Key terms

Understanding these terms can help us to engage in meaningful conversations about racism, and strengthen our understanding of how race shapes society

‘Anti-racism is an active process, unlike the passive stance of “non-racism”. Therefore, anti-racism work requires consistent, committed and targeted action and attention.’

- Creative Equity Toolkit

Anti-racism involves actively attempting to combat racist policies, practices, culture and ideas. Anti-racism is about more than being ‘not racist’. It involves active decisions that seek to combat injustice and promote racial equity. It can be helpful to think of anti-racism as a skill set that we can all develop and use to promote a better, more equitable society. 

For more information on how you can engage in active anti-racism, see the Take Action section of this website.

Racialisation is the process by which groups of people come to be seen, treated and to understand themselves as belonging to a distinct racial group.3 Like race, racialisation has been used to legitimise European colonialism, including settler colonisation, the enslavement of peoples, and related laws and policies.4 It has been used to both create ‘whiteness’5 and establish hierarchical differences between groups of people, where some communities are regarded as exploitable, able to be enslaved or even eliminated.6 The process of racialisation provides and protects economic, social and political benefits to white communities as those who have gained wealth, land, social and political power via the process of colonisation.

As with race, racialisation is a social construct rather than an objective classification,7 and can be changed to suit different social and political aims over time.8 For example, in Australia, European colonisation required the dispossession of First Nations peoples from their lands, and led to false ideas of the racial inferiority and inevitable demise of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to justify European territorial claims.9 These ideas were supported by so-called science that has since been disproved.

‘Negatively racialised’ is a term used to refer to groups of people who have experienced the harms of racialisation – those groups have been racialised in a way that is negative in order to maintain the supremacy of whiteness. The use of the term ‘negatively racialised’ does not intend to undermine the agency and self-identification of these groups. In many contexts we see language that has been used to negatively racialise certain communities being reclaimed as a tool for collective and anti-racist organising (for example, the terms ‘Black’ and ‘Blak’ used by First Nations people to self-identify in Australia10).

Interpersonal racism is racism that occurs in interactions between individuals or groups of people, often in everyday settings. 

Interpersonal racism can come in the form of abuse, harassment, humiliation or exclusion. It can also be expressed through off-hand jokes or comments. Sometimes referred to as ‘everyday racism’, interpersonal racism is considered by some to be the way in which systemic racial inequity plays out between people.

Interpersonal racism does not always target a specific person, and may not even be intended to cause any offence or harm. However, a lack of intent does not reduce the negative impacts of racism.

“Systemic racism creates the architecture around which other forms of racism are enabled, supported and justified.”

- Alison Whittaker11

“Systemic racism doesn’t mean that everyone in the club is racist, as some have tried to say. What it means is that the culture, structures and internal mechanisms aren’t effective in facing racism, providing resolution, and creating change. It means that individuals of goodwill can’t make the difference they want.”

- Professor Larissa Behrendt and Professor Lindon Coombes12

Systemic racism can be more difficult to identify than individual or interpersonal racism, because it is often so entrenched in our societies or institutions that it is perceived as ‘normal’. Systemic racism refers to the way that the cultural norms, laws, ideologies, policies and practices of a particular society, organisation or institution result in unequitable treatment, opportunities and outcomes.

However, systemic racism can also happen without specific laws, policies or practices keep it in place.13 In many cases, the legacy of those norms, laws, policies and practices continues to reinforce the inequalities they created, long after they have ended. That’s why we need laws, policies and practices that are actively anti-racist to address ongoing injustices.

Terms like systemic, institutional and structural racism are often used to refer to similar phenomena, but can also be considered distinct.14

Below are some definitions, but keep in mind that these terms are sometimes used interchangeably:

Institutional racism

Institutional racism exists when racism is established as a normal behaviour within an organisation, institution, or society. It includes the policies and practices that inform the operations of organisations and institutions.

