At All Together Now, we are often asked questions about racism. Here’s our take on some of the most common questions.What is racism?
Racism is a combination of attitudes, beliefs and behaviours, including:
- believing your race is superior to another race;
- offensive or aggressive behaviour towards somebody because of their race;
- believing some groups do not fit in Australia;
- actively avoiding or excluding people from a specific cultural background because you believe they don’t belong; or
- believing everyone should behave according to certain values which are called ‘national’ but are not.
The alternative view to racism is to understand that everybody has individual characteristics. As humans, we all share differences and similarities, and so people should be treated based on their unique merits rather than their skin colour, nationality, or cultural background.
Racism can be a belief or behaviour by an individual, a group, or an institution. This campaign focuses on racist beliefs and behaviours of individuals.
Racial discrimination is an extension of racist thoughts or feelings. It is discrimination (i.e. a behaviour or practice) based on a person’s skin colour, cultural heritage or nationality which stops the victim from participating fully in public life. It can take many forms, including exclusion from employment, educational or housing opportunities.
Racial discrimination is illegal in Australia.
You can make a complaint if you have been treated unfairly because of your race, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin, or your immigrant status on the Australian Human Rights Commission’s website.
At some point in our lives, all of us will have thoughts or feelings that are racist. This is because of how pervasive racism is in all societies around the world. Racial discrimination is when these thoughts become actions.
It is important that we educate people about what racism is, the impact it has on people, and how to prevent it. Because we are all implicated in racism, it is better to talk about people engaging in racism than to label someone as a racist.
Australian residents fit into three broad categories:
- 50% of people are positive about cultural diversity;
- 40% of people are uncomfortable with or worried about cultural diversity; and
- 10% of people have racist tendencies.
Generally, people who are positive about cultural diversity tend to be younger (under 45), whereas people who are uncomfortable about cultural diversity tend to be older (over 45).
A comment is racist if:
- the intention is to hurt or offend another person because of their skin colour, nationality or cultural background; and/or
- a person is offended by a comment about or relating to their skin colour, nationality or cultural background regardless of whether or not the comment was intended to be hurtful or offensive.
Racism can happen anywhere.
The Australian Human Rights Commission has a guide about dealing with racism online.
If you witness racism in a private space (e.g. at a friend’s house) you should speak up!
Australia fares comparatively well to other countries, with one in ten people holding racist views. People who hold racist views in Australia are a vocal minority who’s opinions are not shared by the majority of Australians.
People who think the people around them share their opinion are more likely to be outspoken, so it is important for you to speak up when you hear a racist comment to assure the perpetrator that their opinion is not shared by others!
Generally, multiculturalism means people from many cultures living or working together within an atmosphere of mutual respect.
The opposite of this is assimilation, where people from a dominant culture expect newcomers to live or work with them in exactly the same way. This attitude usually means that one group of people behave as though they are superior to another. This is a form of racism.
When you go overseas, you are usually catered to by tourist services which have been set up to ensure you have an enjoyable holiday or business trip. For example, you probably stay in a hotel where the staff speak several languages including English. Their concierge (or your guidebook) can advise you about the most appropriate way to behave locally so that you remain safe during your stay.
Likewise, Australians often try to help newcomers feel welcome by pointing out our local customs to help people understand their new environment. Immigrants are often grateful to be living in Australia and will usually do their best to apply our customs and also follow some of the traditions of their country of origin. Australia is a free country that welcomes people from different backgrounds and a great place to live for this reason!
It is also a place with many different ways of life making it very hard to point to one particular Australian ‘way of life’ that everyone should ‘fit’ into. It doesn’t matter whether people are born in Australia or are visiting or emigrating to Australia from another country, everyone has the right to be different so long as they obey the laws of the country they are in.
More importantly, whoever you are and whenever you happen to be and regardless of how well you are ‘fitting’ in, everyone has a right to live their live free from racism.
It is impossible to answer this question directly, because there are hundreds of cultures from around the world, and every culture has its own customs. Nobody is an expert on all of these cultures, so it is ok to be ignorant of what is culturally respectful in a specific culture.
If in doubt, the best thing to do is ask whether your behaviour is appropriate and be willing to realise that people are different. If you relax and understand that your way is not the only way, you’re off to a great start.
If you accidentally make a mistake, simply apologise and learn from your mistake. Nobody is perfect!
Some people say discriminating against Muslims is racist. Others say it isn’t racist because Islam is a religion, not a race. We think it doesn’t matter either way: discrimination is offensive and illegal.
Debating whether or not discrimination towards Muslims is racist is focusing on a technicality. It avoids the real issue, which is whether we treat people unfairly because of their skin colour, nationality or cultural background or we treat them fairly as unique individuals.