Everyday Racism – What to do about it?
It’s been a rough week. I’ve been abused walking down the street, subjected to racist jokes, refused service in a shop and excluded from work functions and employment opportunities on the basis of my race. And that’s just the half of it.
Well, none of this actually happened to me. It was a week in the life of 31 year old Patrick Redford, a Guringai Man from the North Coast now living in Chippendale. He was the character I took on to play the Everyday Racism game, an app that enables you to experience everyday racism in the virtual world from the perspective of an Aboriginal person, or someone from a different cultural background.
For seven days I receive four messages on my iphone, at intervals throughout the day, placing me in everyday contexts where I am being attacked, excluded, marginalised, or just made to feel uncomfortable because of my Aboriginality, and have to respond. Will I confront the perpetrator, report the matter or try to ignore it.
My responses, I discover, vary according to the circumstance. There is nothing much I can do about the couple who shout from a passing car ‘Go back to your own country you bastard’. The obvious retort: ‘You’re in my country,’ comes too late.
I snap back at the barista in the café who says she doesn’t give handouts and tells me to lighten up. I challenge the man who won’t let his son sit next to me on the bus. And when a man at the football says ‘Hey Abbo, sit down’ and I respond ‘You can’t talk shit like that’ he gets aggressive and I have to move.
Playing the game I quickly realize how prevalent racism is and how it manifests in so many different ways: loud and aggressive, in a joke or a seemingly harmless assumption, in a gesture, through exclusion, embedded within bureaucratic process.
The facts support my perception. Three in four Indigenous Australians regularly experience racism (The Lowitja Institue 2014).
The game encourages me to challenge racism in whatever form it manifests; this is the only way to change attitudes and behavior. But it is demoralising and exhausting constantly having to stand up for myself and defend my right to exist.
Although I can’t know what it is to be an Aboriginal man, I have some empathy for Patrick. On the few occasions I have had racism directed at me overseas I have responded with shock and anger. The Zimbabwean white who called me White Trash and a Nanny Banger because I had a black girlfriend. The Peruvian who muttered ‘Gringo de mierda’, Gringo shit, as I passed him in the street. I remember the disbelief and the rage. I wondered what it would be like to have to put up with this every day.
When cousin Les referred to my Australian Born Chinese wife as my coolie I didn’t respond. I was too shocked. When, at a family dinner, he implied that her mother was a monkey we walked out. Apologetic phone calls repaired the damage. He thought he was being funny. At least he doesn’t make those jokes any more.
A Bystander Anti -Racism workshop run by the University of Western Sydney recently tried to answer the question: When we witness racism in public or at work, or indeed among friends and family, what responsibility to act do we have, and what is responsible action?
The facts make it likely that we will witness racism at some point in our lives and have to make a decision whether to act or not. In 2012, 1 in 5 Australians was a target of racial discrimination (Scanlon Foundation 2013). One in five has been a target of verbal racial abuse according to the Human Rights Commission and 1 in 20 have been physically attacked due to their race.
So how should we respond?
A couple of recent incidents have been instructive. We know from watching the anti Asian rant of the woman on the train recently that responding abusively only makes things worse.
The six Newcastle men who recently came to the defence of two Muslim women as they were being subjected to verbal abuse and physical intimidation, was inspiring. They acted in numbers and forced the man to abandon his attack, although one got assaulted for his trouble.
Getting the support of others around you seems to be a key. Racists get emboldened from assuming that others around them share their views. Research tells us that when people band together and challenge the racist comments perpetrators back off.
Of course, the response will depend on the context. Putting yourself at risk of violence is certainly not recommended. Reporting the incident, challenging the perpetrator in a non -aggressive, non – abusive way, defusing it with humour, supporting the victim and helping them to escape the situation, were some of the strategies discussed at the workshop.
One thing is clear. Our challenge is to find the courage to stand up to racism in all its forms.
As Edmund Burke said: ‘The only thing necessary for evil to flourish is for good men(and women) to do nothing’.
For more information about UWS’s Bystander Anti Racism project go to
And if you want to challenge your ideas about racism try the Everyday Racism app at: http://alltogethernow.org.au/news/campaigns/everydayracism/