How well do we ‘face up to’ racism?


Answer Garden
Racism – ‘prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.’

To begin with, what does it mean to ‘face up to’ something? Seeking Roget’s Thesaurus for assistance, I found the synonyms copied in the image below. It follows that if we are to ‘face up to’ or confront, defy, encounter, oppose and withstand ‘racism’, then we need to know what it is and recognise it in ourselves, in others and in our society. Studies and statistics have shown that racism is still a pervasive force in Australia which affects us all. Even those of us who work against any form of racism in ourselves and others, need to be equipped to do more to be consciously inclusive and anti-racist. How do we do this and where do we start?

'Face Up To'

One tool available to staff in the NSW Education Department is the MYPL online course- Facing Up to RacismIt unpacks the following questions:

  • What is racism? In this topic, as well as exploring the participant’s understandings about the terms ‘race’ and ‘racism’  there are activities that help them to think about The Anti-Racism Policy with regard to personal responsibilities and working with the school’s ARCO (Anti-Racism Contact Officer).

What was brought home to me here was the fact that dealing with racism is similar to dealing with bullies. If you allow it to happen around you without saying or doing anything then you are as bad as the perpetrator. I liked the quote the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.

  • What forms can racism take? Racism can be direct or indirect – internalised, individual or institutionalised.  There were seven activities to complete under this topic.

Activity 4: Is this racism? – For this activity there were quite a few media reports to read. The participant was asked to choose one and analyse it with regard to whether it was dealing with racism and to give reasons. We had to think about the conceptual level of racism it was portraying, whether it was direct or indirect racism and what ideas were underlying the event or behaviour as well as the ensuing consequences.

All the media reports were well chosen and great ‘thought fodder’ but I eventually chose an article entitled Pauline Hanson calls for immigration ban: ‘Go back to where you came from’ . I do appreciate that Australia is a place for ‘free speech’ but I worry that Pauline is given so much media coverage for the following reasons.

  • Pauline Hanson polarises people.
  • She causes some Australians to feel wary of people of different ethnicities.
  • Pauline causes people from other countries to feel unsafe in Australia.
  • She gives people with similar views to herself the confidence to behave badly towards people of different ethnicities.

Activity 5: Implicit bias test – This was the online Harvard Implicit Association Test (IAT) and we were asked to find the link and click on the text. “PROJECT IMPLICIT – SOCIAL ATTITUDES”

As the name implies, this is a test from the U.S.A. and it was measuring bias to people on the basis of their skin colour. It so happens that recently I have been taking part in The 45 and Up Study  a world-first trial about the impact of a tailored online health program on memory and thinking skills. The bias test was a very similar format and so I was geared to just following the instructions and concentrating on hitting the correct key. I had no thoughts about bias whatsoever and was merely concentrating mightily on just following the instructions. I wonder if it was a ‘real’ test of bias for me. 

Activity 6: Racism Cultural Diversity Timeline For this activity the participants were asked to select one of the events from the Racism No Way timeline and reflect on what interested or surprised them, why the event was important to be remembered and how we could use the timeline as a resource in our lessons.

I have linked the timeline to the title of this activity as it is an amazing resource that could be used well in class to teach about Australian history and diversity. I will definitely use it to expose our students to the real history of the Aboriginal people and help them to understand and appreciate the destructive impact of immigration and colonisation upon them. I would also use it to discuss what went wrong, what ‘wrongs’ are still being perpetuated and what we as a society can do to help ‘right’ these wrongs to promote a culture that is inclusive, appreciative of differences and anti-racist.

Activity 7: The Australian Dream – Stan Grant’s story – What a powerful speech! Who could listen to this and be unmoved? We were asked to tell; how Stan’s story affected us, if we could envision using this story in classroom discussions and why or why not and if we, like Sam have a dream for this country and to write something about it.

In comparison to Sam’s speech – my answers lack depth and passion. I may work on them a little more before I submit my ‘participant activity booklet’. Suggestions welcome!

Stan Grant’s story makes me feel ashamed and sorry. Sorry for the cruel, inhumane treatment of the Aboriginal people – not only in the past but today. I am ashamed of the way that we, as Australians, have disregarded the rights of these people, taking from them, depriving them of basic human rights and treating them unjustly in our so-called criminal justice system.

I can envisage using this speech to bring an awareness to all our students of the treatment and plight of our traditional owners of this land. I would like them to know this history so that they will understand why we need to have ‘Sorry Day’ and ‘Reconciliation Week’.

