Football banana-throwing racism

What’s the basis for the racist symbolism of hurling bananas at black football players?


Australian Rules Football player Eddie Betts, of the Adelaide ‘Crows’, was not even aware that a Port Adelaide ‘Power’ supporter in the grandstand had hurled a banana towards him until he was told about it after the game had finished.

When a spectator threw a banana towards a player at an Australian Rules Football match recently, it triggered a frenzy of outrage in social and other media.1 Within hours, an online video clip of the incident had ‘gone viral’, with more than half a million views.

Apart from the obvious safety concerns about hurling projectiles, there was widespread indignation at the ‘racist overtones’ of the act. That’s because the targeted player, Eddie Betts, is of Aboriginal ancestry. (His many football achievements include having been more than once selected for the Australian Football League’s Indigenous All-Stars team.)

While some people expressed bewilderment as to why the act was labelled racist, there was no doubt in the mind of the AFL’s Chief Executive Officer, Gillon McLachlan. He said that he recognized it as racism the moment he saw the incident.

“I don’t think anyone should doubt that it was a racist act,” McLachlan said firmly. “A banana being thrown at an indigenous man is unambiguously racist.”2

Perhaps McLaughlin was familiar with the European football (soccer) scene, where banana-throwing incidents of this nature—i.e. where white European spectators hurl bananas towards black African players—have periodically occurred since at least the 1970s.

In Europe such banana-throwing is widely recognized as being symbolically powerful as “a profoundly racist act”.3 It goes hand-in-hand with grandstand crowds making ‘monkey noises’ whenever a black player touches the football.4 And so we can see a key to understanding the racist overtones of banana-hurling is this: the associating of black people with monkeys. But what are the roots of such an association? Author of a book on racism in Swedish football, Carl-Gustaf Scott, explains:

“Intentionally or not, the act of throwing bananas at black players subconsciously bolsters the long-held European association between Africans and monkeys. This intellectual tradition dates back at least to the late nineteenth century, and to the birth of ‘scientific racism’ and social Darwinism, theories that held that people of African descent were less evolved (both biologically and culturally) than white Europeans.”3

It’s rare that the Darwinian basis for the racist symbolism is so overtly stated. As Carl-Gustaf Scott notes, the racist meaning of actions such as throwing bananas at black sportsmen relies upon “often unstated assumptions about biological (and/or cultural) hierarchies and difference”.3 [Emphasis added.] We certainly saw that very phenomenon of silence about the Darwin-inspired nature of the racist symbolism during the 2013 AFL racism controversy surrounding Aboriginal footballer Adam Goodes.5

Eddie Betts celebrates.

However, many people are nevertheless aware of the Darwinian basis to it all, notwithstanding any understandable reluctance to mention it publicly. One person who was not shy about giving voice to this matter, in the wake of this most recent AFL racism incident targeting Eddie Betts, was Aboriginal writer and National Indigenous Organiser, Celeste Liddle. Referring also to the recent publishing of controversial diary entries by performance artist Marina Abramovic, which among other offensive comments about Aboriginal people’s physical features described them as “looking like dinosaurs”, Liddle wrote:

“Whether we’re like dinosaurs or like monkeys, we’re clearly being told we’re not good enough in white eyes to be seen as humans of worth. We’re not evolved enough, apparently.”6

Authorities recognize the need to change people’s mindset

With video of the Eddie Betts racism incident going viral and the media frenzy unabating, authorities were quick to take action against the 27-year-old woman, Alexandra Pelosi, who had thrown the banana. Penalties included a police fine for disorderly behaviour, club membership sanctions and a ban on attending games. However, at least some people, including apparently Eddie Betts himself, evidently recognize that penalties alone are unlikely to prevent future incidents, and have expressed a desire to address the problem at a deeper level. Port Adelaide club Chairman David Koch, explaining that he’d been in contact with Betts “every step of the way”, said:

“Eddie said, quite rightly, ‘It can’t be us against them. We’re one mob and it is all about educating and learning and bringing along.’ If we can change this lady and we can change her group of friends … it’s a step forward, and that’s what we’ve got to do.”7

That’s going to take some doing. Film footage of Pelosi is said to show her mouthing the word ‘monkey’ in the target direction of Betts. This was backed up by the testimony of a spectator—Jamie Christodoulou, a fellow Port Adelaide supporter—who wrote:

“This happened in the row in front of me. I am proud to say I yelled at her and told her she took it too far. She responded by saying, ‘But he’s a monkey.’ I yelled back, no, ur a racist. She then got up and left.”8

But he’s a monkey. If Christodoulou’s observation is correct, those words at that moment reflect the heart of Pelosi (for, as Jesus basically said, out of the treasures of the heart the mouth speaks!), and also go to the very heart of the problem itself. And it’s a very widespread problem. As Carl-Gustaf Scott wrote, the choice by spectators to equate black players with monkeys rather than any other animal “is itself indicative of a wider racialized mind-set”, one which reflects “the continued strength of this intellectual tradition.”3

Changing mindsets, changing hearts

As long as most people in society are taught that monkeys and humans share a common ancestry, with the attendant implication that some people groups are less evolved (i.e. closer to our supposed evolutionary ancestors) than others, the ‘continued strength’ of such an ‘intellectual tradition’ is hardly likely to give way to a less widely racialized mindset any time soon.

In contrast, if more people can be shown that evolution, far from being an intellectual tradition, is in fact a thoroughly flawed idea rebuttable across the range of scientific disciplines by the evidence itself, the ‘racialized mindset’ loses its Darwinian foundation. The thousands of scientific articles on creation.com and related high-quality creationist print literature are designed to do just that, all the while showing that the Creation and Flood accounts in God’s Word make sense of the biological and geological realities around us. (See for example the gateway article Created or evolved?—Where do we come from? Find your answer to the vital creation vs evolution question.) Thus the way is prepared for the only One Who can truly change hearts and minds to do His work in us—if we are willing.

Published: 30 August 2016

References and notes

  1. Earle, R., Port Adelaide bans fan ‘indefinitely’ after banana allegedly thrown at Eddie Betts, The Advertiser, 21 August 2016, adelaidenow.com.au. Return to text.
  2. Starick, P., Eddie Betts, banana-throwing fan speak out about racial abuse at Showdown 41, The Advertiser, 23 August 2016, adelaidenow.com.au. Return to text.
  3. Scott, C.-G., African footballers in Sweden: Race, immigration and integration in the Age of Globalization, Palgrave MacMillan (a division of St Martin’s Press), New York, NY, USA, 2015. Return to text.
  4. Catchpoole, D., Do monkeys play football?, Creation 29(3):12-14, 2007. Return to text.
  5. Catchpoole, D., ‘Ape’ slur against Australian indigenous footballer Adam Goodes sparks anti-racism backlash—yet censorship still prevails, creation.com, 30 May 2013. Return to text.
  6. Liddle, C., What we’re missing while we argue over individual acts of blatant racism, The Sydney Morning Herald, 22 August 2016, smh.com.au. Return to text.
  7. Wood, L., Father of woman accused of throwing banana at Eddie Betts says she is being ‘demonised’, Herald Sun, 22 August 2016, heraldsun.com.au. Return to text.
  8. MacLaughlin, S., and Tran, C., Woman who threw a banana at Aboriginal AFL star Eddie Betts is fined $543 by police for disorderly behaviour, Daily Mail, 23 August 2016, dailymail.co.uk. Return to text.

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