Saturday, August 4, 2012

Olympians to Know: Damien Hooper by Alex

At the beginning of the olympics, a tweet made the rounds both on Twitter and on Tumblr that neatly dissected Britain's brutal history of colonization and the irony of so many of those colonized nations coming back to the motherland to compete:

Yep. And then this happened: Damien Hooper, an Indigenous Australian boxer dared to wear a t-shirt with the Aboriginal flag design after his match. WHILE STILL IN THE RING. Someone, get me my fainting couch, and bring me my pearls! The Olympic charter has a rule that there must be no political statements whatsoever made at the games and Hooper has been ordered to apologize to the Chef de Mission of the Australian team. 

Hooper is a world-class athlete. He would have dedicated a massive chunk of his life thus far to making it to the games. He is there to represent Australia. Hooper is also Indigenous. His people have been and continue to be colonized by the Australian government; they are ghettoized, they face racist and discriminatory policies that interfere with their sovereignty and self-determination and with with their health both emotional and physical. In wearing that t-shirt Hooper was showing that he was proud to be Indigenous; in punishing him, the IOC is reinforcing that there is no place for Indigenous people at the games unless they shut up and just represent their colonizers with a smile on their faces. 

The amazing Leanne Betasamosake Simpson wrote an amazing piece about Hooper on her blog (which got reposted to Racialicious as well) that takes apart the notion of an apolitical games:
"[E]very aspect of the Olympics is political – who is there, who is not there, where they are held, where they are not held, the sports that are involved, the sports that are not involved, the sports women are allowed to compete in and those we are not, the basic human rights of transgender athletes, whose history is told and celebrated and whose is silenced, the privileging of the competition of able bodied athletes and the fact that the social costs of the games fall squarely on the backs of the economically poor.
The Olympics are political and they reflect the politics of the both the ruling nation-states of the world and corporations. You can wear a shirt with Canada on it. You can wear shoes with Adidas on them. That’s fine, because it’s “not political”. Unless of course you’re Indigenous and these corporations and nation states are causing never-ending harm, destruction and trauma to your land and your people.
The idea that there is no place for political protest at the Olympics is also a wild sanitization of the games given that there has been dissent and protest at the games as long as the modern games have been held. Remember in 2000 when Cathy Freeman, who is also Indigenous and from the Australian team, carried the same “Aboriginal flag” around the track in her victory lap?
Hooper says he is very proud of what he did, and he should be proud. He showed Indigenous Peoples all over the world that he gets it – that settler states occupy our lands, they ignore our traditional governments, they try and beat us down, but they cannot take away our pride in being Indigenous. He showed us he remembered his family, his community, and his nation, above all else. He took a risk in the biggest sporting event of his life to tell those Old Ones that he remembered. To tell me, he remembered."
Read her whole essay. It is perfect.

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