Gold Coast’s Joel Wilkinson says his AFL experience of being racially abused shows the inclination to tiptoe around the topic remains widespread.
The Nigerian-born 20-year-old was racially vilified on debut last season by Western Bulldog Justin Sherman, who copped a four-match suspension after an AFL mediation process.
Wilkinson said on Tuesday he wanted to treat the incident as a positive and highlight an issue that “we all sometimes turn a blind eye to”.
But he found that many people assumed he was shattered or shamed by what became a high-profile case, rather than discovering his true feelings by actually asking him.
“We felt it was so touchy, it just sort of showed how we perceive it,” Wilkinson told reporters at an AFL launch in Melbourne, where he was named a multicultural ambassador.
“Why not just ask more questions?
“I still see that now.
“I’m not embarrassed at all. I’m not ashamed about what occurred.
“I feel proud that I’m able to speak up for a lot of people, youngsters, even young adults, adults, you still see it occur.
“That’s something that highlighted to me and showed to me, we still don’t feel comfortable approaching delicate situations.”
Wilkinson said his advice to victims of racism was that they should know most Australians were on their side.
But he said it would help if those around them treated such issues like any other sort of personal problem.
“There was a lot of assumptions about how I was feeling, but more questions need to be asked,” Wilkinson said.
“That’s the big thing.
“If kids are unhappy at home, I guess coaches feel inclined to go ask that kid ‘How are you feeling at home?’.
“But when it comes to racial segregation, I guess we feel a bit like it’s touchy.
“But at the end of the day, it’s no different.
“If someone’s struggling, you need to provide that support.”