I dream of Australia as a place where people feel at one with each other and proud of who they are; a place where differences are valued, enjoyed and appreciated; a place where children grow up feeling as if they belong and have exactly the same rights and opportunities as every other child in this country. I dream of an Australia where we can all be the same and yet a little bit different and no one will even be concerned.

Activity 8: A Cult of Forgetfulness – Here we were given an extract of Charles Sturt’s diary from 1844 as recorded in Dark Emu – Black Seeds: Agriculture of Accident? by Bruce Pascoe. Charles Sturt was a famous British explorer who led several expeditions into the interior of Australia because he was sure that he would discover and ‘inland sea’.

Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

In our course, Facing Up to Anti-Racism, we were asked what was surprising about this journal extract, how this fits in with what we were taught about Aboriginal history, why we think this part of Aboriginal history has not been explored and why this information from the diary is important and needs to be taught.

Well what was ‘surprising’ was that it was 1844 and these Aboriginal people were living in a large settlement of 300 to 400 people as opposed to small nomadic groups. They had plentiful water, food supplies, wooden homes, cakes made from flour and roast duck to eat in an ostensibly inhospitable environment. Even though they had probably never seen white people or horses before they were kind, friendly and unafraid.  This is not a depiction of the ‘primitive’ stone-age hunter gatherer precolonial Aboriginal Australians  that we were taught about in school.

I’m thinking that it was not in the political and economic interests of a ‘white Australia’ who felt superior and justified in treating Aboriginal people as less than human and driving them from their traditional lands to acknowledge this information. It went against the whole ‘terra nullius’ lie.

This important information is evidence of the sophistication of Aboriginal civilisation, knowledge and practices. It should be explored more deeply to give us a greater understanding and appreciation of how these remarkable people lived so well in such a seemingly inhospitable environment. We have much to learn from our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people groups. I have watched videos of Bruce Pascoe speaking on this topic and am going to purchase his book to learn more. This type of knowledge is powerful against racist attitudes in Australia.

Activity 9: Australians Today – We are a diverse nation. This topic emphasises the fact that Indigenous Australia has always been multicultural and that we do the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders an injustice to lump them into one homogenous group. This course emphasises, that as a school we need to continue to learn more about our local Aboriginal Nation from the local AECG. We also need to learn about the diversity of Aboriginal Australia as a form of respect just as we do for the diversity of the whole of Australia whose population is one of the most linguistically diverse in the world. With this in mind we reflected on the findings from the Mapping Cohesions Survey and their implications for the need for us to work towards anti-racism for both ourselves and our schools.

Activity 10: Lizzy’s Story – Watch this and hear for yourself the story of an intelligent woman of South Sudanese background living in Melbourne. Listening to real people’s stories is a powerful educational tool. Listening to Eddie Woo speak on several occasions about his childhood where he felt ‘unaccepted’ as an Australian because of how he looked has had a similar impact on me. How can we, hearing these people speak, not feel ashamed of how we treat our fellow human beings? We must be pro-active ‘anti-racists’.

  • What is anti-racism? – It seems from what is written here in Facing Up to Racism, that it is any treatment, equal or unequal that results in equal opportunity. It is putting policies, support, practices and strategies in place that counter prejudice and bias whilst at the same time taking into account the diversity of needs and ensuring equal access to resources, opportunities and services.

Here are some of my  ‘take-aways’  from this course – Multiculturalism is not an outcome but a process.  Racism may not be deliberate BUT anti-racism is always deliberate.

 The implications of these statements are that if we sit and do nothing about racism it will not go away. We must educate ourselves as teachers and our school communities in order to develop an anti-racism understanding. Racism is not simplistic because we belong to a complex and multi-faceted multicultural society. Racism is often taught implicitly and explicitly to us by our families and communities and so anti-racism must also be directly taught to counteract this.

It cannot be brushed under the carpet and sit like a lump to be tripped over in the room. We must recognise racism, call it out for what it is, talk about it sensitively and examine ourselves, our relationships and our assumptions of knowledge to directly combat this canker in our society. Racism affects us all whether we are aware of it or not. It needs to be dealt with in order for all peoples in this country to be treated fairly and feel an equal sense of belonging.

So, how well do we face up to racism? In Australia in the past, not well at all. In Australia now, we are doing a bit better. In Australia in the future … well, that’s up to us, the educators of our society.



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