Dignity is a concept that has been discussed for approximately 1500 years. Over the past ten years, various Indigenous leaders have called for the dignity of Indigenous Australia to be restored.
One of these leaders is the former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma. As commissioner, Calma would finish many of his speeches with:
Please remember, from self-respect comes dignity, and from dignity comes hope.
The research I have been conducting focuses on restoring dignity to Aboriginal men as seen through the eyes of some senior elders from around Australia.
During my research the elders expressed the belief that dignity is a very important quality to possess and display. One of the prevalent attributes that Aboriginal men were dispossessed of was their dignity. This loss occurred through racist government policies, the stealing of their children, and the creation of a welfare mentality.
When thinking about Aboriginal men specifically we see the disempowerment through unemployment and the loss of their community land. This causes an inability for them to fulfil their cultural responsibilities to the land. One of the elders I have spoken to for my research, Uncle Larry Kelly, told me:
But becoming a man carries a lot of respect and dignity that you have to practice. You don’t just talk the talk, you’ve got to walk the walk.
Another elder, Uncle Ossie, concurs with this. He emphasised that a dignified man needs to fulfil three aspects – to provide for your family, protect your family in the community and fulfil your cultural responsibilities.
Over the last several years Sydney Swans AFL player Adam Goodes has demonstrated that he is a very proud Aboriginal man, as well as being culturally aware and culturally sensitive. Goodes has carried himself with dignity, demonstrating his prowess both on and off the field and as an advocate and spokesman for Aboriginal players and for Indigenous communities in general.
It is possible that Goodes’ celebratory dance has once again reminded a minority of the football-watching public that he is an empowered Aboriginal man, and that Goodes’ empowerment is the cause of the racist response that has manifested itself in the constant booing of him on the playing field. As a dignified man, Goodes has a number of choices in how to deal with these racist taunts.
The first choice is for Goodes to try and ignore these attempts to put him off his game and not engage with the offending crowd in the hope that the rest of the fans would intervene and stop this unsportsmanlike behaviour. Unfortunately, this tactic has not worked in the crowds. The booing of Goodes has continued.
Another choice – which Goodes has made – is to withdraw from the game temporarily. By doing this Goodes is making a statement that he is a dignified and proud Aboriginal man and doesn’t need to put up with or tolerate this form of racist behaviour. The response to this action is that a number of high-profile media personalities, other Indigenous players and sporting organisations have come out and condemned this form of racist behaviour.
This action, in lieu of Goodes so far not making an official comment, is a very strong statement in defence of the Indigenous players and their rights to be proud Indigenous people.
Uncle Ossie says that:
When a man has been stripped of his potential, then dignity slides, pride of life and lots of other things slide with it.
In this situation Goodes has refused to allow his potential to be stripped away. He continues to demonstrate through dignity and presence of mind that he is an empowered Aboriginal man. This needs to be celebrated by the people around him and by the wider community.