An Analysis of the Effect of Racism on the Australian Society

Categories: AustraliaRacism

Being Australian has always been defined in sexist terms. It has also been defined in racist terms. In the early days the pioneers’ battle against the hard land was also seen as the struggle against the dangerous and ‘wily’ blacks. Later the fight was against migrants who would dilute the British character of the nation, and undermine the race. (Keegan 1986). This Quote in fact highlights the racist bigotries in Australian society. In this essay the extent of which Australian society has been shaped by racism towards Indigenous people and towards immigrants will be explored.

This will be done through defining racism, the forms of racism, and how these forms relate to school education. And also through past history of this countries policies such as the anti-Chinese policy and the White Australian policy are a reflection of how our society has been shaped around racism and discrimination. Today’s education system will be used to give examples of how the two forms of racism are still quite apart of its policies through the use of deculturation process of our indigenous children and immigrants (NESB) entering our schools.

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Although there are multicultural policies within the education system we have to ask ourselves do these address racism, in terms of catering for all not just the majority Anglo Australian population or are they racist tending to discriminate against minority groups.

The Macquarie dictionary defines racism as the belief that human races have distinctive characteristics which determine their respective cultures, usually involving the idea that ones own race is superior and has the right to rule or dominate others; Offensive or aggressive behaviour to members of another race stemming from such a belief; A policy or system of Government based on it.

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Racism is form of prejudice. Many people tend to consider their own appearance and behaviour as normal therefore desirable. An example of this behaviour would be that I am at a dinner party with a group of friends all of which are from an Anglo Australian background, Someone enters the room, which is wearing their traditional cultural dress; my group and I comment on their appearance and make judgement of their character purely on their appearance and apparent differences to our own cultural beliefs and practices. This indeed is racist behaviour.

There are two distinguishable forms of types of racism. Racism can be direct and overt or indirect and covert. This means that racist outcomes can follow from circumstances in which there are no deliberate intention to harm on the basis of racial difference. For example, the refusal to accept educational qualifications from another country as the bias for higher education entry would significantly disadvantage various racial and ethnic groups. Racism is not just a matter of how individuals might speak or act towards other individuals. Racism is not confined to ignorant or bad people. Racism is a relationship of power grounded on the ability to construct ‘others’ as different in order to exclude or ignore or exploit them. Over many years, our social institutions came to take for granted particular assumptions and knowledge as natural or valuable. Embedded in these institutions are all kinds of structures and processes, which maintain social inequality, often unconsciously. Combating racism is therefore not simply an issue for those who are disadvantaged by it. It is a responsibility for all, especially those with authority and influence within our institutions.

Institutional racism refers to a pattern of distribution of social goods, including power, which regularly and systematically advantages some ethnic and racial groups and disadvantages others. It operates through key institutions: organised social arrangements through which social goods and services are distributed (Chambers and Pettman, 1986: 7).

The routine nature of much institutional racism is grounded on commonsense understandings of group differences and the way things are. These meanings and beliefs are called ideological racism.

They ‘explain’ inequality or disadvantage in ways, which blame the victim, thereby diverting attention away from the entrenched practices, and underlying causes, which systematically disadvantage people from minority groups. These explanations and assumptions are circulated and reinforced through myriad different stories and discourses, formal and informal, technical and incoherent. They tell who and what is valued, what makes people and things good, true, worthy and reasoned. They are encoded in models of child development, in the common law, in aesthetics and national histories, the literature we study and read for pleasure. The recent National Inquiry into the Stolen Children (1997) is a powerful example of the ways such narrow and ill-informed assumptions can have disastrous consequences when enacted by welfare or legal authorities. Almost all non-indigenous officials, missionaries, and the adoptive families were convinced that removal of children from their Aboriginal families was in the ‘best interests of the child’. With hindsight, the effects of these forced removals have been recognised as almost universally disastrous and caused enormous hardship and mental anguish to those taken and those left behind. It would be arrogant as well as foolish to dismiss such events as the product of an ignorant past quite removed from these enlightened times. Over time, many of our taken for granted beliefs will similarly be proven to be inadequate or incomplete, which is why we need to foster a climate of critical and dynamic dialogue about the shifting forms of racism.

Australian society has a history of both types of racism especially that of Institutionalised racism namely through our past laws and policies. Australia is a setter society founded on the dispossession of indigenous people and profoundly shaped by immigration from more than 140 countries. Australia is one of the most ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse societies in the world. The Australian immigration story is inextricably linked with racist laws and practices.

By the year 1947 Australia had a population of seven million; nearly three quarters of a million were born overseas, the majority being British. Only a small percentage of non- British immigrants had managed to enter before and during the time of the White Australian policy. Chinese, Greeks, Italians and Germans being the most prominent. Australia had selected migrants to ensure that a racially homogenous society would face the challenges of the post war era. Under the White Australian policy, migrants other that British were accepted on the understanding that they would shed their culture and languages and be assimilated into the host population so that they would rapidly become indistinguishable. Successive government policies both State and Federal, are founded upon legal systems which is inherently racist in so much as its prime purpose is to serve the needs of the dominant Anglo-Australian culture.

