Are you an upstander or bystander in matters of social justice? A series of encounters with a vicious, racist sticker in my community has me thinking.
Every now and again I see them, stuck to the back of a sign, wrapped around a street pole or hand-rail.
It shocks and scares me seeing these messages so out in the open – invoking a world that I never want to see or live in.
So each time I quickly peel them off, endeavouring to remove any evidence of their vile call to action. A call that I never want my adult students or their children to see.
As time’s gone on, I’ve begun to see more and more of these racist stickers in my community. I continue scraping them off, never quite losing that sharp intake of breath when I see them…all the time wondering:
why aren’t other people tearing down these stickers?
But then there was a shift.
I started to notice something quite different.
Whilst I’m still seeing the stickers in my daily walks, more and more they’re in a decimated status – with little remaining of them.
After the major sporting event in my community, there’s always a massive outbreak of the stickers – but for the most part they’re being destroyed.
OR…maybe this had been happening all the time but I just hadn’t seen it or tuned into it.
Perhaps I was so attuned to the evidence of hate in my community (and the world) that I was literally walking past contrary evidence. Evidence that people were standing up for diversity in our community.
As someone who’s passionate about social justice I can sometimes get too caught up in the never ending bigotry occurring in the world. I can get out of balance.
Getting back in sync and re-energized – for me – is a matter of actively seeking out and tuning into evidence of ‘good’.
And that’s what I’d like to shine a light on now – on people who are taking a stand in relation to social justice – being upstanders rather than bystanders.
And my specific point of focus here is the AFL (Australian Football League) .
Racism, sexism, homophobia, mental health stigma – there’s so much to contend with and to change – in the sport that I absolutely love but have a rocky history with.
Yes there are vocal supporters who feel they should be able to do and say as they please – at the footy – regardless of who it hurts. But this isn’t the whole story.
Large numbers of supporters are increasingly standing up for – and alongside – players who’ve been targets of abuse.
Indeed it’s probably fair to say that the public took the lead before the AFL administrators did – in respect to the racism directed at champion AFL player Adam Goodes.
Increasingly too there are challenges to the traditional blokiness of the AFL media landscape – courtesy of a wide array of female writers, bloggers, and podcasters. As a consequence, space is being afforded for social justice-related issues that were rarely canvassed before.
These issues include the violent misogyny that for too long has been laughed off or lightly dismissed within the AFL, the frequent racist comments made by leaders within the AFL community, the insistent homophobia that means that we still have no openly gay or bisexual male AFL players, or the need to support a national women’s AFL competition where players are fairly remunerated.
There’s also a far more diverse pool of footy-related people being showcased or featured within this largely non-mainstream media.
Then there’s the movements for change to make AFL Footy more inclusive for Indigenous people, or GLBTI people, or the long drive to have a national AFL women’s competition.
These drives for change have often been grass-roots efforts. They’ve required courage, determination and persistence, the capacity to repeatedly navigate a myriad of hostilities, and the capability to draw people in to become part of the movement for change. And over time we’ve seen (and continue to see) a wide array of positive outcomes.
So in the context of so many people feeling unwelcome and ostracised from the game of footy due to sexism, racism, homophobia, or other forms of discrimination, upstanders are taking up more and more space. In so doing, they honour silenced voices and forgotten histories. And this is the crux of it – they work to create an AFL where more of us feel like we can safely and openly participate without fear of being bullied, harassed, or abused.
Upstander or Bystander?
So what about you? When are you an upstander? When are you a bystander?
What do you attend to or tune into – in terms of social justice in your world?
Do you seek out opportunities to learn from people whose identities and experiences are unfamiliar and challenging to you?
When do you speak up and take action?
How do you support those people who are seeking to make a difference in social-justice related issues?
Are you prepared to challenge the silence and use your privilege (whether that’s your gender identity, your race, your sexuality, your able bodiedness) to support those whose voices are silenced or whose presence is denied?
Are you prepared to amplify (or share) the work of affected communities who are advocating for change – for their people, for their communities?
What are you doing?
Upstander-related Inspiration & Resources
Yes we can sometimes feel like we’re insignificant, like there’s very few of us chipping away at social causes.
Yes it can feel like it’s just too big, beyond us.
If that sounds like you (at times), here’s some fuel to keep you fired up.
#Upstander #Truth by Shawna Coppola. This is an insightful post about the intricacies, messiness and challenges of being an upstander – ourselves or our students. Give it a read.
The Outer Sanctum Podcast regularly discusses issues relating to diversity and discrimination in football. It also shines a spotlight on people (within footy) who are rarely featured in traditional footy media.
- The Outer Sanctum Podcast and Erin Riley broke the silence around a misogynistic discussion (between a group of male AFL footy commentators) relating to leading footy journalist Caroline Wilson.
- In more recent times, the Outer Sanctum podcast has showcased a wide array of women who’ve worked for years to establish a national AFL women’s competition along with the key players today.
- Also listen to Chicks Talking Footy
The Mangrook Footy Show is an Indigenous Australian footy show that regularly explores the social-justice and community-based dimensions of AFL Footy.
Susan Alberti has been a fierce supporter of women’s Footy (along with a myriad of other important social causes) in Australia.
The Pink Lady Match is an annual AFL event to support Breast Cancer Network Australia
Sam Lane reported on the results of AFL-related research that highlighted the extent of racism, sexism and homophobia in AFL footy.
Nicky Winmar courageously took a stand against racism as an AFL player. Today he’s supporting his gay son (Tynan) and the push to make AFL more inclusive for GLBTI people.
Keith Parry discusses how racism is embedded in the very fabric of AFL Footy.
Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the playing of the American National Anthem – to highlight the endemic racism within American society and institutions such as policing – has inspired many people and lead to significant moves for change.
- Deborah Cheetham, an Indigenous Australian opera singer – declined the opportunity to sing the Australian National Anthem at our AFL Grand Final – highlighting the problematic nature of the lyrics, “…for we are young and free’.
- She has co-written an alternative Australian National Anthem with Judith Durham and Kutcha Edwards.
Jason Ball has lead the push to make AFL footy more inclusive for GLBTI people, including the first AFL Pride Game.
Stand Up Events lead by Angie Greene – seeks to challenge the inequality that exists within Australian sports.
Mental Health – Sledging in AFL has now extended itself to mental health-related conditions. Thankfully there is a growing chorus of people who are challenging the rigid notions of what it is to be a ‘man’ in football. See Jonathan Horn’s article and also Episode 27 of the Outer Sanctum Podcast.
Kind World is a delightfully, non-sickly podcast that showcases ‘outside the box’ humanity just when it’s least expected.
Pushing The Edge for Innovation & Social Justice
I regularly chat to gutsy educators who are Pushing The Edge for Innovation and Social Justice. Have a listen in ITUNES or in your favourite podcast app.