How to make Australia a less racist country

A white person talking about racism is akin to a man talking about violence towards women. Violence towards women is not a ‘women problem’ – it’s caused by men. Similarly, when it comes to racism in Australia, First Nations people and People of Colour (POC) are not the problem: white people are. And white people need to change their behaviour.

We all know racism comes in many forms. But this article is about the type of racism I have witnessed the most: white Australians making racist comments about First Nations people or POC. The in-your-face racism in the Northern Territory, Queensland  and the northern areas of Western Australia, or the more subtle old-school racism in the southern regions. The racist jokes told by white people when only white people are present. The racist jokes and insults that abuse First Nations or POC to their face. The institutional racism. (See: What is racism?)

Are you a white-privileged person?

If you are a ‘white’ person (of European heritage and identify as white) living in Australia, you have certain privileges that First Nations people and people of colour (POC) don’t. This is called ‘white privilege’. (See: What is white privilege?.)

Most white people are unaware they are living privileged lives. White people have all grown up with certain privileges that only white people have but we kind of assume that everyone has them, or we’ve never thought about it. Here’s an example: white people in Australia are able to live their life without being regularly subjected to verbal abuse, ridicule or being put down due to the colour of their skin. First Nations people and POC who live in areas where the majority of people are white are subjected to racist behaviour every day.

We are surrounded by images on TV and other media depicting mostly white people. Most of the books published by publishers are written by white men and women. This is despite the fact that non-white people form a large percentage of the population. All  government institutions (e.g. Health, Child Protection, Justice, Education) in Australia have been created by white people and are run by mostly white CEOs and managers. White people have a voice, and real power, when it comes to running the country, choosing what to put on TV or streaming platforms, deciding what books to publish, putting people behind bars, removing children from families, and saving people’s lives.

On the other hand, when First Nations people or POC speak up about the issues that are relevant to them, they are mostly ignored by all those white people who run things.

A white person can only guess how it feels to be subjected to racism on a daily basis. But these days, there are shows and movies and plays with First Nations people and POC in them, and books by First Nations people and POC writers. Watch or read some of these and you’ll get a pretty good idea of how it feels to be a First Nations person or POC in Australia.

Racism towards First Nations people

The whole population of Australia has been subjected to 234 years of constant cruel and racist propaganda about First Nations people, in the media. By the early 1900s this had created a real Australian culture of negative stereotypes about First Nations people, and particularly about First Nations women. This racist culture is part of today’s white Australian culture.

I grew up in the seventies and first heard racist jokes about First Nations people as a teenager. I had no understanding of the real Australian history or society, so didn’t understand what lay behind those insults or their connection to Australia’s white-settler history. It was only when I was in my twenties and spent a few years travelling around Australia, and the world, that I questioned the whitewashed Australian history I’d been told at school. I did my own research about Australian history, learned from First Nations people and their allies, and began to learn how to recognise racism, and be actively non-racist.

Every now and then, I witness white people saying insulting things about First Nations people, or POC, when there are only white people present. I guess when someone puts  First Nations people and POC down, it’s a bit like a misogynist  belittling or belting a woman: it makes them feel superior, and cements the disempowerment of their victim.

How to reduce or minimise racism in Australia

Eradicating racism in Australia is a long way off. The first step is to reduce racist behaviour, or minimise the effects of racism.

Here are a few suggestions (not mine) of how to do this.

I have been attending a series of anti-racism workshops organised and presented by Sowing Sistas. The workshops have been informative and are helping me better understand racism against First Nations people.  If you are would like to find out more about these workshops, contact: Sept 2022 anti-racism workshop. (However, note that residents of the Moreland shire have priority when requesting a place at the workshops.)

Read books about Australian history by First Nations authors – e.g. Magabala Books, Black Inc. Learn about First Nations Australian history – e.g. Dark Emu. Participate in public First Nations events (e.g. white people are welcome at reconciliation and NAIDOC events, First Nations art exhibitions, theatre, etc).

If you are holding a small event (e.g. meeting or workshop), always acknowledge the traditional elders and custodians at the start of the event. If you are attending a small or large event, call the organisers to see whether they are going to have an acknowledgement or a welcome to country by local elders. (e.g. I no longer attend an important Gippsland business event because the organisers refuse – despite me asking them nicely – to acknowledge the traditional custodians at the start of the event.)

If you are publishing or self-publishing a book, acknowledge the traditional custodians of your region in the preliminary pages (e.g. on a separate page at the front, or on the same page as your dedication).

If you are not sure what wording to use in your acknowledgement, ask the local land council (every region has one).

Share information to educate people about positive things about First Nations people, culture and history; e.g. share links to current events being held or new books or new series or films.

Practise zero tolerance to racism – in the shop, bus, train, street or online. Hearing racist things said about, or to, First Nations people or POC makes me sick in my stomach. I always respond verbally, but I’ve found the best way of responding is to curb my strong emotions so I can clearly explain to the person how their racist comment has made me feel – hurt and upset, or sickened. I tell them my closest friends and family include First Nations people and POC. (Note: but if the racism is online, I just unfollow and block.)

Be courageous in saying no to racism but don’t be stupid. Be careful when speaking out against racism in situations where you don’t have any backup and are among strangers, especially if they are drunk or high or stronger than you. Because when a white person speaks out against racism, nine times out of ten the person who has made the racist comment regards them as some kind of traitor to the white race (e.g. I have been verbally abused many times for holding someone to account for saying racist things.)

More information

Thank you to Sowing Sistas and others for sharing some links during the anti-racism workshop, which I have added to the below list of resources for becoming better informed about First Nations culture, our country’s history, contemporary First Nations issues, and racism in general.

Image:  James Eades at Unsplash.


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