Structural racism

Structural racism is a term often used to describe inequalities and barriers that prevent people from accessing equitable opportunities within a society. It refers to the kinds of racism that operate deep within the social structures of society.15

 

If you are interested in a deeper analysis of these concepts, the Lowitja Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research has produced a scoping paper in which scholars discuss these concepts in detail.16 

Bias can be a favourable attitude, where we form positive impressions based on someone’s skin colour, surname or ancestry. Or it can be unfavourable, with negative impressions.

Bias can lead to unfair outcomes for some people, particularly when it appears in organisations like schools, sports teams or workplaces, or within areas such the health system, education system the criminal justice system. Bias does not necessarily amount to racism. However, it can when coupled with the power to discriminate against or limit the rights of others.

Bias is sometimes called implicit or unconscious bias because it can be hard to detect, even in ourselves. However, it’s important not to use the terms ‘unconscious’ or ‘implicit’ to justify or undersell the impact of bias, or to negate our own responsibility for challenging bias in ourselves or in the organisations and systems we are a part of. In addition, not everyone’s bias carries the same weight, because not all biases are supported or reinforced at the institutional, or systemic level.

We are all likely to hold biases of some kind. Because we know this, it’s important that we commit to identifying our own biases, but more importantly, to address them through anti-racist action.

Privilege is defined as an advantage or protection that is only (or only notably) available to some people, or groups of people.

Acknowledging privilege is about recognising that the systems and institutions of our society are designed from the perspectives of people from certain groups, and not others.  Privilege can stem from various aspects of identity, including race, sex, ability, socioeconomic status and others.

The term ‘racial privilege’ is often used to refer to the rights, advantages or protections experienced by people because of their racial identity. Experiencing racial privilege does not automatically mean that you have had an easy life. However, it is important to understand the way that racism facilitates the enjoyment of certain rights and experiences for some while denying them to others. Recognising this is an essential first step, but it is important that also we go further to ask why these inequalities exist, and take action to address them. 

It is also true that many of the things that have been categorised as ‘privileges’ are in fact basic rights that should be enjoyed by everyone.

This has led some people to question the usefulness of the term ‘privilege’, as it doesn’t account for the fact that these so-called ‘privileges’ should be experienced equitably, and not be considered special rights or advantages. Instead, it can be worth focussing on the lack of protections that are experienced by those without so-called racial privilege, and what can be done to address this.17

Below is a list of some experiences that are sometimes considered examples of racial privilege. When you read through them, it’s worth asking the question, ‘Are these things that should be experienced by everyone, or just some people? What do we need to do as a society to ensure that they are experienced by all?’

  • Turning on the television and seeing people of your race widely represented.
  • Moving through life without being racially profiled or unfairly stereotyped.
  • Being treated fairly and justly by police and by the courts.
  • Seeing yourself represented in business and political leadership.
  • Not having to repeatedly explain your cultural practices to other people who perceive them as strange.
  • Being presumed ‘innocent’ until proven guilty by the legal system.

‘Intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects.’ 

- Kimberlé Crenshaw18

Intersectionality refers to the way that different aspects of a person’s identity intersect with and impact one another, and how the combined experience of multiple forms of discrimination is often greater than the sum of those discriminations alone.19

It means that people’s experience of a certain form of discrimination, such as sexism, is impacted by other features of their identity, such as whether they are of a particular race, a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, and/or someone with a disability. Understanding this is important in understanding racism, because it allows us to see how a person’s experience of racism can be compounded, or transformed, by other forms of discrimination they face.

“Where are you from” is a question that migrant people of colour will be asked many times over their lives, which is a reminder that they are considered “Other,” or “different” to the majority group.”

- Dr Zuleyka Zevallos20

Microaggressions are the casual expressions that perpetuate racist stereotypes and ideas. An example of a microaggression might be commenting on how well a person of African heritage speaks English, or repeatedly mispronouncing someone’s name, despite being corrected.

Many microaggressions are not necessarily visible to everyone. People who directly experience racism (or other forms of discrimination) are typically much more aware of them.  It’s important to remember that "micro" in microaggression doesn't mean that these acts can’t have a severe impact. Microaggressions have a cumulative effect and can cause considerable psychological distress.21

The term ‘white supremacy’ can often conjure up images of violent extremist groups.

