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Pat Cummins and Tim Paine’s ‘huge shift’ in understanding racism

Pat Cummins and Tim Paine's 'huge shift' in understanding racism

Australia’s Test captain Tim Paine and vice-captain Pat Cummins have admitted to spending most of their professional lives in blissful ignorance of racism in the society around them. Cummins revealed he had at times been guilty of making the sorts of hurtful “one liners” to players of colour that the national team have pledged to stamp out.

Paine and Cummins were speaking as part of a series of videos put together by the Australian Cricketers Association (ACA) and Cricket Australia (CA), under the banner of “Reflect Forward” as Australia’s national sport reckons with a long history of misdeeds in terms of inclusiveness. CA’s efforts to recognise Aboriginal Australia have been demonstrated by how both men’s and women’s teams now commence every series with a barefoot circle acknowledgement of first nations people, while the Johnny Mullagh Medal will be presented to the player of the MCG Test.

“I probably just turned a blind eye to it a little bit, but since this has sort of got going I have taken time to speak to teammates — whether it’s in Tasmania or Hurricanes or club cricket — about how they feel about it and how it affects them.”

Australia captain Tim Paine on Black Lives Matters

The Australian women’s team have already broken down numerous barriers in their openness to discussing such issues, and it has taken time for the men to follow suit. The national team coach Justin Langer has conceded more should have been done earlier in enhancing his players’ understanding, something underlined by how Paine and Cummins spoke. Cummins, articulate and well-rounded, spoke volumes when he admitted to making comments he now regrets.

“Just taking that extra second to think about what you say or do,” he said when asked about how he counselled young people to handle racism. “You might try to throw in a joke and I’ve definitely done this in the past, you say a little one liner or something off the top of your head and then just making sure you actually reflect on that and go actually ‘that’s not me’ or ‘I’ve said the wrong thing there, I don’t believe that, I don’t know why I’ve said that, and I hate how I’ve made that person feel’.

“So try and fix that, try to make it a learning experience, but as a kid, just make up your own mind, your own opinions, don’t just go with the flow of other people around you. And if you do something you’re not comfortable with or you see something you’re not comfortable with, try and find a way you can get your message across to them that hang on, I don’t think this is acceptable, I hope you can think about that and reflect on that and maybe be better next time.”

While Paine’s leadership has been strengthened by his own worldliness, having experienced life outside the elite end of the game to the point of considering retirement in 2017, he also spoke of how little he had actually considered issues of racism for the vast majority of his career.

“Mine has only shifted in the last 12 months since the whole Black Lives Matter thing started to take off,” Paine said. “I was probably someone who, if I am totally honest, had my head in the sand a little bit and because it probably wasn’t a part of my world I didn’t have it as a big issue. That’s really opened my eyes to things and issues our Indigenous people, black people and people of all sort of different cultures around the world go through.

“For me, again, I probably just turned a blind eye to it a little bit, but since this has sort of got going I have taken time to speak to teammates — whether it’s in Tasmania or Hurricanes or club cricket — about how they feel about it and how it affects them. I probably didn’t realise how bad it was for people in our day. You saw it as something that was a long time ago and almost that attitude of ‘what can I do to help that anyway’. For me my learning has come from speaking to teammates, understanding more how it affects them and how I can help them through that.

“The platform we have now as Australian cricketers, not that we can fix every issue, but we can use that platform to make more of us aware of it and hopefully more people who are like me that it doesn’t affect on a day to day basis, to realise there’s a lot of people out there that it does and we can help them in a small way. My learnings are how much it affects some of my teammates and me being unaware of that for probably 15 years as a professional cricketer. So just the shift in that now.”

Cummins spoke of how he had recently read the seminal Bruce Pascoe book Dark Emu, which has helped raise fresh perspectives on the intricacies of Aboriginal Australia in the years before European settlement of the continent.

“The biggest shift I have had in the past year or so is just around our Indigenous culture here in Australia,” Cummins said. “Obviously at school you learn a little bit about it, I remember reading about the Stolen Generation, small parts; the boomerang, the didgeridoo, dream time, but never really in depth. It was always ‘that’s the past’, that’s what that culture was, not that it still exists.

“But the biggest shift for me was Dark Emu. It’s a great book that came out a few years ago and it talks about how productive, how intelligent and how incredible the culture was at not only surviving, but thriving. How closely they were intertwined with the land. It kind of shifted my perspective. I guess I had just thought a lot of Indigenous people were foragers and just surviving off the land, but I found out they would burn certain fires to make sure the bush survived, they would look after certain flora and fauna.

“They had this whole eco system that was so finely tuned over 60,000 years. It shifted my perspective to wow these cultures are absolute experts on this land we live in, and we don’t really tap into it nowadays. Just huge admiration and respect for the history. Australia has all this history I didn’t even know about a year ago and I feel real proud to be an Aussie.”

Paine added that in his experience, the calling out of racist language needed to be done in a way that would reduce, wherever possible, the amount of hurt felt by the victim. “I’ve heard a few throwaway lines in the gym or at training over the years. The simple thing is to call it out,” Paine said. “For me it is just going over to them, rather than making a big scene over it, which can make the situation worse for the person that’s had the comment made to.

“A couple of times it’s been literally going over to a teammate one-on-one. The ones I have been around haven’t meant to insult the person, it’s been a throwaway line, someone thinking they have been funny because it is something that’s been in sports change rooms for a long, long time.

“Tap them on the shoulder and let them know the comment has probably been hurtful and harmful to the person it was aimed at. A quiet conversation and make them aware it is not on and make sure they speak to the person it was aimed at.”

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig

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