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Calling time on racism in sport

If you’re used to having the best seat in the stadium, why would you want to change? Ashley Stanley asks how we can rewrite the rule book to end white supremacy in New Zealand sport.

Black lives don’t matter. That’s what #blacklivesmatter is simply counteracting.

But there is nothing simple about racism, systemic oppression and their master white supremacy.

Those three words are loaded with over 400 years of slavery - 400 years of an atrocious inhumane reality for black people.

And they’re still shackled.

History tells us that black lives don't matter to white people. And the present day shows us just that.

If the statement makes you squirm and get defensive, stop. Take a moment and ask yourself why you feel that way? 

If white people are truly honest about unpacking those uncomfortable feelings, there are usually two reasons that’s their initial reaction.

One, the defensiveness that comes from oblivion to others' realities because they’ve never personally experienced racism (prejudice perhaps), or two, admitting there is truth to the statement causes an internal conflict because they believe they’re not racist.

They have black friends/colleagues/partners/children/neighbours so of course they can’t be.

Wrong.

And therein lies the issue: the centering of their own experiences as fact and placed above others – even those who live that reality, every day, and have literally been fighting for their survival for centuries.

White supremacy isn’t exclusive to Klansmen and skinheads openly hating black people, it’s consciously or unconsciously continuing to uphold the idea of superiority through structures that were designed and built on white dominance, ideas, thinking, and values.

Economic structures, legal structures, political structures, cultural structures all make up norms within societies built on the backs of black people, for the benefit of white men.

So, what does that mean for Aotearoa New Zealand?

I’m in no way wanting to take the focus away from black lives matter by mentioning New Zealand. I’m rather trying to highlight how prevalent racism is in sport in this country.

What may seem like small, one-off opinions or incidences are actually significant in maintaining white supremacy.

In the rugby codes it looks like commentators making fun of Pacific players' names on air and doubling down when called out on it.

It’s voicing opinions like brown players are in teams for the brawn work and white players for the brains.

It’s having journalists investigating ‘white flight’ in rugby numbers instead of covering why there are a disproportionately high number of brown bodies in the game.

It’s having governance boards and senior management teams looking like each other but not reflecting New Zealand’s communities or playing groups.

It’s having a voting system to determine the game's global strategy, but certain countries are given more weight while others are not even at the table.

It’s making racial remarks and saying sledging is part of the game.

It’s saying the black and/or brown players speak well after an interview.

It’s hearing comments in the crowd telling black and/or brown players to go back to where they come from but staying silent to avoid a scene.

It’s having a team name that represents historical injustices yet deciding to keep it after a ‘consultation’ process and a rebranding exercise.

The overall match report shows it’s benefiting from white people who forced their way onto this land and rewrote the rules so people who look like them could have home ground advantage. Every single day. With a stacked team. In a never-ending fixed game of white supremacy.

Entry into the game is automatic, but the team and view you get depends solely on the colour of your skin. And there are no refunds.

So how can you ruck racism through sport?

1. Control what you can. Question your own thoughts. Reflect and try to unravel why you feel the way you do when race and racism is mentioned? Are you part of the majority? How would others feel or see the topic? What and whose views are dominating the air time? Let go of trying to push your experiences and listen and learn – especially to those who live with it every day.

2. If you watch sport with your children, start conversations with them. Broaden their experiences with different ethnicities. Don’t let the black and/or brown people they see playing sport be the only representation of those groups in their life.

3. Talk about different people and different ways of seeing and experiencing the world. If you don’t know how to do that, refer back to step one – there is limitless information. Read, watch, and follow people who do not look like you. And be mindful of what you say and don’t say about people in front of your kids. Children are not stupid, they can take on more than adults. We just put limits on them because we’re limited.

4. Extend your enthusiasm and backing of minority groups beyond the sporting arena. If your children play sports with people of different backgrounds, try to encourage social get-togethers and be present in their interactions. Children have no filters and sparking healthy conversations on topics that arise can help shape opinions and beliefs.

5. Take note of who or what else is influencing your children and their thought patterns. School, teachers, online content or communities, family and friends. Be conscious of what you’re feeding them because they will carry on the norms you set into the next generation. Build them up to be brave.

Sport is powerful but the hard part is going beyond it. It’s a vehicle to carry on the uncomfortable conversations when the final whistle blows.

If you’re used to having the best seat in the stadium, why would you want to change? And that’s what it ultimately comes down to. Enough people from the majority wanting to admit, acknowledge, and accept how they got their privileged spot in the first place, then using that advantage to rewrite the rulebook with black people instead of on the backs of them.

We don’t need a Hail Mary, we need strategic set plays towards a new end zone - the dismantling of racism, systemic oppression and white supremacy.

So break down your thoughts, truly listen, and broaden your bubble because all lives matter is a fallacy until #blacklivesmatter.

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