Published in the International Review for the Sociology of Sport (2007)
In the article ‘The Fire Within’, Anthony Mundine, the Australian indigenous boxer and world bantam weight title holder, is the subject of discussion around his inability to be his own man. Martin Flanagan (2006: 6) writes that ‘Mundine is commonly accused of aping Muhammad Ali’.
Flanagan, regarded as sensitive to indigenous issues, does not use quotation marks in recognition of the underlying politics of race invoked. An extraordinary oversight, this suggests that the status of elite athlete does little to deter derogatory inferences to the humanity of the racial ‘other’.1 Critical race theorists, Omi and Winant (2002), claim that race is central to society not an irregularity within it. I draw on the critical race construct of race formations (evolutionary hegemony) to chart the changing significance of race mediated through reference to the indigenous racial ‘other’ as ‘ape-like’ in the Australian sports media. To set the theoretical boundaries, I develop an etymology of ‘aping’ drawing on Bindman’s (2002) construct of aesthetics (beauty), Darwinian evolutionary theory (Watson, 2005) and colonial mimicry (Bhabha, 1994). I argue that narratives depicting the ‘ape-like’ constitute mimicry that relies on ambiguity to invoke the subordinate status of the ‘other’. To that end, I employ content analysis of media texts to bring to light the racial project demarcating the ape.