In a multicultural Australia, we have many positive things to learn from one another. But, sadly, not everyone thinks that way. Racism is still a significant issue in our society. The media reports of events both here and the USA have increased the visibility of the ongoing trauma, injustice & inequity that propels the #blacklivesmatter movement into the spotlight. Hence, as parents and educators, it is vital to talk to our kids about racism.

What is racism?

Racism is discrimination, pre-judgements or hostile behaviours directed at another person based on their race, ethnicity, or cultural background.

What racism looks like

Racism can come in many different forms, from harsh comments to offensive actions. In more extreme cases, racism occurs in public spaces and comes from strangers, and can escalate to violent hate crimes.

Not all racism is public and obvious

Subtle or 'casual' racism can also appear in the form of a 'microaggression.' It is an intentional or unintentional offensive message that targets a person based entirely on being a member of a minority group. 

Any form of racism is unacceptable, even a comment or an action that is subtle or occurs in a casual environment. It's not a "joke," and it's not on.

Examples of microaggressions include:

  • intentionally choosing not to sit next to a person because you feel uncomfortable about the colour of their skin
  • telling a person of a different race who was born and raised in Australia that they speak 'good English.'
  • asking a person born in Australia what their nationality is or 'where they come from', instead of asking about their cultural background
  • making fun of someone's background, even if it's disguised as a joke.

How to stand up to racism

Standing up to racism isn't easy, but it's the right thing to do. Whether you're in school or the workplace, challenging accusations, assumptions, and stereotypes is the right way to let people know it's okay to be racist. Remember, sometimes people can unintentionally make comments that appear racist. Standing up to these comments can be an excellent way for people to learn about the negative impact.

It would help if you felt comfortable, safe and calm

When you stand up for yourself or others, it's a good idea to approach the situation as calmly as possible and make sure that you feel safe first. Being willing to have conversations about racism creates room for discussion and change, whereas going straight into a screaming match is usually counterproductive.

Some ways you can confront racist comments or behaviours

Confront someone face-to-face

If someone says something insensitive, you may feel comfortable confronting them about it in private or in a group setting.

Challenge their viewpoint

  • Ask why they feel the way they do and provide a different perspective.

Show empathy for the group they're targeting

  • This may also help the person to understand that the victims are people, too.

Phone or email the person

  • Let them know that what they're saying or doing is not okay and give them examples of why it's not okay.

Record the situation and give it to the authorities, such as the police

  • You may want to do this if you witness racist behaviour in public, but make sure you put your safety first.

If you want to speak out, but are worried about creating a fuss

It can be incredibly daunting to speak out about racism, especially when you don't want to create trouble. It would be best if you felt comfortable about voicing your concerns in a way that suits you. Ensure that you put your safety first, remain calm, and evaluate your own beliefs and values before stepping in to help others.

Reconciliation Australia suggests three ways to discuss racism & reconciliation with kids. Still, equally, as urgent, anti-racism needs to be actively lived and modelled every day, and teachers and parents alike play a critical role in this.

1. Understand your own personal/cultural identity and the biases that you hold.

For teachers and parents, this may become a journey of 'unlearning' and 'relearning' – of challenging assumptions and recognising that what has been taught about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, histories, and cultures in schools may have been inaccurate or incomplete.

2. Have a zero-tolerance approach to racism at home and school. For example, hold people accountable: if a friend, family member or even a stranger makes a racist remark, address it at the moment (if safe to do so) and follow up soon after with your child.

3. Actively listen to and amplify Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices by reading children's books, media, and films by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors and artists.

Some of the best books include:

  • 'Dark Emu' by Bruce Pascoe
  • 'Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia' edited by Dr. Anita Heiss
  • 'How to Be an Antiracist' by Ibram X. Kendi:
  • 'Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race': Reni Eddo-Lodge
  • 'Me and White Supremacy' by Layla F Saad

Novels by First Nations authors:

  • 'The Yield' by Tara June Winch
  • 'Too Much Lip' by Melissa Lucashenko
  • 'The White Girl' by Tony Birch
  • Children's books by First Nations authors:
  • 'Our Home, Our Heartbeat' by Adam Briggs
  • 'Young Dark Emu' by Bruce Pascoe

Director of Counselling