Did you know that there are many different types of racism? When we talk about racism, we often think of those hurtful comments or actions from one person to another. While that's definitely a form of racism, there's more to it. A person's race, ethnicity, culture, or religion can impact their entire life in various ways. You may be more familiar with interpersonal racism but the world functions on larger structural racism.
It is unquestionable that Australian society has some issues with racism. According to the ‘Challenging Racism Project’, although around 80% of Australians feel that it is a good thing for a society to be made up of different cultures, 32% of respondents reported having experienced racism within their workplace, and 32% of respondents reported having experienced racism within an educational facility.
The Be a Better Human campaign is all about recognising your own failings, learning more about your prejudices and the experiences of other people, and actively working to be better humans.
Interpersonal Forms of Racism
Interpersonal forms of racism occur between two or more people. These are the obvious, individual incidents of racism that we can all recognise: things like racist or inflammatory comments in the YouTube comment section, a racially insensitive joke made by a friend or colleague, or the rarer but more frightening violent or drunk person on the bus who is making loud and obnoxious comments about “people stealing our jobs”. Although incidents of interpersonal racism can vary in severity, all incidents of interpersonal racism are harmful and will not be accepted at UNSW. Below are some examples of different forms of interpersonal racism.
Unconscious bias refers to unfavourable attitudes and beliefs about a race, culture, ethnicity or religious group that might be so ingrained that you may not even be aware that you are experiencing it. All of us live in a society in which media, news, politicians and other sources have systematically shown us unfavourable racial stereotypes, and as such, many of us will have internalised these stereotypes even if we are not consciously racist.
An example of unconscious bias might be considered in an employment setting. A study from 2019 by the British Academy revealed that on average 24% of white applicants received a positive response from employers. This is compared with only 15% of people of colour applicants, who applied with identical CVs and covering letters. This study reveals that people who conduct hiring at many companies and organisations have unconscious bias that creates less opportunities for people of colour.
All of us have internalised biases and although these biases are pervasive, you can reduce their impact by actively working to consider your own prejudices. Try to be aware of and understand your own biases and try not to be defensive if someone calls you out for them. We are all working hard to be better humans and part of that is recognising your own failings.
Microaggressions are everyday statements or behaviours often performed unintentionally that communicate hostility or discrimination towards a marginalized group. Often people who commit microaggressions are not even aware that what they are saying could be harmful. Microaggressions could include statements like:
“You’re so pretty for being from that race”
“But how can you be Aboriginal, you look white?”
“Your afro hair is so pretty, can I touch it?”
All of these comments, while perhaps intended as a compliment or as genuine curiosity, communicate that certain races are exotic or inherently inferior in some way. In small doses, comments such as these can just be annoying but when you experience them regularly, they can be extremely harmful, making you think negative things about yourself and your background. Microaggressions can contribute to a culture of fear, and non-belonging.
Although there is no internationally agreed upon definition of xenophobia, the United Nations have stated that “xenophobia exists when individuals are denied equal rights on account of real or perceived geographic origins of the said individuals or groups, or the values, beliefs and/or practices associated with such individuals or groups that make them appear as foreigners or outsiders.”
So how is xenophobia different from regular racism? Xenophobia is largely a form of interpersonal racism motivated by racial or ethnic hatred, however, racism can be systemic and perpetrated by institutions or an entire society or culture. Systemic racism will be explored below.
Systemic racism occurs when the policies and practices of institutions result in unfair treatment of some groups compared to others. It can be perpetrated by institutions like governments, universities or the police, or it can be perpetrated by the entire society at large.
Systemic racism can be experienced a number of ways. An example of systemic racism is that First Nations Australians currently make up 2% of Australia’s total population, but make up 28% of Australia’s adult prison population. Another example is that refugee students make up less than 1% of Australian university students.
The prevalence of systemic racism means that interactions with the Australian government, access to education, and generally living in Australian society is experienced differently by people from different backgrounds. Around 6% of Australia’s house of representatives are from a non-English speaking background compared with 28% of Australia’s general population. Additionally, in the corporate world, Black people still take up just four CEO positions in the Fortune 500.
As a result of systemic racism, people can also experience institutional racism and economic racism. These terms will be explained below.
Institutional racism is when racism is established as a normal behaviour within an organisation or society. Institutional racism occurs when the institution or organisation’s culture has entrenched practices or attitudes that are racist in nature. Institutional racism can effect individuals of colour that interact with that institution, however, it can also impact society more broadly, creating a society that is increasingly accepting of racial prejudice.
An example of this includes criticisms of racial profiling by NSW and Australian police. Today, Australian police are working to eliminate this institutional racism.
As a result of systemic racism, people of colour often have less access to opportunities as their white counterparts and as a result of this, economically, people of colour can be worse off simply because of their colour. In an American context, studies have shown that the median Black American family has just 12% of the wealth of the average white family.
Job opportunities can be more limited for people of colour than for white people as explained above, and housing can also be more difficult to navigate as a person of colour. For example, a study from UTS found that renters from an Anglo background were 13% more likely to get a call back from a real estate agent for a housing inspection than renters from minority backgrounds.
Why being ‘colour blind’ isn’t the flex you think it is
Many people, when they talk about issues of racism, say things like “I don’t see colour” as a way to convey that they treat everyone the same regardless of their race. Although this likely comes from a good place, ‘colourblindness’ can be problematic. Racial injustices in Australia and in the world, are becoming increasingly obvious with high profile incidents such as the killing of George Floyd in the US, and racial hate experienced by individuals such as Adam Goodes here in Australia. To say that you do not see colour is to ignore the ways in which people of colour experience the world differently. It also ignores the particular violence that people of colour experience or fear experiencing.
Instead of being ‘colour-blind’, you should seek to see colour and how it impacts everything. Think about how the colour of your skin might give you privilege or not. Think about how you are treated in society and how that might be different for the person sitting next to you in your class. Importantly, think about some of the unconscious biases about race you might have and work to try to eradicate them.
What is privilege and do I have it?
In 1989, sociologist Peggy McIntosh wrote a paper titled ‘White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack’. In this paper she wrote that:
“I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.”
Some examples of white privilege include: I can see other people of my race in power positions, I can access rental and housing without being racially discriminated against, and I can go into a grocery store and find food from my cultural background.
You do not need to be white to have some form of racial privilege. For example, while many people of colour experience racial injustice in police settings, non-Indigenous people in Australia, regardless of their race, are somewhat privileged when it comes to incarceration rates and interactions with police.
If you have recognised that you have privilege, you can use this privilege for good. First, learn as much as you can. Learn about what parts of your identity might give you privilege and the ways in which people from different backgrounds might experience less privilege than you. Next, learn how to speak up if you see someone acting or speaking in a way that is racist or in some way offensive to others. The following section will explore how to be a good bystander.
How to access support for racism
At UNSW, you can access a range of supports or reporting options if you have experienced racism on campus or in another UNSW setting. To report an experience of racism, you can submit your complaints to the Office of Conduct & Integrity via their online reporting portal: https://www.edi.unsw.edu.au/conduct-integrity/complaints-unsw/student/student-complaints.
You can seek support for an experience of racism by getting into contact with UNSW’s Counselling Service, by speaking to a Student Support Advisor or by speaking to Arc’s Legal & Advocacy team. These people can walk you through how to make a report and/or can support you through any emotions you might be feeling after the experience.