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Why Nick Kyrgios stirs white anxieties

By Kim Huynh 19 May 2016 34

Nick Kyrgios

After Olympic Head of Mission Kitty Chiller said that Nick Kyrgios ‘doesn’t really understand what it means to be an Australian Olympian’, the Canberran tennis hotshot turned to social media for guidance and support. Over 2,400 of his facebook friends offered mostly encouraging comments.

He also reposted a tweet in which he was told to “go home f#&king greek”. This message echoes Dawn Fraser’s call last year for Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic to “go back to where their parents came from”. Kyrgios has been quick to call out racism and express his love for his Malaysian and Greek roots along with his eagerness to play for Australia.

The brouhaha over whether Kyrgios belongs, reveals a good deal about the power and anxieties of contemporary Australian whiteness.

While we often hear about black, Asian, indigenous or hybrid identities, it’s harder to pin down what it means to be white. Moreover, unless you’re a white supremacist, discussing whiteness can be disconcerting because it raises questions about how white culture came to influence much of the world.

It’s the invisible nature of white identity that makes it so pervasive in terms of what Australians and other Anglo-centric countries consider to be fair and acceptable.

Sport can help us understand what it means to be white. In England, cricket and tennis are anchored in age-old white traditions that make for gentlemanly or sportsman-like conduct (gendered terms intended).

Iconic American sports are white in a more technocratic way. Strategic, equipment laden and high scoring sports like American football and baseball reflect an American view that overall, the team that invests the most in terms of money, effort, discipline and planning should win.

White sports emphasise orderly conduct and unambiguous outcomes.

Soccer is thus the world game in part because it’s not predominately white. The soccer aficionado accepts that the best team doesn’t always triumph, that there are plenty of draws and that most games are not action packed. In this way, soccer is a microcosm of real life.

It follows that taking your time to undo and do up your laces and thereby protecting your lead in the dying seconds of a match, screaming and clutching at your face after you’ve been hit on the leg or reminding an opponent of his partner’s sexual history – while by no means reputable – are acceptable and indeed can enhance the beauty of the game-as-life.

Of course few if any sports or indeed athletes are entirely white or non-white. We all take on varied identities. Kyrgios is in complex ways Canberran, Malaysian, Greek, young, seemingly middle class and heterosexual. However, one cannot fully comprehend the furore around him without considering how his blackness stirs white anxieties.

Kyrgios also illustrates how non-whites are as essential to some white sports in the same way that gladiators were essential to the Roman games.

Problems arise when black male athletes in particular challenge the rules, refuse to follow protocol and rattle the bars of their golden cages. They threaten patrons by doing a spear dance, raising a fist at a medal presentation or simply expressing a desire not to play.

Such racially defiant acts resonate powerfully in Australia because the sporting arena is a sacred place where boys become men, where we learn about sacrifice and fairness, and where we seek belonging and glory. Observant and respectful non-whites are welcome. However any deviant behaviour can turn the best and fairest non-white athlete into an ingrate, a sook, a hostile foreigner.

Nick Kyrgios may well need to have a good hard look at himself, but if we accept that Australia is a multicultural society then perhaps we should also examine Aussie whiteness.

Do you think Canberra’s Nick Kyrgios is a victim of racism? Should the furore over him be understood in racial terms? Are there white and non-white ways to play sport and live life?

Kim Huynh lectures international relations at the ANU. He has a pop politics segment on ABC 666 Breakfast and has recently published a (free) collection of novellas entitled Vietnam as if… Tales of youth, love and destiny (ANU Press). https://researchers.anu.edu.au/researchers/huynh-kt

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34 Responses to
Why Nick Kyrgios stirs white anxieties
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spades 1:04 pm 27 May 16

I think people get over-worked up when a 2nd gen migrant gets labelled as not Australian. Nothing new and doesn’t only happen in Australia, and happens both in real life and sport. I am not white, and when I visited Vietnam a gentleman refused to believe that I was from Australia. I had to use his fellow Vietnamese who migrated to Australia in the 70’s as an example before he ‘got it’, and explained that Australia has a lot of people who have migrated not just from Vietnam but from all corners of this planet.

Jordania 11:52 am 27 May 16

Allow me to add a bit of fuel to this fire. I don’t think the behaviour and attitudes of Tomic and Kyrgios – or the criticism of them – have anything to do with their ethnic heritage or family background. They are just badly behaved boys, and there’s my point: they are boys. Most unpleasant sports behaviour is perpetrated by young (and sometimes not so young) males. Don’t know whether it’s the testosterone or an excess of competitiveness or an overdose of youthful self entitlement/self regard but something makes some boys involved in sport behave in horrible ways. Blame their parents for not reigning it in earlier. Specifically on Kyrgios and Tomic: you might be inclined to be more tolerant of their antics if they were better tennis players (and maybe they’d be better tennis players if they turned their energies to improving their games) but neither has yet hit the high rankings. They look like second-rate tennis players and they behave like first-rate idiots.

