Racism in Australia
Racism is a part of human nature that has endured for time in memoriam. It is one of the sordid aspects of humanity that seems difficult to erase and comes with a number of other problems that are not specific to the color of ones skin. Racism and racial discrimination also have a lot to do with cultural and ethnic differences as well as certain cultural fears that arise between two factions of belief systems. These problems together with the inability to effectively assimilate different races into a social environment lead to somewhat of a misunderstanding as to where racism comes from. Most of racism comes from the misunderstanding of one another and the intolerance of the cultural beliefs that different races tend to have. Racism as was seen during World War II was also the result of ideological beliefs that lumped people of certain physical countenance and religious belief into one group by which they were identified. We look at the nature and prevalence of racism in Australia in terms of its institutional grounds; prejudice; discrimination and ideologies to gain a better understanding of why racism exists the way it does.
Ideology of Racism:
The first way in which we broach the subject of racism is via its ideology. It is only by assessing this that we are able to understand how and why it exists. Racism is defined in the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission of 1998 as “ideology that gives expression to myths about other racial and ethnic groups, that devalues and renders inferior those groups, that reflects and is perpetuated by deeply rooted historical, social, cultural and power inequalities in society.”( Conference of Education Systems Chief Executive Officers 2000). The same form of ideology has been used for centuries and most famously was seen in Nazi Germany prior to and during World War II. However, racial conflict stems from a degree of insecurity within a cultural realm. For instance, there is an innate fear or sense of threat within a culture, that their own identity will be deviated or contaminated by the assimilation of another person’s way of doing things. This ideological belief is seen in a survey conducted by Kevin Dunn at the University of New South Wales. When asked what level of concern a sample group would have if a close member of their family married a person from a certain group, the results were not surprising. The end result is that more people (14.7%) were extremely concerned about marriage to a Muslim person than they were to a British person (0.7%). An amazing 91% were not concerned at all if a family member married a British person while only 46% had no concern if they married a Muslim person (Dunn, 2003: 5). The next group which raised the most concern were of course the Aboriginal group (Dunn, 2003: 5).
Discrimination is by no means a racial problem alone. It also stretches towards gender which is another particularly worrying aspect. Stereotyping a group of people is the dominant feature of discrimination and is based on myth more than any other belief. For instance: a woman might not be considered for an engineering position based on the premise that women cannot traditionally perform such tasks. ANTaR (Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation) states that 3 out of 4 Indigenous Australians experience racism in their everyday lives (ANTaR, 2008). They explain that in Alice Springs, a group of Aboriginal Youth leaders were told to leave a backpacking hostel because some tourists staying there said they were ‘afraid of Aborigines’ (ANTaR, 2008). This form of discrimination stems from mythical stories spread about the Aborigine’s for centuries, leading to an ungrounded fear of something that does not exist. The same form of discrimination is seen in countries such as America and South Africa where ideological beliefs lead to discriminatory practices. More recently, discrimination has reared its menacing head with regards to the Muslim fraternity. This occurred following the 9/11 attacks on America. Muslim women are reported to be “spat on, abused and ridiculed” while walking their children to school (Sedgman, 2004). In accordance with Article 19 of the General Assembly, the following article was put in place:
“In this Convention, the term “racial discrimination” shall mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.” (Artcile 1, General Assembly Resolution 2106).
Due to migration across the continents, over 20 million Muslim people now reside in the European Union, North America and Australia which has lead to debate as to whether they are able to live ‘harmoniously’ in the West where modern multicultural climates demand a tolerance of all people (University of Melbourne, 2004).
Racism is a prejudice and although they are seen as one and the same thing, there are subtle differences between ‘racism’ and ‘prejudice’. A prejudice is also founded upon mythical beliefs or sheer dislikes for something different. A person may for instance, have a prejudice against blond people. For this reason, an employer may not employ blond individuals based on the colour of their hair. Racism is a form of this prejudice. The RDA (Racial Discrimination Act) seeks to eliminate all prejudice within the law that exacerbates or compounds racial prejudices, including rights to employment (Calma, 2007). Another form of prejudice that has become prevalent in Australia today is “Anti-Americanism” which in the same light judges people on the fact that they are American by birth and has nothing to do with race or ethnicity yet is still a prejudice. In this sense, all American’s are ‘tarred with the same brush’. One opinion of anti-Americanism was put forward by Brendon O’Connor in an Australian political debate journal. He stated that the rise of anti-Americanism can be seen in two lights: one, that America is seen as a bullying world force and two; that America is also the butt of criticism because of its standpoint (O’Connor, 2003). He said that, “A broader anti-Americanism seems on the rise among Australians, possibly due to the resentment many feel about US power and the policies of the Bush administration.”(O’Connor, 2003).