It is this same legal system, which has constantly denied human right and freedoms to the indigenous people. It is well in living memory that Aboriginal people had to carry passes, were forbidden to consume alcohol, own property and to have equal wage for equal work. Aboriginal people did not have the right to vote until 1967. Australia is a democratic country where all are equal regardless of race, colour, greed or religion. Our past is not a great representation of this, with its extreme racist and discriminating policies. This is indeed what Australian society has evolved and ultimately been shaped from. These racial bigotries could even be described as still active in Australian society today. An example of this would be the federal governments treatment of asylum seekers that escalated into the refuges crisis, for which has caused clear racial divisions within society. Rintoul (2002), in an article in the Australian newspaper asked was it a boarder protection issue or the desire for social cohesion and beyond that a deeper racism that underpinned the closing of Australia’s doors. Would have Australia acted differently if the boats had been filled with white Zimbabwean farmers escaping the murderous regime of Robert Mugobe? The treatment of asylum seekers could easily be traced back to the white Australian policy.

An example of the similarities could be this; a Chinese person could be given a dictation test in German, it was stated that the provisions was not racist because it could easily be given to a white person. (Linden, 1996, p.27). Howard (2002) stated that there are provisions in place to ensure equal opportunity to enter and become part of our country. Howard’s reaction to the asylum seekers affirms Cowlishaw (2001), statement that today’s struggles of an undeclared racism are manifested and perpetuated by selective focuses on justice and equality. Cowlishaw (2001), states that the struggles over racial equality are no longer about segregation and exclusion, but are fought out in a number of public arenas and institutions.

Although with all this in mind institutionalised racism is still quiet prevalent with in Australian education. When an Aboriginal or NESB child arrives at school they bring with them a wealth of knowledge of their culture. For the past five years they have been totally immersed in the cultural ways of life of their parents and their parents before them. Children from different cultures are expected to go through a deculturation process. In spite of the abolition of past assimilation policies the Australian education system seems extremely reluctant to change (Lawrence 1994).

Anti-racism education in Australia has generally developed under the umbrella of multicultural education in schools and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education at the state and territory level. Cultural diversity policies and managing diversity frameworks, which take a whole-ofgovernment approach, have also incorporated strategies to combat racism in all government institutions and in employment and have recognised the responsibilities of schools in imparting humanist values of tolerance and harmony and respect for Indigenous heritage and culture to school students. Anti-racism programs and strategies in schools and education systems across Australia have been documented as part of the national project Racism. No way!

The project consists of a comprehensive set of resources, which provide an integrated national approach to raising understanding of the nature of racism and developing strategies for countering it within Australian schools. Six areas of action have been identified as comprising a comprehensive approach to education for countering racism: these are, Policies and guidelines, Curriculum and pedagogy, Student leadership and development, Staff development, Parent and community involvement, Monitoring and reporting. States and territories, school systems and individual schools participate in these areas to varying degrees. The aim of the Racism. No way! Project is to lift the level of awareness and participation of schools in all areas of action identified in the framework to allow all students in Australian schools to achieve their best educational outcomes in an environment free from racism.

If one is to understand others, one must first know oneself. To give children and young people an accurate view of the world, education… must first help them discover who they are. Only than will they genuinely be able to put themselves in other peoples shoes and understand their reactions. Developing such empathy at school, bears fruit in terms of social behaviour throughout life. UNESCO, Learning: The Treasure Within, 1996,p.93.

Schools play a vital role in preparing our children and young people for effective participation and responsible citizenship in Australian society. As such they are uniquely placed to contribute towards the development of a society free from racism. Schools have a vital role to play assisting students to understand their own cultural identity, whilst providing points of reference to recognise and value Australia’s cultural diversity and place of Australia within the world. If racists beliefs are to be challenged in a significant way, students must be assisted to understand different perspectives of contemporary issues and to imagine how thing can be different and better.

Thus schools must be the places that enable our children and young people to better understand themselves, others and the world around them by developing cross cultural understandings and awareness of attitudes that allow racism to flourish.

To conclude Australian society has demonstrated a clear racist past, to the extent of how this racist past has shaped our society it would indeed be hard to measure. As all Australians form their own ideas and view on the day’s contemporary issues wether these ideas are formed on ignorance or through an attitude of cross cultural understanding the fact is that racism in Australian society in all its forms is different for everyone. Our history will always be branded as racial and discriminatory but it is our future, through the education of our children that can hold the key in such a cultural diverse country to an approach of cross cultural acceptance.

Reference List

  1. Australian Education Union, (2002). Policy on Combating Racism, Retrieved September 09, 2002 from the World Wide Web:
  2. Conference of Education Systems. (2000). The Role of School Education, Retrieved September 09, 2002 from the World Wide Web:
  3. Cowlishaw, G (1997), Where is Racism? Race Matters, G. Cowlishaw and B. Morris (eds) Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press. Pp. 7- 27
  4. Craven, R. (1999). Teaching Aboriginal Studies. Crows Nest: Allen and Unwin
  5. Lawrence, H. (1994). Aboriginal Children in Urban Schools. Retrieved August 08, 2002 from the World Wide Web:
  6. Linden, R. (1996). All Together Now, Race Relations in Australia, Melbourne, Reed Library.
  7. McConnochie, K: Hollinsworth, D: Pettman, J. (1988). Race and Racism in Australia, Sydney, Social Science Press.
  8. Rintoul, S. (2002, May 6). Emerging From The Shadows To Face New’ Crisis of Whiteness’ The Australian, p.12
  9. Spencer, M.S, (1998), Social Work in Education; Reducing Racism in Schools: Moving Beyond Rhetoric. Retrieved July 08, 2002 from the World Wide Web: Ver=1&Exp=07-01-2003&Cert=eri7LDBeGFdFC%2bw9BgJtez…

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An Analysis of the Effect of Racism on the Australian Society. (2021, Sep 28). Retrieved from

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