From Wars to Whispers- The Changing Face of Racism

“But that’s the thing about racism: it goes way beyond bad intentions. The most insidious racism is just so ingrained it’s involuntary…It’s easy to point at the barking racists on the bus precisely because they aren’t us…It allows us to escape self-examination of the racism we all probably harbour to some extent or other.”

– Waleed Aly

Racism has a deep seated history within Australia from the White Australia Policy in 1901 right up to the Cronulla Riots in 2005 and beyond. While the stereotype of Australian racism is satirised across the world, the modern issue of racism is not whether Australia is or isn’t a racist country, for every nation has some extremist or opposition group that can be classed under that umbrella. The emerging issue is instead the unconscious nature of racism in modern day Australia.

The definition of exactly what racism entails has become characterised in the significant distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’. This creates a separation between majorities and minorities thus creating an ongoing cycle of what has been termed as ‘subtle’ or ‘casual’ racism. Defined as racism that is ‘perpetuated in normative and invisible forms’ and ‘generally outside of our conscious attention’ (Sue, 2005), these discriminatory behaviours are becoming further embedded into modern Australian society. 

A study conducted by the Western Sydney University reflects an interesting insight into exactly what this ‘subtle’ racism entails. Their survey revealed that 84.4% of interviewees believed there is racial prejudice in Australia, yet only 12.4% admitted that they themselves were prejudice against other cultures. The question academics are asking is now ‘If not you, then who?‘- a direct result of the unconscious acts of casual racism that are occurring daily.


Jonathan Sri explores what he describes as ‘Australia’s Great White Silence’ and the impact it is having on multicultural communities

The reality is, racism in Australia is becoming less recognised in terms of significant acts of hate, but instead in terms of the subtle difference in attitude many have towards those of different cultures. From research showing that a candidate with an Chinese name has to apply for 68% more jobs to get an interview than someone with an Anglo-Australian name, to a seemingly harmless joke about someone of a different origin, it seems that racism is so grounded in Australian attitudes that discriminatory behaviours and attitudes have become somewhat of a social and cultural norm. 

Perhaps this is because, as Marginson recalls, ‘Australians are often too parochial, trapped within an Australian-centred view of a diverse and complex world’. Despite globalisation, the attitudes of racism stem from the illusion of a majority being superior over a minority, even when in reality the multicultural Australian sector is constantly growing The racism that exists today is grounded within the often unconscious attitudes that stem from a lack of understanding and pervasive intolerance, and while it may not be as blatantly obvious as events like racist attacks on Indian University students in 2009, it has paralleled effects on those involved, and demands just as much attention. 


Liao, H, Hong, Y, Rounds, J, 2016, Perception of Subtle Racism; The Role of Group Status and Legitimizing Ideologies, The Counselling Psychologist, vol. 44, no. 2, pg. 237-266

Sue, D, 2005, Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence, John Wiley and Sons, Hoboken, New Jersey

Kell, P, Vogl, G, 2006, International Students: Negotiating life and study in Australia through Australian Englishes, Centre for Research and Social Inclusion, pg.1-9




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