Relationship, Familiarity and Intent, Influence what Australians See as Racist

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By Health Canal | November 26, 2012 1:22 PM EST

Health Canal

Australian's have been accused of being racist but what is their everyday understanding of racism?

Associate Professor Yin Paradies, who has recently arrived at Deakin's strategic research centre, the Centre for Citizenship and Globalisation, is working with Dr Naomi Priest and Dr Jessica Walton from Melbourne University to explore what counts as racism in the everyday world and under what circumstances are remarks perceived as racist or appropriate.

They presented their findings at Deakin University's International conference Reclaiming Multiculturalism - Global Citizenship and Ethical Engagement with Diversity.

The research is part of a wider project which is exploring bystander racism and is being funded by the Australian Research Council, the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission and the Australian Human Rights Commission.

The project is one of a number Associate Professor Paradies is working on which is looking at the health, social and economic impacts of racism.

Indeed on the same day he spoke about this research Vic Health and the Lowitja Congress launched the findings of research he also led looking at the mental health impacts of racial discrimination in Victorian Aboriginal communities.

"Racism is an enduring worldwide problem that won't be solved in my lifetime," Associate Professor Paradies said.

"However, I am passionate about social justice and feel that my small contribution to reducing racism in Australia is worthwhile."

Associate Professor Paradies told delegates at the conference racism has been studied extensively across a number of fields.

"Nevertheless we think there hasn't been enough done on lay understandings of racism as it occurs in the everyday context," he said.

"As you would expect when we asked Australians about their understanding of racism the responses were more about its extreme forms with people using words such as irrational, heightened emotionally, ignorance, exclusion, aggression to describe it as well as the behaviours which engendered it."

Associate Professor Paradies said while the Australians were confident when it came to defining racism, they were less confident when the researchers looked at the situation in which racism occurred.

"Whether something was racist or not was mediated by their relationship or familiarity with the person as well as the intent," he said.

"So in talking about racist slang, one participant described it this way "my husband and his friends call each other wogs, they can call each other that but nobody else can, because they are in that circle."

Associate Professor Paradies said whether something was considered racist or not also depended on the impact or effect.

"So even if a racist phrase is said in a group of friends or where people are familiar with each other if the comment is intended to be offensive, it becomes unacceptable behaviour and racist," he said.

Associate Professor Paradies said there was also a lot of discussion about online contexts.

"There was a fairly unanimous view that it's never a good idea to make race based jokes or engage in a racist discussion online," he said.

"People don't know who is receiving and consuming their discussions online."

"As one participant put it " it's one thing to say something because it dissipates in the room, it's another thing to post it."

Associate Professor Paradies said another interesting finding from the study was whether there could be race talk that isn't racist.

"So for instance in the context of a sports based discussion, someone asks who took that catch?
"And someone responds it was that black guy over there. "Is that ok?," he said.

Associate Professor Paradies said children would sometimes call things as they saw them without them necessarily being racist.

"Recognising, understanding and countering racism are critical steps towards creating a socially inclusive multicultural society," he said.

"Our findings show that everyday racism is affected by context and can be ambiguous, there is a need for a more sophisticated approach to both understanding and addressing racism in everyday contexts."

Health Canal

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The article was first published by Health Canal

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