Posted by: jkirkby8712 | March 5, 2011

Thursday, 3rd March 2011 – a question about racism

I noticed an article in the local [Northcote area where I work] community newspaper this week which was asking the question ‘Are we racist?’ This was how the paper put the story.

‘Darebin Council will try to measure racism across its municipality. Councillors have asked for a report that will set the boundaries for a racism inquiry.  The call comes just days after the Federal Government vowed to establish a National Anti-Racism Partnership and Strategy. Cr Gaetano Greco called for the inquiry and a community forum to discuss multiculturalism and racism at a meeting last week. “I think it is important for us to be one of the first to measure the extent of racism in the city,” Cr Greco said.“From that, we can develop strategies at local community level.” Councillors Stanley Chiang and Trent McCarthy applauded the moves to combat racism. “We can show our city strives to support multiculturalism and show racism absolutely has no place in our city,” Cr Chiang said. It comes as new research from the University of Western Sydney shows that residents from northern middle Melbourne, including Darebin, have racist experiences above the state and national average, particularly at work, in shops and restaurants and at sporting events. The Challenging Racism project showed residents in the area also experienced high levels of racism at educational institutions and in the housing rentals and buying market.

Of the residents surveyed from this region, 83 per cent agreed there was racial prejudice in Australia, but only 11.2 per cent self-identify as being racist. Additionally, 25.5 per cent of respondents said they would be at least “slightly concerned” if a relative married someone of Muslim faith, 13.3 per cent someone of Jewish faith and 24.9 per cent someone of Aboriginal background’.’

Well, that’s the way the local paper presents it, but let’s take these facts in relation to the total survey, on a nation wide basis, because I don’t believe those findings from a localised area are indicative of the way the Australian population as a whole feels. The research that led to ‘these’ findings presents a different total picture, while noting that there is anxiety about race relations, and it is more of an issue in some areas.

Quoting from a recent report, a project based at the University of Western Sydney, stated that the results of 12 years of research by the ‘Challenging Racism Project’, released on the 21st February, provide a national picture of racism, ethnic relations and cultural diversity in Australia. In surveying more than 12,500 people from all States and Territories across Australia, the national results of  the Project revealed that  86.8% of respondents agree that it is a good thing for a society to be made up of people from different cultures; 84.4% believe all races are equal; and, 78.1% feel secure with people of different ethnic origins. Other findings included 11.2% believe it is not a good idea for people of different races to marry each other, while 12.3% admit to being prejudiced against other cultures. However,  lead researcher, Professor Kevin Dunn from the University of Western Sydney’s School of Social Sciences, says the findings indicate that the majority of Australians are positive about living in a multicultural country and that community relations in Australia are generally good. “However, there are clearly a significant number of Australians that still have a level of anxiety or discomfort about cultural difference, which makes the case for a nation-wide commitment to challenging racism that much stronger,” says Professor Dunn.  The Challenging Racism data also revealed that the frequency of racism varies substantially from place to place. “Each region of the country has its own strengths and challenges, as well as its own capacity to address  those challenges. In fact, the differences between regions are to such a degree that to compare them would be like comparing apples to oranges,” says Professor Dunn. Rather than attempting to make direct comparisons between suburbs or places, the research team focused on the more constructive goal of addressing the nature of racism and developing anti-racism strategies that can be implemented at the local level. “Governments, community groups and individuals can visit the Challenging Racism website to look up the regional profile of their area and find out which anti-racism strategies are most appropriate to them,” says Professor Dunn.

With that in mind, I guess in retrospect, that was a partial aim of the local newspaper report on it’s area of influence, and the article originally referred to included a survey questionnaire on the subject, perhaps in an attempt to assess the specific needs and actions that should be taken in the Darebin area [a reasonably northern inner suburban area of Melbourne, with surprisingly [in view of the project results for that district], quite a large population of non-Australian born residents.  Certainly, at the public housing estate where I work, there is a proportionately high number of  Muslim families from different parts of the Middle East, and parts of Africa, together with a number of Asian families.

An important finding of the Challenging Racism Project is that Australians are in large part secure with cultural difference. However, as indicated above, the findings indicated that there are still pockets of the country that hold on to ‘old-fashioned’ racist views.  The presence of any form of racism is harmful for both the targets of the prejudice and for Australian society as a whole. To assist in counteracting the existence of racism, the Challenging Racism Project team have compiled a list of useful, practical anti-racism initiatives and strategies – that local governments and individuals can access and use to address cultural prejudices in their own backyards.  There are always the exceptions, and the presence of people like Pauline Hanson in Federal politics in the early years of the Howard government had the unsettling affect of appealing to these groups. About one-in-ten Australians have very problematic views on diversity and on ethnic difference. They believe that some races are naturally inferior or superior, and they believe in the need to keep groups separated. These separatists and supremacists are a destructive minority and many of them were attracted to the ‘views’ expressed by Hanson and the ‘One Nation’ Party [in fact, still are by the remnants of that organisation, as we saw on Q & A a couple of weeks ago]. That is not to say that discrimination does not exist – the project results indicated that 66% of respondents had experienced  racism of some sort – but that is possibly a meaningless results in terms of racism, because the respondents presumably came from all cultures of Australian life, so I’m not sure how the figure was determined.  Of further interest, from a 2006 survey of 4010 Australians on the experience of racism and on attitudes to anti-racism the Challenging Racism Project found that most Australians want action against racism [85.6% in fact].

I guess I have a particular gripe about Australians [in 2011] being called racists, and a year or so ago,  when we had a number of physical assaults and robberies committed against Indian nationals, I became quite annoyed with the ‘generated’ uproar in India and the broad assumption that Australia was racist because of the actions of a few thugs.  It particularly annoyed me coming from a country which I consider to be one of the most racists and intolerant nations in the world in terms of different cultures, castes, religions, etc!  Nevertheless, the Project is an important example of the real concern that is shown by the majority of Australians to the need to ensure our country is welcoming to all cultures and nationalities. With almost 50% of the population having being born outside of Australia, but broadly speaking, living in a peaceful environment with each other, that says more than a few survey results to my mind.

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