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Are you a casual racist?

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While many Australians don’t see themselves as racists, new research shows that we are still harbouring unconscious biases, behaving with subtle racism.

Blatant racism, such as verbal abuse, may be less common in Australia because it is now socially unacceptable, but it appears that subtle racism is widespread.

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Videos taken of racist attacks on public transport manage to fill society with outrage, but it’s the subtle, everyday racism that’s much more damaging.

A new study by Beyond Blue shows that one-in-five Australians surveyed admit that they would move away from an indigenous Australian if they sat nearby.

One-third of people surveyed also believe that indigenous Australians should act more like ‘other Australians’.

Beyond Blue CEO Georgie Harman told ABC’s News Radio on Tuesday that many people are unaware of when they’re being discriminatory and racist.

“That’s one of the most disturbing aspects of the findings, that many people didn’t realise that those acts of unconscious bias actually constitute racism,” said Ms Harman.

What constitutes subtle racism?

In a powerful new television campaign launched by Beyond Blue, five everyday cases of subtle racism are shown.

Racism highlighted in the commercial include a man telling a racist joke in a pub, and a shop keeper being suspicious of a woman buying milk in his store.

“We’re saying that subtle racism is just as damaging to people and compounds people’s distress and sense of worthlessness,” said Ms Harman.

Monash University Professor Andrew Markus, who studies Australian attitudes towards immigration, says his research shows rates of discrimination as high as 50 per cent.

He highlights severe forms of racism, such as violence, and more subtle forms, like discrimination in the workplace.

“That’s probably the value of this report – that it highlights that reality that some people may not actually be aware of the impact they’re having on other people,” says Professor Markus.

Racism and depression

Beyond Blue says there is a strong correlation between racism, depression and anxiety.

“Racism, like any form of discrimination, leads to distress, which in turn can lead to depression and anxiety,” says Beyond Blue Chairman Jeff Kennett.

Professor Markus says that racism makes people feel like they don’t belong.

“If we’re dealing with verbal abuse, some people will just ignore it and get on with their lives and no be affected by it. Other people having the same experience can find it quite devastating,” he says.

What can be done?

Stop and think about your behaviour, and the behaviour of your friends, Ms Harman said.

“The best way to prevent depression is to not discriminate or speak badly or look oddly at somebody. It’s actually about checking your own behaviour and calling out behaviour of your mates if you see them doing it.”

This is a sentiment echoed by Professor Markus.

“In a situation for example, where people are telling racist jokes, make clear that that’s actually not acceptable.”

Ms Harman said it was time we started to address racism, subtle or overt.

“We’re about raising attention to the issue, calling it out and saying ‘look we’ve got to stop, we’re better than this as a country’.”


Read more on the topic with Racism, Class and the Racialized Outsider by Satnam Virdee. Buy it here.

racism-class-and-the-racialized-outsiderRacism, Class and the Racialized Outsider offers an original perspective on the significance of both racism and anti-racism in the making of the English working class. While racism became a powerful structuring force within this social class from as early as the mid-Victorian period, this book also traces the episodic emergence of currents of working class anti-racism

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