But white supremacy can also be much more commonplace than that. It can mean the way that stories, religions, identities, values, languages and cultures practiced and embodied by Australians of Anglo-Celtic, and some European ancestries are considered to be the norm in Australian society, with everyone else framed as ‘other’.

It might also be identified in laws or policies that are expected to apply to everyone in Australia when in fact they are designed in a way that mainly provides for the needs of Australians from Anglo-Celtic, and some European ancestries. Sometimes, as was the case of the White Australia policy, these laws are openly discriminatory in favour of white communities. While we may have formally abolished some of our more overtly racist laws and policies, the impacts of them can often continue to be felt today.22

Meaningfully challenging racism means acknowledging that in countries like Australia, there is one group, or group of communities, that benefits the most from racially inequitable laws, policies and practices. Recognising the different ways that white cultures, values, morality and even ideas of beauty, are prioritised over others is a crucial step in creating genuine equality. We must work towards a society where all people, regardless of their racial identity, enjoy equitable access to rights, freedoms and opportunities.

The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 makes racial discrimination and racial hatred unlawful in public life.

It strives to protect everyone in Australia from discrimination based on race and guarantee that everyone enjoys equality before the law, regardless of their racial background. Areas where racial discrimination is specifically unlawful include:

  • access to places and facilities;
  • land, housing and accommodation;
  • the provision of goods and services;
  • joining a trade union;
  • employment; and
  • advertisements.

The Racial Discrimination Act also makes it unlawful to do an act that is reasonably likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate a person or group because of their race. Examples of racial hatred include:

  • racially offensive material on the internet;
  • racially offensive comments or images in a newspaper;
  • racially offensive comments in a public place; and
  • racially offensive speeches at a public rally.

However, it’s important to note that there are significant qualifications that limit the Racial Discrimination Act and exist to balance rights to freedom of speech and freedom from racial discrimination.23

In addition, the Act does not include criminal sanctions, which means that a breach of the Act does not amount to a crime. That’s not to say that people can’t be held accountable for breaches of the Act, but those breaches are unlawful, and not illegal. This means that the responsibility is placed on the individual affected by the act (rather than police) to hold someone else to account for actions in breach of the Act.

It’s also important to note that the Racial Discrimination Act is not broadly accessible to everyday people seeking action against experiences of racism. Financial circumstances, lack of legal knowledge, and fears of backlash or punitive action can all limit the ability of people to invoke the Racial Discrimination Act.

Protections under the Racial Discrimination Act have also been suspended on various occasions where the Australian Government has sought to implement legislation that would otherwise be unlawful under the Act (the Act allows for this to occur in certain circumstances). On each occasion this has been specifically in relation to laws affecting the rights of First Nations peoples.

The Racial Discrimination Act therefore offers some, yet limited protections against racial discrimination in Australia.

 

See further information about the Racial Discrimination Act

   

Use of the terms ‘equity’ and ‘equality’

 

You’ll see these terms used throughout the Racism. It Stops With Me campaign. Here are some things to consider:

Equality

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.

Equity

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.

