Israel Adesanya opens up about facing racism in Aotearoa

Headlines 23/09/2020

Arriving in New Zealand as a 10-year-old, Israel Adesanya had no idea what racism was - but that changed within a matter of days.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, the Nigerian-born UFC champion has opened the lid on facing bigotry head-on in New Zealand.

Days away from defending his middleweight title  against Paulo Costa at UFC 253, 'The Last Stylebender' says he was religiously bullied from his first day of school in Whanganui, because he looked different to the other kids.

"I didn't realise me being black was a problem, until I got to New Zealand," Adesanya says.

"I'm like, 'Why are you being mean to me, why can't you be kind?'

"My first week in school, there was a kid who was being a dick to me. He lived down the road, he kept riding by my house with his friend telling me, 'Go back to your own country black'.

"I didn't understand it - it was so foreign. I didn't even know this guy, why was he being so mean to me?"

Adesanya eventually stood up for himself, engaging in a school-wide brawl with the kid, but he struggles to "fathom having that kind of hatred" to pick on someone because of their skin colour.

"That next week at school, he came up to me after interval and pushed me to the ground, and I lost my s**t," he says.

"I beat him up, from D block to K block. I beat him up for about a minute and a half, and I was crying while I was whooping his ass, then I ran away and went to hide. 

"It was a pretty traumatic experience for myself. I just didn't understand, why are you being mean to me because of the colour of my skin? 

"I still can't fathom it because I'm not of that creed."

Back in June, the 31-year-old made a moving, heartfelt speech at a 'Black Lives Matter' rally at Auckland's Aotea Square.

"I've been angry, I'm pissed off," Adesanya told a large crowd. "How many of you walk into a store and have to put your hands behind your back just so they don't think you're stealing?

"How many of you walk down the street and have to smile, and try to make the person who you can see is already scared of you feel comfortable?"

"I just moved and I'm on the top floor, and I have to go in the elevator," he said. "Three times already, I've had to have racist, scared white people jump when they see me and I smile at them.

"So now I've got to stay to the side and let them walk through, just so they don't get scared when they see me. 

"Why? Because I'm black... just because I'm black. 

"What did I do? I didn't have a choice. 

"If I had a choice, I'd still be black."

Those comments still resonate with the City Kickboxing mixed martial artist, who tells the Daily Telegraph spreading awareness isn't enough anymore. Racial and social injustices have to come to an end.

"What the f***, are you stuck in 1942? It's like people's sexual orientation or their religion... everybody is just fighting each other.

"I don't think people realise that the powers that be want us to be divided, because that way we don't focus on the real problem, which is the powers that are perpetrating evils in this world.

"When the march happened, I spoke out and am really proud of what I said. I was really angry and I reacted, but it hasn't stopped yet.

"Reporters asked me this week, 'are you trying to bring awareness?' What is there to bring awareness to? 

"We all know what's f***ing happening. Like Jay Z said, 'I'm past kneeling'. 

"There's no point in bringing awareness no more - what we need is for the world to change. Talk to the lawmakers, the councilmen, the mayors, your own city, your own town, your own city and demand change from whatever you feel is wrong.

"I'm doing my best to make a change in my own world. I can't change the world, but I can change the world around me and I think people should try to do that, because it's a shame to see what's happening to black people all around the world."

Adesanya says he is no activist and has many faults that he works on every day. He just wants to carry on fighting and establish himself as one of the greatest combat athletes of all time.

"I'm still human, I'm me and I'm still figuring out my own self.

"I'm just a regular dude doing extra regular s**t and I'm doing it very well.

"But I'm still the dude who walks around barefoot in west Auckland, walking his dogs through the mud.

"I'm still that guy with his headphones on at Pak 'n Save, trying to get my shopping done without having 20 people asking for photos."