I am 21, and what have I achieved?
That was the burning question I found myself asking when I met Monique Evelle, founder and leader of Desabafo Social. The headquarters reflects the organisation’s commitment to youth, from the quasi-graffiti on the walls, to the group of young Afro-Brazilian women and girls that give us our briefing. The organisation, founded in 2011 when Monique was in high school, works across thirteen states to socially empower young Brazilians, particularly those of African descent, through creating safe spaces to gather, collaborate on and develop projects in their own communities to counter racism and inequality. Even in Australia, fighting both the overt and the subtle influence of race seems a mammoth task, one that many in the community are not ready or willing to confront. Nonetheless, open and shameless racism regularly stimulates public discourse against the perpetrators, as with Adam Goodes and more insidiously, with racial abuse on public transport. There is a sense of shame attached, in the mind of the majority, to blatant racism.
In Brazil, the social divides are infinite, complex, dynamic and extreme: the slightest changes in skin tone dictate which workplaces will hire you or not hire you for the position you are qualified for. If you happen to be ‘black’ or ‘coloured’ and highly qualified, while a less qualified applicant is ‘white’ then guess who will get the call back? LGBTIQ Brazilians, the poor, those who live in favelas (unplanned communities), women and people of colour will invariably face significant social challenges that simply don’t exist for others. In police organisations, there exist significant prejudices even between those of different shades of colour. We see this as racial profiling, but to authorities, it is simply preventative. In August, a bus ferrying fifteen teenagers from the city’s outer communities (read: of low socio-economic status) was stopped in the streets of Rio by the notorious military police, with those on board summarily detained and searched. None were carrying weapons or drugs. Fourteen of the fifteen were black.
Now imagine you ran an anti-racism organisation, like All Together Now. Imagine each day, you ran the risk of being detained arbitrarily outside your office, and routinely passed by young, black men being searched in the street solely for the colour of their skin. Imagine that you yourself are regularly stopped on your doorstep, or violently assailed in the street with little reason, outside your workplace that exists solely to counter this behaviour. The need for such an organisation is self-evident in Salvador, within metres of its headquarters: en route, two young men with backpacks, dressed much like myself and seemingly hanging out together in the city centre of the old city, are stopped in the street. Their hands behind their heads, legs spread, three heavily armed policemen that are at pains to emphasize their weapons assail them. Nothing is found on their person. Guess their skin colour.
That is Desabafo Social’s reality. For a society so entrenched in its own problems – economic, political and social – it appears to be a demoralising battle for survival in Brazil, but unless people who want to change this system can band together, it is bound by the lessons of history to repeat. Ignorance will breed ignorance, poverty breeds poverty. Human rights form the overarching narrative of what Desabafo aims to do: to promote an alternative vision of human rights to young people, and enshrine equality and fairness in a society so long bereft of them. Monique wants to interrupt this cycle, and in small ways, Desabafo Social is winning, and collecting accolades along the way.
Much of this success is owed to the organisation’s use of technology. Monique has been recognised in Brazil as one of 25 most influential Afro-Brazilians on the internet. The internet empowers all users to collaborate, communicate and develop new ideas in a relatively safe space. Aprendizagem colaborativa, in English “collaborative knowledge,” is built collectively between peers and teachers and facilitated by the internet. Via this platform, the organisation frequently organises workshops, seminars and lectures on social entrepreneurship, effecting change, self-development and community organisation. Youth participation is paramount, and it is through investing time and energy into education that Desabafo aims to change endemic disadvantage.
Everything is about developing change in the long term, and investing in what we have now to reap change later. Social changes require patience; take Indigenous rights or same-sex marriage in this country. Children teach their children their values, after all. It’s a lesson many in Australia could learn.
While everyone is quick to recognise overt racism when we see it—we share it on social media and read about it in the news—many of us overlook a subtle form of racism that’s often disguised as a joke, stereotype or subconscious decision we make. Here are 10 signs you might have inadvertently done something ‘casually’ racist:
Prefacing a potentially racist statement with “I’m not racist but” doesn’t make it less offensive. So next time you feel the need to start a sentence this way, remember: it’s unlikely anything good will follow those four words…
Having friends from an ethnic minority background does not give you permission to make racist comments. What might be acceptable to your close friends, may be offensive to someone outside of your trusted circle.
While you genuinely think you’re giving someone a compliment, what you’re also saying is that Asian people (or other ethnicities) have an inferior grasp of English. And even as Australia continues to welcome new migrants into our society, the fact is many people of Asian backgrounds are Australians who were born or raised here.
This innocent question stems out of curiosity, but also implies that people who don’t have white skin or an Australian accent can’t call Australia home or couldn’t possibly have grown up here. As a multicultural society, it’s important to respect every resident’s right to call Australia home. We suggest asking the less derisive question: What’s your cultural heritage or background?
Racial profiling happens every day and it’s not just by law enforcement officers or airport security staff; many regular Australians also hold prejudices towards people of certain cultural or religious identities. What you may call a ‘harmless stereotype’ often impacts the daily lives of entire groups of people.
See number 5.
While it may come from a well-intended place, this form of ‘colourblind racism’ dismisses society’s history of racism, system of white privilege, and the everyday experiences that people still face because of racism. Even if you can ignore skin colour, society does not.
Some white people get upset by what they call “reverse racism”. They believe white people are adversely affected by policies designed to help minority groups in society. If reverse-racism gets you upset and defensive, this educational video might help reverse the situation…
With Australia’s laidback culture, it’s easy to dismiss those offended as uptight people who ‘can’t take a joke’. Instead, try to see it from their point of view or learn about their experiences. Remember: we don’t have the right to choose who gets offended by our jokes. Impact is more important than intent.
This is the subtlest form of casual racism but it can be as hurtful as calling people racist names. Avoiding somebody can make them feel as if they don’t belong in Australia.
Casual racism is racially-insensitive behaviour that often goes unnoticed in everyday interactions. It’s often hard to spot, because casual racism is so commonplace and normalised that it sometimes forms part of our daily lives.
Casual racism can include jokes or statements that highlight (in a negative way) cultural differences such as physical appearance, cultural practices or accents. It can also be expressed through beliefs, prejudices or behaviours that we sometimes don’t realise we exhibit. To learn more, read Explainer: what is casual racism– a piece written by our academic partners Jacqueline Nelson from the University of Western Sydney and Jessica Walton from Deakin University.
Casual racism is more than a ‘harmless joke’ or comment. It often leads to subconscious discrimination, marginalises those who stand up and ultimately helps real racists in our community validate their views. By normalising racial stereotypes in society, we also help to perpetuate the next generation of schoolyard and office bullies.
This evocative video, made by anti-depression organisation Beyond Blue, explains how casual racism can also affect people’s health.
Also Read: What is White supremacy and how do white supremacist groups operate in our community?
Empathise – Whatever your race, showing empathy is a good place to start. This means listening to people affected by racism, hearing about their everyday struggles, and understanding the effects of privilege. To put yourself in the shoes of someone experiencing racism, try our Everyday Racism app.
Speak up – Discover ways you can safely speak up against racism.
Keep the conversation going – One of the best ways to make casual racism more visible is to talk openly about it. We encourage you to share your experiences at work, in social situations and on social media. By speaking up together, we can work towards making casual racism unacceptable in our everyday lives. What do you think? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page.