  1. 'Anti-Racism’, Creative Equity Toolkit (Web Page) <https://creativeequitytoolkit.org/topic/anti-racism/>.
  2. Chelsea Watego, David Singh and Alissa Macoun, Partnership for Justice in Health: Scoping Paper on Race, Racism and the Australian Health System (Discussion Paper, The Lowitja Institute, 2021) 4-5.
  3. Chelsea Watego, David Singh and Alissa Macoun, ‘Partnership for Justice in Health: Scoping Paper on Race, Racism and the Australian Health System’, (Discussion Paper, The Lowitja Institute, May 2021) <https://www.lowitja.org.au/content/Image/Lowitja_PJH_170521_D10.pdf>.
  4. Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States (Routledge, 2015)111-112.
  5. Cheryl I Harris, ‘Whiteness as Property’ in Kimberlé Crenshaw, Neil Gotanga, Gary Peller and Kendall Thomas (eds.) Critical Race Theory: The Key writings that Formed the Movement (New Press, 1995) 276.
  6. Wendy Hio Kyong Chun, ‘Introduction: Race and/as Technology; or, How to do Things to Race’ (2009) 24(1) Camera Obscura 10.
  7. Stuart Hall, The Fateful Triangle: Race, Ethnicity, Nation (Harvard University Press, 2017).
  8. Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States (Routledge, 2015)111-112; Chelsea Watego, David Singh and Alissa Macoun, ‘Partnership for Justice in Health: Scoping Paper on Race, Racism and the Australian Health System’, (Discussion Paper, The Lowitja Institute, May 2021) <https://www.lowitja.org.au/content/Image/Lowitja_PJH_170521_D10.pdf>.
  9. Patrick Wolfe, ‘Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native' (2006) 8(4) Journal of Genocide Research 387.
  10. Ernie Blackmore, ‘Speakin' Out Blak’ In Wendy Gay Pearson and Susan Knabe (eds) Reverse Shots: Indigenous Film and Media in an International Context (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2014) 61.
  11. Alison Whittaker, 'Aboriginal Woman Tanya Died in Custody. Now an Inquest is Investigating if Systemic Racism Played a Role', The Conversation (online, 28 August 2019) <https://theconversation.com/aboriginal-woman-tanya-day-died-in-custody-now-an-inquest-is-investigating-if-systemic-racism-played-a-role-122471>.
  12. Larissa Behrendt and Lindon Coombes, 'We Were Told "Go Your Hardest" Examining Racism at Collingwood. Here's What we Found', The Guardian, (online, 18 February 2021) <https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/feb/18/we-were-told-go-your-hardest-examining-racism-at-collingwood-heres-what-we-found>.
  13. Luke Pearson and Mick O'Loughlin, '10 Things You Should Know About Systemic Racism', IndigenousX, (online, 2 February 2021) <https://indigenousx.com.au/10-things-you-should-know-about-systemic-racism/>.
  14. Chelsea Watego, David Singh and Alissa Macoun, Partnership for Justice in Health: Scoping Paper on Race, Racism and the Australian Health System (Discussion Paper, The Lowitja Institute, 2021) 6-7.
  15. Chelsea Watego, David Singh and Alissa Macoun, Partnership for Justice in Health: Scoping Paper on Race, Racism and the Australian Health System (Discussion Paper, The Lowitja Institute, 2021) 7.
  16. Chelsea Watego, David Singh and Alissa Macoun, Partnership for Justice in Health: Scoping Paper on Race, Racism and the Australian Health System (Discussion Paper, The Lowitja Institute, 2021) 5-7.
  17. Helen Ngo, 'On White Privilege, White Priority and White Supremacy', Overland Literary Journal (online, 24 June 2020) <https://overland.org.au/2020/06/on-white-privilege-white-priority-and-white-supremacy/>.
  18. 'Kimberlé Crenshaw on Intersectionality, More than Two Decades Later', News from Columbia Law (Story, 8 June 2017) <https://www.law.columbia.edu/news/archive/kimberle-crenshaw-intersectionality-more-two-decades-later>.
  19. Kimberlé Crenshaw, ‘Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics’ (1989) 1989(1) University of Chicago Legal Forum 138.
  20. Dr Zuleyka Zevallos, '"Where Are you From?" Racial Microaggressions' The Other Sociologist (15 July 2017) <https://othersociologist.com/2017/07/15/where-are-you-from-racial-microaggressions/>.
  21. Michelle Elias, 'How to Deal with Microaggressions', SBS Insight (online, 13 July 2018) <https://www.sbs.com.au/news/insight/how-to-deal-with-microaggressions>.
  22. Luke Pearson and Mick O'Loughlin, '10 Things You Should Know About Systemic Racism', IndigenousX, (online, 2 February 2021) <https://indigenousx.com.au/10-things-you-should-know-about-systemic-racism/>.
  23. AHRC “Complaints under the Racial Discrimination Act” (Web Page) <https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/complaint-information-service/complaints-under-racial-discrimination-act>.