TimboinOz 9:43 am 27 May 16

I’m 65, white, could care less about ‘pop-sport’ reporting. Though I follow Rugby League and Cricket.

But I grew up within an activist idealistic family who had guests in our home who were black, brown, brindle and all other shades.

I shared a senior student’s common room with a Ukrainian boy and an ‘islander’ during our common free periods, in the late 1960s. All three of us played football for Gateshead High in NSW. Mick Fuller was a big bloke and the gentlest kindest person. He was also very fast on the wing, and played for the NSW Schoolboys RUnion team as well.

My objection to these two tennis ‘stars’ is their lack of sportsmanship, lack of respect for a great game, their manifest self-obsession, peacock hair, and their bad manners.

I am NOT a fan of either of them, as a result, and that’s called having ‘judgement’ Kim.

To link Hewitt’s behaviour to this is a LONG draw of the bow.

It’s not going to wash.

rommeldog56 7:52 am 24 May 16

This article from Kim Huynh is in the same “racist” vein as the recent article about person of African decent being asked to remove their hat in a Tuggeranong club – in accordance with the clubs rules.

Both are a thinly veiled allegations of racism – both of which are incorrect.

Masquara 11:11 pm 23 May 16

Yeah Kim Huyhn, that ballboy last night at the French Open was sure racially oppressing Kyrgios, hey! All his fault, right? Poor Kyrgios, suffering at the hands of a ten-year-old! And there was the umpire – adding to the racial vilification by telling Kyrgios to tone it down. Surely there is an international human rights tribunal that Kyrgios can turn to!

dungfungus 10:56 pm 23 May 16

chiflean said :

rommeldog56 said :

Dawn Fraser said “go back where your parents came from” – meaning, you don’t belong in Australia, you’re not one of us. If you can tell me that is not racially motivated, I would love to hear your explanation.

.

I think it was perfectly clear that she was motivated by his *behaviour*.

And I don’t think you understand what racism really is – in Malaysia it is routine for jobs to be advertised to be filled exclusively by the dominant ethnicity. It is routine for university places to be reserved only for the dominant ethnicity.
Most other non-european nations are pretty much the same. In the middle-east to this day, the common term for a person of African origin is a word that means “slave”. The Chinese aren’t even faintly embarrassed to call all foreigners by a word that has the meaning of “barbarian” or “devil”.
In Thailand the national press would be happy to print an article saying that a child of immigrants like Nick Kyrgios could “never be a Thai” because of his ethnicity, because this is a common perception over there. (I don’t even know if that’s even racism).

It is in fact proof of how non-racist our society is that you have to dredge up “colonialism” in order to justify some white-bashing “racism!” hysteria.

In Kenya, Barry Obama is recognised only as a white-fella.

gazket 10:34 pm 23 May 16

rosscoact said :

My point however is that the standards of fair play and proper conduct in Australian sport and society are racialised. These standards apply to everyone, but are skewed towards whites and against non-whites. Because Tomic is of Balkan descent he sits further along the non-white spectrum compared to say, Hewitt.

If that’s not a racist statement, it will do till we get one.

HenryBG 6:24 pm 23 May 16

rommeldog56 said :

Dawn Fraser said “go back where your parents came from” – meaning, you don’t belong in Australia, you’re not one of us. If you can tell me that is not racially motivated, I would love to hear your explanation.

.

I think it was perfectly clear that she was motivated by his *behaviour*.

And I don’t think you understand what racism really is – in Malaysia it is routine for jobs to be advertised to be filled exclusively by the dominant ethnicity. It is routine for university places to be reserved only for the dominant ethnicity.
Most other non-european nations are pretty much the same. In the middle-east to this day, the common term for a person of African origin is a word that means “slave”. The Chinese aren’t even faintly embarrassed to call all foreigners by a word that has the meaning of “barbarian” or “devil”.
In Thailand the national press would be happy to print an article saying that a child of immigrants like Nick Kyrgios could “never be a Thai” because of his ethnicity, because this is a common perception over there. (I don’t even know if that’s even racism).

