicknames himself.

Lumumba’s story is a typical account of what happens when an employee stands against racism within the workplace, although on a much more public scale. As communists, we must be vigilantly anti-racist, while also exposing liberal co-option of anti-racist movements. Corporations can always send out a statement or social media post with the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, but without a change in the system, anti-racism will only ever be neatly packaged in attractive lip service and corporate diversity, safely confined within the status-quo.

Next article – US Supreme Court bans discrimination on the job against LGBTQ people

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