This section of the website provides some information about racism, how it plays out in society, and some of the ways we can address it. More information can be found via the Take Action section of the website. As you move through the website, consider how you can commit to learning, and commit to action, working within your sphere of influence to create meaningful change.
What is racism?
Racism is the process by which systems and policies, actions and attitudes create inequitable opportunities and outcomes for people based on race. Racism is more than just prejudice in thought or action. It occurs when this prejudice – whether individual or institutional – is accompanied by the power1 to discriminate against, oppress or limit the rights of others.
Race and racism have been central to the organisation of Australian society since European colonisation began in 1788. As the First Peoples of Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have borne the brunt of European colonisation and have a unique experience of racism. The process of colonisation, and the beliefs that underpin it, continue to shape Australian society today.
Racism adapts and changes over time, and can impact different communities in different ways, with racism towards different groups intensifying in different historical moments. An example of this is the spike in racism towards Asian and Asian-Australian people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Racism includes all the laws, policies, ideologies and barriers that prevent people from experiencing justice, dignity, and equity because of their racial identity. It can come in the form of harassment, abuse or humiliation, violence or intimidating behaviour. However, racism also exists in systems and institutions that operate in ways that lead to inequity and injustice.
The ‘Key terms’ section of the website unpacks some of the different ways that racism is expressed, and some of the tools we can use to combat it.
As noted by Diversity Council Australia, this power must be societal and race-based. Race-based societal power is the power some people and organisations have in society because of their race, i.e., power and representation in education, employment, health, and government organisations. People do not have to work to get this power. Instead, people have race-based societal power simply because of their race. In Australia, our society, laws and institutions have systematically favoured white people. Colonisation, dispossession, and government policies like the White Australia policy have given disproportionate advantage to white people over others. While it is true that a person who is not white might have other forms of power (e.g., such as political or financial power) they are less likely to have the race-based power associated with whiteness.
For more information, see: Diversity Council Australia (Peter Anderson, Virginia Mapedzahama, Annika Kaabel and Jane O’Leary), Racism at Work: How Organisations Can Stand Up to and End Workplace Racism, Sydney, Diversity Council Australia, 2022.
You’ll see these terms used throughout the Racism. It Stops With Me campaign. Here are some things to consider:
The Racism. It Stops With Me campaign uses the term ‘equality’ to refer to substantive equality. Substantive equality recognises the diverse needs and strengths of different people and communities, and that varied treatment and allocation of resources is required to ensure equal opportunities and outcomes.
This website also uses the term ‘equity’, which, like substantive equality, involves the recognition of unique needs and strengths of different individuals and communities and the provision of resources to ensure equality of opportunity.
In the context of this campaign, neither equality nor equity are terms intended to mean ‘treat all as the same’. This is particularly important when considering the unique and collective rights of particular communities, such as those recognised under the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. These are considered the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples as the First Peoples of Australia, whose sovereignty has not been ceded, and whose right to self-determination is vital in addressing the injustices of colonialism, past and present. Neither ‘equality’ or ‘equity’ can meaningfully promote justice or fairness without fully acknowledging these rights.