Standing up to racism

In a multicultural Australia, we have so many positive things to learn from one another. However, not everyone thinks so.  Unfortunately, racism is still a major issue in our society today.  But how do we deal with it? Learn more about what racism ishow to stand up to it, and how to speak out.

Read this if: 

  • You want to learn more about what racism is
  • You want practical tips on identifying racism and how to handle it
  • You or someone you know is experiencing racism and wants to speak out

Malay male in traditional dress

What is racism?

Racism is discrimination, prejudgments or hostile behaviours directed at another person on the basis of race, ethnicity or cultural background.

What racism looks like

Racism can come in many different forms, from harsh comments to offensive actions. In more extreme cases, racism can happen in public spaces from strangers, and can escalate to violent hate crimes. 

It's important to know that not all racism is public and obvious. Subtle or "casual racism" can also appear in the form of "microaggressions." A microaggression is an intentional or unintentional offensive message that targets a person based entirely on being a member of a minority group. It's important to know that all forms of racism are unacceptable, even the comments and actions that are subtle or made in a casual environment.

Examples of microaggressions

  • Intentionally not wanting to sit next to a person on the bus, because you feel uncomfortable about the colour of their skin.
  • Telling a person born and raised in Australia that they speak ‘good English.'
  • Asking a person born in Australia what their nationality is or 'where they come from', instead of asking for their background.
  • Making fun of someone’s background, even if it's disguised as a joke.  

How to stand up to racism

Standing up to racism isn’t easy but it’s the right thing to do. Whether you're in school, uni, or the workplace, challenging accusations, assumptions and stereotypes is a good way of letting people know it’s not okay. It's really important that you feel comfortable and safe in standing up for yourself, and it's also a good idea to approach the situation with as much calm as you can. Willing to have conversations about racism gives room for discussion and change, whereas going straight into a screaming match is often counter-productive.

Some ways you can confront racist comments or behaviours

  • You may feel comfortable confronting someone face-to-face, in a private setting or in a group setting.
  •  Phone call or email the person to let them know what they're saying or doing is not okay and give them examples of why it's not okay.
  • If you witness racist behaviour in public, record the situation and give it to authorities (like the police). But make sure to put your safety first.
  • If someone says something insensitive, challenge their view by asking why they feel that way and providing a different perspective. Showing empathy for the group that they have negative views about may also help them understand that they’re people too. 

I want to say something but I’m worried about creating a fuss

It can be incredibly daunting to speak out about racism, especially in a situation where you don’t want to create trouble. In this case, it’s important that you feel comfortable about approaching concerns in a way that suits you. Ensure that you put your safety first, remain calm and evaluate your own beliefs and values before helping others. 

You can find other ways to stand up to racism in an environment that is comfortable for you. These may include: 

  • Writing a social media post about racism that you've witnessed/experienced. This helps get the message out there, that racism still exists and allows for some open conversation.
  • Discussing it with family and friends is also a great way of getting things off your chest, and allowing yourself to understand what you're comfortable with. Your loved ones can also provide support to let you know that you're not alone. 
  • Reading more about racism, its history and impacts is also a good way of understanding the situation and opens up the door to learning more ways to oppose racist behaviour. Try looking around the internet for articles, videos and blogs about the experiences of people from diverse backgrounds. Joining a uni collective or community group that advocates for multiculturalism and the end of racism is also a great way of learning and taking action action against discrimination. 

What can I do now?