Truth telling is a key commitment made by the Collingwood Football Club following the ‘Do Better’ review into systemic racism, according to the report’s lead author.
- In January, an independent report into Collingwood was leaked which found the high-profile AFL club was guilty of systemic racism
- The report, lead authored by Distinguished Professor Larissa Behrendt, made 18 recommendations to ensure Collingwood deals properly with racism
- Professor Behrendt says a key for Collingwood is truth telling, including allowing players who have already experienced racism at or against the club to be heard
Speaking for the first time since the review was leaked two weeks ago Distinguished Professor Larissa Behrendt says it is important the immediate reaction to it does not overshadow its main purpose.
“I think it’s really easy in these circumstances to think it’s all about one person… in a review that has identified structural systemic racism, it’s always bigger than that,” she told The Ticket.
“I think you also risk drawing the conclusion that an individual can make a difference and therefore that there’s no work to do moving on.”
The challenge faced by organisations like Collingwood in addressing issues of racism are manifold, but crucially there must be an understanding of what systemic racism is, and how to get rid of it.
The club itself has established an Expert Group on Anti-Racism to assist it in implementing all 18 review recommendations.
“Structural racism is usually something that sits within an organisation that has sat there since it was constructed with the original philosophy,” Professor Larissa Behrendt said.
“A really good example is the Australian constitution, which has a structural racism, because when it was set up it was with the view that it should allow racial discrimination to facilitate a White Australia policy.
“People come and go from the organisation, and unless they are addressing those underlying prejudices those biases still sit there.
“So it’s often very hard to challenge them to say, ‘actually there is something wrong’.
“I believe very strongly… people are often brought to truth telling kicking and screaming, [but] if you choose to go down that path, if you see it as a positive, that you can learn from it.
“It can make a big difference to the sort of institution you are in the future and how the people within that institution feel then it can actually be a really positive experience.”
Professor Behrendt, a director of the Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research at UTS, says there are numerous ways to address racism including “the really important process of truth telling and dealing with the past”.
“That’s the work that I hope is focussed on now.”
Commissioning the review should not mean a “line in the sand” separating the club’s history from its present, according to Professor Behrendt, because the impact of the past is still being felt today by those who have suffered.
“So they could not avoid that path even if they wanted to.”
During the review process some of those interviewed were “quite reflective”, according to Professor Behrendt, “with the passage of time understanding that perhaps the things they’d assumed about racism years ago were quite unreflective”.
“The challenge is how do you take those individuals in certain parts of the club and make sure that’s the response of the club as a whole,” she said.
While much of the work at Collingwood will happen internally, those who are now outside the club and lost to the sport must be heard, says Professor Behrendt, such as former club player Héritier Lumumba, as well as Joel Wilkinson and Adam Goodes, who experienced racism while playing against Collingwood.
“A report like this doesn’t happen without the ongoing advocacy of people who are brave enough to challenge really powerful hierarchies and really powerful people,” she said.
“I feel very strongly that those voices need to be heard.
“It was one of the reasons why my team decided not to do media when the report first leaked, because we felt it was a really appropriate time to give voice to those who had not been heard or who had tried to speak out and had paid a huge public price for it.
“When I listen to them and hear the power of what they’ve got to say the other thing that strikes me is a big thing that drives their bravery in speaking out is not a personal justification or vindication but a real commitment to try and make sure this doesn’t happen again, that younger people coming through the game and into the game are not put off by what they see happening to their heroes and the stars of the game.
“Quite a few people said to us…when we were interviewing them, ‘actually if anyone could do the change, Collingwood was quite well placed to do it’… I just think that’s an interesting observation to make.”