Former Collingwood and Melbourne Demons AFL footballer Heritier Lumumba has likened the level of understanding of racism within the AFL and Australia generally to that of kindergarten level.
Speaking in an exclusive interview on The Marngrook Footy Show, live on NITV, Lumumba was reflecting on his time within the biggest football league in Australia and how he battled with people’s acceptance of his Brazilian and Congolese heritage.
The 30-year-old is the subject of a documentary called ‘Fair Game’, directed by Jeff Daniels, which is available to watch exclusively via the SBS on demand service.
“The documentary’s been made over six years. So a significant amount of time to dedicate to a project,” Lumumba said on NITV’s The Marngrook Footy Show.
“The reason why I chose to be the subject of the documentary is because I respected the filmmaker, for one. And two, I was going through a period in life where I was asking a lot of questions.
“A lot of questions about myself and a lot of questions about the world around me. And the documentary filmmaker Jeff Daniels … he saw that what I was going through would be worthwhile to capture on film.”
Lumumba played 199 AFL games for Collingwood and polarised the football community with his outspoken views on cultural and social issues.
Perhaps most famously he had a run-in with Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley, which involved a heated exchange after Lumumba took offence to what he felt was a lack of sensitivity from Buckley about social and racial issues.
“My relationship with Nathan Buckley, I must begin by saying that he was the captain of the football club when I arrived at Collingwood,” Lumumba said.
“And then obviously transitioned into being my coach. We had a relationship where we were definitely, we had a level of understanding about one another that transcended football and we got to know each other as human beings.
“But I have to say that that relationship was tarnished because of a lack of understanding. And that lack of understanding is around the issue of racism and how I was affected in my time at the football club.
“I also have to make point that he is not one person to isolate in this. What I found in my whole time in football but also throughout Australia, is the level of understanding of racism is probably to the level of a kindergarten level, really, in terms of being able to understand what racism is and how to deconstruct it.
“So he’s not one person to isolate, but my relationship with him was definitely tarnished because of a lack of understanding.
“It’s about highlighting a culture that not only the Collingwood football club is a part of, but this whole country is a part of. And it’s a culture that is also part of a global system that I mentioned, that the places where I’ve travelled and all over the places in the world, that the system of racism, that white supremacy, is something that affects people to a level of genocide. And that’s what’s happening to people here in this country and that’s what’s happening all around the world.”
“I’ll tell you right now, I’m a realist, there’s racism in AFL. I don’t care what anyone says. Whether we like it or not, we’ve got them at the clubs."
Former St Kilda and Brisbane AFL player Gilbert McAdam, who was playing alongside Nicky Winmar in 1993 when he lifted his football jumper and pointed to his skin, says racism still exists in Australia’s premier football league, and praised the courage of Lumumba.
“When I look at it, I just see the word powerful, straight away,” McAdam said on The Marngrook Footy Show.
“And I see the word brave and I see you, very brave for coming out to say what you’ve come out and said because as we know in the AFL football world, it’s very hard to come out and say things like that. And it’s all about education.
“Being an Aboriginal person, I can relate to you in a lot of ways. My father was a stolen generation. I haven’t got time to talk about all this because I’d be here for one year by the time I finish talking, but when I retired from football, I retired for the wrong reasons.
“I retired because my father got taken away. I retired because my father got taken away and what happened with me, I went back looking for where he was buried and born and all this sort of stuff. A lot of people don’t know that, I did it. At the time I didn’t know what I was doing and all of a sudden you get back into the industry and you do what you’re doing.
“To me it’s about honouring the fight that my ancestors fought for my freedom today”
“I’ll tell you right now, I’m a realist, there’s racism in AFL. I don’t care what anyone says. Whether we like it or not, we’ve got them at the clubs. What do you want to see come out of this?,” McAdam asked Lumumba.
“To me it’s about honouring the fight that my ancestors fought for my freedom today,” Lumumba said. “And understanding that that freedom is still not won.
“Just look into the statistics that affect Indigenous people in this country, in terms of the incarceration rate, in terms of the life expectancy. In terms of youth suicide. This is a genocide that’s still going. It’s still going and it’s not being recognised.
“So what I’m interested in doing is I’m interesting in affecting the hearts and minds of people who are being affected by this and can find the courage to put pressure on a system that needs to have pressure put on to it.
“It’s a process of education and I would say that to the people who need to be educated, they need to understand who they are, in terms of their history. And I’m talking about people who you would consider white.
“The white Australians need to understand exactly what their history is. Because their history has been whitewashed, it’s been distorted and it’s been denied and hidden to fit a certain narrative and that’s to the detriment of people like us.”
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