Why Racism?

Nine out of ten respondents to our consultation survey said that racism was either an extremely important or very important issue facing Australians. Two-thirds of respondents identified having experienced racism personally. The Challenging Racism project found that 20 per cent of Australians surveyed had experienced racial discrimination in the form of race hate talk, and one in twenty had been attacked because of their race.

So while cultural diversity is central to our national identity, the reality is that too many Australians experience racism, prejudice and discrimination on a regular basis. Take a look at the following sections for more information on what racism is, who experiences it, its impact, what the law says and suggestions for what you can do.

What is racism?

Racism can take many forms, such as jokes or comments that cause offence or hurt, sometimes unintentionally; name-calling or verbal abuse; harassment or intimidation, or commentary in the media or online that inflames hostility towards certain groups.

At its most serious, racism can result in acts of physical abuse and violence.

Racism can directly or indirectly exclude people from accessing services or participating in employment, education, sport and social activities.

It can also occur at a systemic or institutional level through policies, conditions or practices that disadvantage certain groups.

It often manifests through unconscious bias or prejudice.

Take a look at these links for more information:

What is racism?

Casual racism

Cyber racism

Who experiences racism?

While racist behaviour, such as verbal abuse, can be directed against members of any racial group, some people in Australia are more likely to experience racism regularly and are also at risk of experiencing discrimination in an ongoing or systemic way. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are particularly vulnerable.

For more information, see:

Who experiences racism

Mapping Social Cohesion report

Lowitja Institute research

What is the impact of racism?

Racism has a significant impact both on the individuals who experience it and the wider community. Research shows that there are significant links between experiences of racism and discrimination and poor physical and mental health, reduced productivity and reduced life expectancy.

Further, it is well-recognised that racism presents barriers to social and economic participation which can in turn cause social exclusion and entrench disadvantage, sometimes for generations.

This is what Australians told us about how they feel about racism:

It makes me feel like I am lower than everyone else, an intruder who is not part of this society.

It offends me, angers me, frustrates me, but most of all it saddens me.

Dirty. As a white Aussie who speaks English as a first language I am not the recipient of direct racism but I deplore its effects on our society and get sick and tired of seeing friends and peers, who do experience racism, struggle.

It reduces us all. We are all made less, and our cohesiveness is lessened by it.

I'm a proud Australian but it does make me cringe. We can do better.

Racism deprives the Australian community of the opportunity to fully celebrate and embrace cultural diversity as an asset to this nation.

Racism can make people feel uncomfortable or unsafe and that they are not welcomed or accepted. It also portrays Australia in a negative way to the rest of the world.

Many in our indigenous population live as though they're in a third world country. The racism gap is widest for them. Australia could be so rich in shared culture, so we all miss out.

It harbours mistrust. It incites hatred. It stops the word 'community' in its tracks.

For more information, take a look at:

Why is racism a problem?

Beyond Blue – the Invisible Discriminator

VicHealth research

What does the law say?

The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 was Australia’s first anti-discrimination law. This law protects everyone in Australia from discrimination on the basis of race. Under the law, discrimination is defined as:

"a 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 any human right or fundamental freedom in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life"

Since 1995, the Racial Discrimination Act has also protected people from racial hatred. Section 18C of the Act states that any act that is reasonably likely to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” a person or group on the basis of race is prohibited, unless it falls under one of the exceptions in Section 18D.

More information can be found here:

Know Your Rights: Racial Discrimination and Vilification

What does the law say?

You can also take a look at our conciliation register for examples of complaints that have been made under the Racial Discrimination Act.

What can you do about it?

We can all do something when we witness race discrimination. Take a look at the following links for ideas of what you can do:

What can you do?

Tips for bystanders

Cyber racism

Casual racism

Kyah Simon

Kyah Simon
Westfield Matildas