When I talk about someone, do I mention their race?

In comparison to other racial identities, how often do you typically describe someone as ‘white’, and in what contexts do you do so? When asked about their ethnic or cultural background, what kind of people typically identify as ‘just Australian’?

Often, racial descriptors are used exclusively to refer to people from First Nations or culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, reinforcing the idea of whiteness as the norm.


Mentioning race isn’t always a bad thing. Culture can be a great source of pride and everyone is entitled to their racial identity. Mentioning race can also be important when discussing topics like power, justice and inequality. However, pointing out someone’s race when it isn’t relevant to the conversation can also have negative effects – both intended and unintended. Using racial descriptors when reporting on crime, for example, can perpetuate false stereotypes or ideas that there is a causal relationship between a person’s race and the crime they may have committed. Similarly, noting someone’s race when it isn’t relevant to the conversation can perpetuate the idea that they are an outsider, that they are ‘other’.


A study of the Australian media shows a revealing trend among media commentators, who use racial descriptors in articles that negatively discuss First Nations people and those from culturally and linguistically diverse communities at a level disproportionate to similar discussions about white people.1


It’s also important to recognise how racial descriptors can be used to treat people differently. In a recent ABC article, Mavis Tan shared her experience: ‘A lot of the time you go into shops and people say, “Oh, watch out for the Asian person by the door, keep an eye on her”, things like that’.2  


Rethinking how we frame conversations and addressing our own biases is a crucial part of challenging racism.


By reflecting on the impact of racism, and taking a stand against it, we can build a fair and equal society – for all.



It stops with me.


All Together Now, Social commentary and racism in 2019 (Report, 2019) <https://alltogethernow.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Social-Commentary-and-Racism-2019-1.pdf>.

Mazoe Ford and Raveen Hunjan, ‘Racial discrimination in Australia: A third of young people report race-based mistreatment’, ABC News (online, 6 December 2016) <https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-12-06/a-third-of-young-people-report-race-based-mistreatment/8092926>.