It is in fact proof of how non-racist our society is that you have to dredge up “colonialism” in order to justify some white-bashing “racism!” hysteria.

dungfungus 5:34 pm 23 May 16

John Hargreaves said :

pajs said :

Nightshade said :

I don’t follow sport, so I don’t know all that has gone on, but I doubt there is any racism involved; just bad behaviour.

Dawn Fraser’s comments were racist, plain and simple. There has been commentary about Kyrgios that has discussed his ethnic background, without any comment on his profession. It’s easy to pretend that racism is something that doesn’t happen any more when you’re white and the only thing similar you’ve had to suffer is people pointing out that being white in Australia affords you certain privileges – which it has.

I think that Kyrgios’s on- and off-court antics are totally inappropriate. But the comments directed at him, referencing or slurring on his race, are even more so.

“It’s easy to pretend that racism is something that doesn’t happen any more when you’re white”
Lot of presumption there!

I have never referred, or thought about his race, as he looks Australian to me. Australian is not a race, by the way.

Apparently indigenous Australian is.

Mike_Drop 5:00 pm 23 May 16

By all means we should call out racism where it occurs.

There is no denying that there have been many awful events perpetrated in Australia by people of Anglo-Saxon descent. Hopefully the next generation will continue healing those hurts that have occurred in living memory.

However – to use the term ‘white’ to refer to contemporary Australians is as offensive as the assertion that contemporary Australia is a ‘white’ nation. It’s less surprising that someone would assert that ‘white people’ are actively perpetuating systemic racism or that they are extended some kind of privilege solely on the basis of their skin colour. This is hardly an original concept.

I don’t feel I’ve been a victim of, or witnessed, deeply entrenched or ingrained racism in Australia. I have, however, come into contact with people who are less educated (or more militant) in their views on issues of race or multiculturalism from time-to-time. Because these issues crop up very rarely I’ve chosen to view them as exceptions rather than the norm. I don’t harbour any thoughts that the actions of these individuals are demonstrative of their genetic make-up. That’d probably be racist.

Using labels like ‘white Australia’ and ‘white privilege’ in terms of contemporary experience is not reflective of someone who is interested in repairing cultural divides. Claiming to know what ‘white people’ are thinking is both patronising and alarming.

Calling out racism where it exists is a good thing. To avoid engaging in it is probably more helpful.

Maya123 4:43 pm 23 May 16

farnarkler said :

John Hargreaves said :

pajs said :

Nightshade said :

I don’t follow sport, so I don’t know all that has gone on, but I doubt there is any racism involved; just bad behaviour.

Dawn Fraser’s comments were racist, plain and simple. There has been commentary about Kyrgios that has discussed his ethnic background, without any comment on his profession. It’s easy to pretend that racism is something that doesn’t happen any more when you’re white and the only thing similar you’ve had to suffer is people pointing out that being white in Australia affords you certain privileges – which it has.

I think that Kyrgios’s on- and off-court antics are totally inappropriate. But the comments directed at him, referencing or slurring on his race, are even more so.

“It’s easy to pretend that racism is something that doesn’t happen any more when you’re white”
Lot of presumption there!

I have never referred, or thought about his race, as he looks Australian to me. Australian is not a race, by the way.

Perhaps presumption, but most of the people who refer to the “race card” or who say that racism isn’t something that warrants consideration are white themselves, and therefore haven’t had to deal with systematic racism in the way that people of colour have had to their entire lives, especially in countries Australia.

You personally may not have referred to or thought about his race, but you are also not the one publishing comments referring to his heritage. Comments such as “go home you f##king Greek” etc. should never be thought, let alone tweeted or published – that they were is an example of how ingrained racism can be. It’s not something that can or should be covered up with an apology after the fact.

Out of interest, what does an Australian look like?

farnarkler said :

John Hargreaves said :

pajs said :

Nightshade said :

I don’t follow sport, so I don’t know all that has gone on, but I doubt there is any racism involved; just bad behaviour.

Dawn Fraser’s comments were racist, plain and simple. There has been commentary about Kyrgios that has discussed his ethnic background, without any comment on his profession. It’s easy to pretend that racism is something that doesn’t happen any more when you’re white and the only thing similar you’ve had to suffer is people pointing out that being white in Australia affords you certain privileges – which it has.

I think that Kyrgios’s on- and off-court antics are totally inappropriate. But the comments directed at him, referencing or slurring on his race, are even more so.

“It’s easy to pretend that racism is something that doesn’t happen any more when you’re white”
Lot of presumption there!

I have never referred, or thought about his race, as he looks Australian to me. Australian is not a race, by the way.

