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Why Gang Of Youths' Dave Le'aupepe Is Engaging With 'Bogan Rednecks' About Racism

16 September 2015 | 10:44 am | Mitch Knox

The Sydney-based frontman doesn't believe in ignoring a problem until it goes away

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Yesterday, we reported on With Goodesya new campaign of support for embattled AFL star Adam Goodes that brought together a wealth of Australian creative identities (including The Jezabels guitarist Sam Lockwood) to create a T-shirt backing the two-time Brownlow medallist, with all proceeds going to charity.

It's a heartwarming and important story, right? We thought so too. Apparently, however, at least a couple of our readers did not, taking to our Facebook to accuse Lockwood of being a "flog", as well as engaging in tired rhetoric claiming that the culture of booing surrounding Goodes is not racially motivated. It was depressing stuff, to be sure, but nothing original.

However, despite the well-worn nature of their comments, Dave Le'aupepe, of Sydney outfit Gang Of Youths (who we'd inadvertently dragged into things by mentioning they had been seen wearing the tees at last week's BIGSOUND event, pictured below), could not sit in idle silence while ignorance ran rampant. In fact, Le'aupepe didn't just shoot down the naysayers — he all-out came to the party with what is, without hyperbole, one of the most eloquent, thoughtful and measured responses to uneducated vitriol we've seen on the internet in… well, ever.

why dave le'aupepe won't stay silent

  • Conversation, patience and education — not a one-sided wave of abuse — are crucial for any modicum of cultural progress
  • As an AFL fan himself, he cannot accept other fans still deny the racial motivations behind booing Adam Goodes
  • Ushering in social and cultural change is a trans-generational battle, and one that starts here

It gave rise to "a bit of a fight", in Le'aupepe's words (the thread exists here), but one that he was happy — well, more "totally incensed" and "beside [himself] with fucking abject rage" than 'happy' — with which to engage.

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We reached out to the band to have a chat about why Le'aupepe chose to speak out where many of his peers have not or arguably would not, especially when there's no guarantee (or likelihood) of civil debate.

"There's no way to be succinct with these fucking idiots; like, there's no possible way to give them more clarity," Le'aupepe told The Music of his decision to speak up. "Because these kinds of people — and I know I'm being a bit dim-witted, right — but these kinds of people, they're the ones who called me a 'faggot' in high school, right, but they're also the ones who believe in 'commonsense', 'We believe in commonsense'; but their commonsense is akin to Adam Sandler in The Waterboy. It's that 'Mama said' bullshit.

"It's not actual commonsense; it's dumb-arse folk wisdom that they've divined from absolutely nothing. And they all blame the media like a bunch of little oppressed rats, you know? It's the media's fault, like the media's some person dangling some strings or twiddling some knobs.

"It's a really convenient catch-all for these fucking idiots, and I have very little patience for anyone who can't see the compassionate, human response as being the right one."

"All these issues can be dismantled by conversation, but none of these fucking pricks will have [one]."

Although Le'aupepe may seem somewhat defeated - or perhaps just exhausted and bewildered - by the notion that sports 'fans' are still openly booing Goodes and claiming that it has nothing to do with racism because they said so, he ultimately believes it is absolutely crucial to continue to actively engage with the opposition in order to at least seek out some modicum of conversation and cultural progress, despite the hurdles that demonstrably exist to any such change.

"I'd like to say there's a way to get through but, unfortunately, so far, it looks as though it's banging our heads against a wall," Le'aupepe concedes. "But all these issues can be dismantled by conversation, but none of these fucking pricks will have a conversation. They just want to yell from the sidelines and say he's being a bitch.

"The problem is that they're not booing Adam Goodes, the player; they're booing Adam Goodes, the Sydney Swans icon; the Australian of the Year; the advocate for Indigenous affairs; the one who's proud to be an Indigenous man in a society that hasn't always welcomed people like him. That's who they're booing. They're booing an Australian of the Year."

Additionally, it's notable that some people have tried to use Goodes' status of relative (financial) comfort afforded to him by his AFL career in an effort to minimise the importance of his plight, regularly overlooking the incredible power he holds as an inspiration for Indigenous Australians; that to see him treated poorly after demonstrably having achieved so much is potentially just as damaging to their cultural psyche as destructive governmental policy. But there's a pretty simple reason for that, Le'aupepe says.

"People are really, really dumb," he told The Music. "They're ignorant, and they don't mean to be. That's the beauty of humanity. That's the complexity of our humanness — people are really fucking stupid, but we get to educate them. We get to show them compassion and consideration, and we get to advance the conversation forward without denigrating their humanity too much. That's the beauty of having stupid fucking idiot people, these bogan rednecks, shouting from the sidelines.

