Steady Eddie

Last week, I wrote a piece addressing the Eddie McGuire-King Kong debacle and made the point that if you were to use a term like "ape" or "n......" on the subway of a city like New York, you'd probably cop a beating.

The post had almost 600 comments before we shut them off to give our moderator time to put his hands in an ice bath. I also received more than 250 emails from readers, 98 per cent commending the piece, as well as hundreds of tweets, about 80 per cent in favour of what I'd written.

Many of those emails were from Indigenous Australians, others with Asian or Indian surnames and more than a few from Americans - black and white.

To sum up what they said: "You are right, Aussies just don't get it."

Interestingly, the main complaint about my post was that by suggesting you'd risk being punched for racially slurring a black man, I was perpetuating a stereotype of African-Americans as violent and thus engaging in the "casual racism" I was protesting against.

This was not my intention because racial sensitivity is not just a black thing in the US. I have witnessed aggressive encounters on American streets and in bars when racial slurs have been used against Italians, Jews, Asians and Hispanics as well.

This is not to say violence is the best way to deal with these situations - and having lived in New York for close to four years, I also saw many people laugh off ignorant pejoratives and simply walk away. But not often.

My point was and is that racial slurs are taken seriously in the US. They are a line people cross, knowing full well how incendiary they can be. There's not a 13-year-old girl in America who's dumb enough not to know that you're asking for trouble calling a black, superstar athlete an "ape".

In Australia, you can be in a bar watching State or Origin and scream "smash the Abo" and people will turn around to SMILE at you. You can even scream similar in a crowd at an AFL game and NO ONE SAYS A THING TO YOU.

The dynamic, of course, is about power. In the US, even minorities have populations large enough where their voices are heard in both the media and politics, thus the historic pretzel the Republican Party is now tying itself into trying to court Hispanic voters while also denying their relatives visas or citizenship.

Indigenous Australians occupy few positions of power in this country, so people feel safe in slurring them, casually or not, because there are no repercussions in either the corporate, sporting or real world. 

Other commenters on last week's post made the point that US broadcasters with histories of making racially offensive comments on air - men like Don Imus, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck - still hold jobs in the media.

After further reflection on the topic, I'd like to modify my statement about Eddie McGuire and it is this.

If he was the CEO of the Chicago Bulls, New York Giants, Florida Marlins, LA Dodgers or Lakers and he'd made a similar "slip of the tongue" he would no longer have a job.

Endy story.

Sure he might keep his gig as host of America's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, but he ain't shaking hands with Kobe Bryant, Charles Woodson, RG III or Big Papi in a dressing room again.

Yes, you can get away with being casually or outright racist on American radio if your ratings are good enough, but not in the sporting world, which is what McGuire was representing during his now infamous interview.

The reason for the zero-tolerance of racism in the American sport and sports media is because not only are their playing rosters stacked with "minorities", the executive offices of all of those organisations are full of Italians, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Jews - all of whom have endured discrimination at some point in the history of their adopted homeland.

And they got juice. They've got power and they use it to wipe out grubby little reminders of the discrimination, humiliation and pain they, their parents and grandparents experienced.

Indigenous Australians?

They've got no juice, which is why Eddie McGuire - as predicted - kept his job*.  

In fact, Indigenous Australians have so little juice in this country we in the press don't even feel the necessity to identify them by their chosen title.

Every Indigenous activist I've ever talked to asks me why newspapers don't capitalise "indigenous" like they do every other nationality - it's their proper name, it's how they want to be referred to.

"Sorry," I say "it's just a style thing".

And another tiny example of how little the majority of us understand discrimination and the almost surgical humiliation words can induce.

We live in their country, we devoured their culture and we're still largely ignorant (and many times outright hostile) to some of their most profound beliefs.

"Lucky Country?"

For some.

* For the record I don't think McGuire is racist. I'm certain if one of his children turned up at home in the future with an Indigenous partner and declared their intentions to marry, he'd welcome them with open arms. He is, however, a symbol, a powerful one - and the fact he was not punished for his words gives a tacit green light to every other person who wants to vilify (casually or intentionally) a minority.

You can follow Sam on Twitter here. His email address is here.

Please don't take it personally if I do not reply to your email as they come in thick and fast depending on the topic. Please know, I appreciate you taking the time to write and comment and would offer mummy hugs to all.