Perhaps presumption, but most of the people who refer to the “race card” or who say that racism isn’t something that warrants consideration are white themselves, and therefore haven’t had to deal with systematic racism in the way that people of colour have had to their entire lives, especially in countries Australia.

You personally may not have referred to or thought about his race, but you are also not the one publishing comments referring to his heritage. Comments such as “go home you f##king Greek” etc. should never be thought, let alone tweeted or published – that they were is an example of how ingrained racism can be. It’s not something that can or should be covered up with an apology after the fact.

Out of interest, what does an Australian look like?

Whatever the Australian person looks like. No set look. I tend to think a person is Australian if they sound ‘Australian’ (the Australian accent varies, for instance, as per the education), so whatever the amount of melanin in the skin and hair is, is irrelevant. That I do easily without much thought; however, where a person has not been brought up in Australia and doesn’t have a recognisable ‘Australian’ accent I have to more consciously make more of an effort to acknowledge they could be Australian, as they could be naturalised. That though has nothing to do with race. That person with the foreign accent could be a blond, blue eyed Brit. Someone once said to me that they accepted they may always be seen as foreign because of their accent, but they hoped their children would be accepted as Australian. They were British. The accent is a better guide to a person’s tie with Australia than how they look; although not a perfect tie.
One of my Grandmother’s was born in the UK. I thought of her always as British, not Australian, although she lived in Australia 60 years. I doubt she would have argued with that.

madelini 3:47 pm 23 May 16

rommeldog56 said :

pajs said :

Dawn Fraser’s comments were racist, plain and simple
….. It’s easy to pretend that racism is something that doesn’t happen any more when you’re white

These things are so wrong it’s difficult to know where to begin…

Dawn Fraser made no racist statement that I am aware of – she called him out on his ill-breeding (not his race) and invited him to leave the country.

As for racism – you seem to be suffering from the (common) misunderstanding that because white people’s societies invented the concept of *racial equality*, that white people *invented* racism.

If you want to observe racism, you’ll find far more material by visiting foreign countries – for example Malysia, where your ethnicity and religion is held against you when applying for government jobs or University places.

Dawn Fraser said “go back where your parents came from” – meaning, you don’t belong in Australia, you’re not one of us. If you can tell me that is not racially motivated, I would love to hear your explanation.

As to the rest, just because other countries also discriminate on the basis of race or nationality does not mean that white Australia does not have a huge problem. White people pushed colonialism on the rest of the world; white people took Aboriginal children from their homes and fostered them to “civilise” them; white people are still having problems with recognising whiteness as a race and consistently think of people of colour as Other. If Malaysia has an active discrimination policy, I don’t think that is relevant to the way that race is considered and discussed in Australia. Australia can, and should, be better than what we are now.

The Malaysia argument is the same as the one used to shut down discussions of feminism – “if you think it’s so hard here you should try being a woman in Saudi Arabia”. Why shouldn’t we strive to be a nation of equals, just because other countries might have it worse? As I said, we should always strive to be better and if that means calling out racist comments – even mild ones – then so be it.

madelini 2:56 pm 23 May 16

John Hargreaves said :

pajs said :

Nightshade said :

I don’t follow sport, so I don’t know all that has gone on, but I doubt there is any racism involved; just bad behaviour.

Dawn Fraser’s comments were racist, plain and simple. There has been commentary about Kyrgios that has discussed his ethnic background, without any comment on his profession. It’s easy to pretend that racism is something that doesn’t happen any more when you’re white and the only thing similar you’ve had to suffer is people pointing out that being white in Australia affords you certain privileges – which it has.

I think that Kyrgios’s on- and off-court antics are totally inappropriate. But the comments directed at him, referencing or slurring on his race, are even more so.

“It’s easy to pretend that racism is something that doesn’t happen any more when you’re white”
Lot of presumption there!

I have never referred, or thought about his race, as he looks Australian to me. Australian is not a race, by the way.

Perhaps presumption, but most of the people who refer to the “race card” or who say that racism isn’t something that warrants consideration are white themselves, and therefore haven’t had to deal with systematic racism in the way that people of colour have had to their entire lives, especially in countries Australia.

You personally may not have referred to or thought about his race, but you are also not the one publishing comments referring to his heritage. Comments such as “go home you f##king Greek” etc. should never be thought, let alone tweeted or published – that they were is an example of how ingrained racism can be. It’s not something that can or should be covered up with an apology after the fact.

Out of interest, what does an Australian look like?

Southmouth 2:26 pm 23 May 16

Soccer is the world game but also one of the most racist at local level. 3 of the main clubs are overtly ethnically based and several others have ethnic historical backgrounds

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