"It has nothing to do with the fact that Goodes is an 'irritating player' or a 'softcock' or whatever, this has something to do with the very nature of a six-foot-four black man acknowledging his culture in a way that is bold and profound."

"For me, it's like, the problem comes about when they don't even want to engage in the conversation … The whole argument, 'Well, there's other Indigenous players that we don't boo' — how many Indigenous players stand out and do a war dance commemorating their culture on the field? Not that fuckin' many. Adam Goodes is the only one," he continued.

"This is a visceral, organic reaction from a place of abject ignorance and fuckin' hate. This isn't something to do with a rivalry against the Sydney Swans; it has nothing to do with the fact that Goodes is an 'irritating player' or a 'softcock' or whatever, this has something to do with the very nature of a six-foot-four black man acknowledging his culture in a way that is bold and profound and not sort of skirting around it by being sort of, 'I'm just one of the boys'."

For Le'aupepe — himself of Samoan descent and subject to racist taunts growing up — the issue is truly one of education, and one he holds deeply close to his heart; indeed, he doesn't hold malicious or hurtful thoughts for those who slight him and other people of colour for the way they look, despite seeing the necessity of weeding out such destructive philosophies.

"I worked with Aboriginal kids for two years when I was 18 to 20; I worked with Aboriginal kids every week, every weekend, so obviously I'm emotionally invested in this, but most of these fucking cunts haven't spent any time with anybody in the Indigenous community and, if they have, it's, you know, 'I flogged two bucks to some guy asking for it', or, 'I have this friend who's Aboriginal and he doesn't act like that'… you know?" Le'aupepe said. "It's that convenient, catch-all response, and it's complete garbage. Most have no idea what it's like to face systemic, day-to-day disadvantage."

And, while it's impossible for people who have lived their entire lives in comfort to truly understand the experiences and perspectives of those who have faced mountains of adversity, that's no excuse not to try, Le'aupepe said.

"This requires dialogue. This is an exchange," he said. "That's what these fucking morons don't get: it's a conversation and a dialogue they don't want to have because they don't want to deal with the uncomfortable reality that maybe, perhaps, there's 40% of people who are booing because he's a black guy.

"I've watched Adam Goodes most of my life, and obviously, being in his position, on the field, he can be irritating to other players, but that's just him being good at his job," he continued. "Calling out the bullshit that's happened to him… he's not trying to be incendiary. He's just standing up for himself. People don't like that.

"We should see Adam Goodes for what he is: an iconic footballer, an Australian of the Year and an advocate for Indigenous Australia. That's what he is. And most of these people have never got off their arse and done anything. It's bullshit."

"We can't eradicate stupidity in one generation ... It takes time, and that's what people have gotta understand."

Ultimately, Le'aupepe believes that the only way forward is to keep making noise, to keep making people uncomfortable, and to keep hammering away at the message until it embeds itself in our skulls — and not just in the standalone case of Adam Goodes, but in a far broader cultural sense. 

"We need to talk to our kids about it. That's what we've gotta do. This is a problem — ignorance can't be bred out in one generation," he said. "We can't eradicate stupidity in one generation. It's going to take generations and generations and generations. It takes time — it takes time, and that's what people have gotta understand." 

"These people need to be treated like they're students who don't want to learn, and unfortunately it takes a really long time to get through," he continued. "It's going to take a generational shift for us, of constant education, of constant consideration, of constant ingestation of information. It's going to take 20, 30, 40 years for us to get to a point where we can say with abject and absolute certainty that we've reached a really potent level of civility with this.

"There's always going to be idiots; and here's the thing about idiots: idiots make the smart ones shine very fuckin' bright. We need stupid people on the planet, OK? It's an illustration of the bio-evolutionary mechanics of our race that make us so special and unique as a species; the stupid morons who wave their Confederate flags, who shoot themselves in the face while they're cleaning their semi-automatic rifles, who yell at Adam Goodes — they don't last. They live disappointing, shitty, stupid lives and they raise dumb kids and never do anything. There's justice in that. But there's part of my humanity that says we can make a change; we can illustrate the beauty of the complexity of our humanness by having compassion and consideration for these humans as well."

At the end of the day, though, Le'aupepe's decision to step forward and engage with people who hold views such as those proffered by the anti-Goodes camp is informed by a simple — though inherently difficult — premise: 

"The right thing is really fucking hard to do, but it's the right thing to do."

Gang Of Youths play in Tasmania for the first time ever this week (in-between Le'aupepe's field trips to get snaps of the native fauna for his dad, the "massive gardening nut"); you can catch them at Tapas Bar & Lounge, Devonport, tomorrow night; Bar 54, Launceston, on Friday; and Hobart's Republic Bar on Saturday. See theGuide or check The Music App for more information.  

Read Le'aupepe's full original comment below.