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In a multicultural Australia, we have many positive things to learn from one another. But, sadly, not everyone thinks that way. Racism is still a major issue in our society; in fact, it appears to be on the rise. Learn more about what racism is, and how you can take a stand against it.

This can help 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.
Aboriginal boy looking at camera

What is racism?

Racism is discrimination, pre-judgements or hostile behaviours directed at another person on the basis of their 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 occurs in public spaces and comes from strangers, and can escalate to violent hate crimes.

Not all racism is public and obvious

Subtle or ‘casual’ racism can also appear in the form of a ‘microaggression’. This is an intentional or unintentional offensive message that targets a person based entirely on their being a member of a minority group. Any form of racism is unacceptable, even a comment or an action that is subtle or occurs in a casual environment. It’s not on.

Examples of microaggressions include:

  • intentionally choosing not to sit next to a person because you feel uncomfortable about the colour of their skin
  • telling a person of a different race who was 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 about their cultural 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 to be racist. Remember, sometimes people can unintentionally make comments that appear racist. Standing up to these comments can be a great way for people to learn about the negative impact they’re having.

You need to feel comfortable, safe and calm

When you stand up for yourself or others, it's a good idea to approach the situation as calmly as you can, and to make sure that you feel safe first. Being willing to have conversations about racism creates room for discussion and change, whereas going straight into a screaming match is usually counterproductive.

Some ways you can confront racist comments or behaviours

Confront someone face-to-face

If someone says something insensitive, you may feel comfortable confronting them about it in private or in a group setting.

Challenge their viewpoint

Ask why they feel the way they do, and provide a different perspective.

Show empathy for the group they’re targeting

This may also help the person to understand that the victims are people, too.

Phone or email the person

Let them know that what they're saying or doing is not okay, and give them examples of why it's not okay.

Record the situation and give it to the authorities, such as the police

You may want to do this if you witness racist behaviour in public, but make sure you put your safety first.

If you want to speak out, but are 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. You need to feel comfortable about voicing your concerns in a way that suits you. Make sure that you put your safety first, remain calm, and evaluate your own beliefs and values before stepping in to help others.

Other ways to stand up to racism

  • Write a social media post about racism that you've witnessed or experienced: This helps get the message out there that racism still exists, and allows for some open conversation.
  • Discuss it with family and friends: This is a great way to get things off your chest, and allows you to understand what you're comfortable with. Your loved ones can also provide support to let you know that you're not alone.
  • Read more about racism: Understanding the history and impacts of racism can open the door to learning more ways to oppose racist behaviour. Try looking on the internet for articles, videos and blogs about the experiences of people from diverse backgrounds.
  • Join a uni collective or community group: Advocating for multiculturalism and the end of racism is a great way to learn about and take action against discrimination.

What can I do now?