Institutional racism “describes forms of racism which are structured into political and social institutions. It occurs when organisations, institutions or governments discriminate, either deliberately or indirectly, against certain groups of people to limit their rights.”(Racism. No Way, 2009). This is seen at times in schools and universities and even in the legal arena where law students had previously been discriminated against based on mythical ideologies about intelligence. According to the Dayton University, institutional racism is not based on an essential goal, meaning that if the main goal is to acquire students on above average intelligence, this is not based on their race, but rather on their academic performance (Dayton University, 2008). Previously institutions denied access to people based on race and this procedure is now illegal. Racism No Way is a website that aids teachers in broaching the subject of institutional racism amongst children at schools and offers a wide range of learning and teaching tools for teachers to use to educate their students.
Racism is a difficult ideology to eradicate particularly because it is a deeply engrained belief system. The most effective means in order to control racism, discrimination and prejudice is education. The better educated people are about the consequences and nature of racism, the greater their understanding of why and how they form their own prejudices. Prejudice is something everyone has to a degree, whether it is based on a personal quirk or misinterpreted social myth. Racism No Way offers educational tools for teachers at school level, to help them spread an understanding of racism and prejudice. These methods include easily comprehendible flow charts and visual material that encourage the children to think freely for themselves. Childhood is a period in the human life when prejudices are developed as a result of what they see and hear around them and it is important therefore that they are able to think about what they see and hear as well as it being important that the degree of prejudicial speech they hear is limited. Numerous laws have been put in place to control hate speech and prejudiced behaviour and these have to be implemented to a strong degree if racism and discrimination is to be stopped. Prejudice and discrimination is not something that is always on the surface and sometimes individuals are not aware that they have them. For this reason, survey’s may not be altogether accurate or indicative or true feelings until the correct set of circumstances are available to bring out the prejudicial reaction. After 9/11, Muslim prejudices came about as a result of deep-seated and inherent prejudices that had not previously had an outlet. The same form of prejudice occurred surrounding the German nation after World War II where all Germans were seen as potential Nazi war-mongers and persecutors. Understanding prejudice and racism is about understanding the self and cannot be done on a mass-level because the individual needs to change their own attitude towards others. While laws control the overt expression of prejudice and racism, it cannot control the way the individual feels or thinks about other cultures or races and this is the primary reason why education is the only true way forward in the fight against racism. Another aspect on new colonial countries such as Australia and the USA is that they are still relatively juvenile countries and an immediate acceptance and assimilation of one another cannot be expected. For example, it would be like reuniting a child with his/her biological parents whom they have never met and expecting them to run with open arms and love to people who may be blood relatives but they have never known.
Eradication of racism takes time and patience. It takes many years to engrain this form of prejudice into society, and therefore takes time to unravel it. Although many people still have deep prejudices, they are evidently trying to work towards a better understanding of one another. While we may be able to eradicate racism in Australia, or even discrimination, prejudice is a very personal condition and may never truly be destroyed.
ANTaR. (2008). Racism in Australia Facts. Justice, Rights and Reconciliation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Calma, Tom. (2007). Addressing Racism in Australia: Accentuating the Positive and Eliminating the Negative (But Don’t Forget about Mr In-Between). Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. http://www.hreoc.gov.au/about/media/speeches/race/2007/addressing_racism_in_australia.html
Dayton University. (2008). Institutional Racism in Law School Admissions. http://academic.udayton.edu/Race/01race/Racism06b.htm
Dunn, Kevin. (2003). Racism in Australia: findings of a survey on racist attitudes and experiences of Racism. University of Sydney.
General Assembly. International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination Article 19.
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. (1998). Racism. Racism NO Way. http://www.racismnoway.com.au/library/understanding/index-What.html
O’Connor, Brendon. The Last Respectable Prejudice: Anti-Americanism in Australia. Online Opinion, Thursday 6 November 2003. http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=843
Racism. No Way. (2009). Fact Sheets: Institutional Racism. http://www.racismnoway.com.au/classroom/factsheets/32.html
Sedgman, Jane-Maree. Discrimination Isolates Muslim Australians. ABC Radio Transcript. Thursday 17 June 2004.
University of Melbourne. Muslims in the West – coexistence or conflict? University of Melbourne Media Release. Tuesday 19 October 2004. http://uninews.unimelb.edu.au/news/1864/
**All websites accessed 18 January 2009