Racism in Australia can be a touchy subject at the best of times. Social issues such as employment and economic uncertainty, along with the surge in asylum seeker boat arrivals and global terrorist activities make racism a steady, hot-button topic. When asked, most Australians will deny being racist – but the numbers aren’t on our side. Findings in the recent Mapping Social Cohesion (MSC) survey – showed that 19 per cent of Australians were discriminated against in 2013, up from 12 per cent in 2012. This is the highest level since the survey began in 2007.
We live in one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse nations in the world, with over 150 distinct cultures calling Australia home. The MSC report’s findings are disturbing in that, while blatant racism may be considered socially unacceptable today, ‘casual racism’ still creates major tension in our community.
So, what is casual racism? New arrivals say it’s being harassed on the street or on public transport. It’s being asked: “where are they from?” or being told they have a funny accent. It’s not getting a job or being ignored in a café because of skin colour or a type of headdress they wear. It’s having their names said aloud sarcastically. It’s being laughed at when their back is turned. It’s the way the media can portray subtle negative stereotypes. It’s all these things and more.
Could you be racist? Take the Race IAT test and find out. Click ‘I wish to proceed’ in this link to take you to the test.
The fact that 19 per cent of the population feels that they have been racially denegrated in the last year is deeply disturbing. Fifteen years ago, new arrivals were given a list of 10 items and then asked to number, in order of preference, the best things about Australia. The top answer was our ‘welcoming and hospitable attitude’. Nowadays, of the 10 attributes on the list, our ‘welcoming hospitality’ ranks dead last.
While the overt racism that was more common last century is no longer acceptable, casual racism still oozes through the cracks and finds new ways to manifest itself in modern society. The Federal Government has attempted to weaken the Racial Discrimination Act, by trying to remove Section 18C, which makes it illegal to offend or intimidate anyone because of race, colour, or national, or ethnic origin. This thinking doesn’t do anything to help change attitudes towards racism and such a change would actually make it socially acceptable for Australians to be bigoted. Take Attorney-General George Brandis’s statement, “people have the right to be a bigot, you know”. The people do have the right to be a bigot, but does that make it right to be a bigot?
Interestingly, Australia has the largest immigration program per capita in the world, so it’s almost unbelievable that we don’t have more ethnic tension, according to Monash University Professor Andrew Markus. So we can’t be all that bad. But is it enough for us to hang our hat on? Racism is a destructive force, in whatever form it takes. It disempowers people. It degrades their identities. It demeans their culture. It is the opposite of the democracy we so readily claim to strive for and fight for.
Australia is such a multi-culturally diverse nation that there is no ‘one true’ Australian identity. In fact there are many. As a nation, if we try harder to accept our ethnic diversity, we can achieve true nationhood – and a country we can all be really proud of.
What do you think?
Is casual racism dangerous?
Do we need to try harder?