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Racism is the belief that certain groups are superior to others, based on birth or cultural differences in values, norms and behaviours. Those assumed to be inferior are treated less favourably.

Racism is associated with poor mental health and wellbeing. Evidence shows that racism not only has detrimental impacts on those discriminated against, their friends and family, and the perpetrators and society at large.

Key points

  • 20% of Australians reported experiencing discrimination on the basis of ‘skin colour, ethnic origin or religion’ in 2016. Experiences of racism are more common forpeople from non-English speaking backgrounds.
  • Most people reject blatantly racist attitudes. Yet underlying attitudes that underpin discrimination and intolerance are still held by many people.
  • The expression of racism and prejudice has changed over recent decades. It is now more hidden but strong evidence suggests it is still prevalent.
  • References to ‘everyday’ and ‘low level’ racism indicate that racism is sopervasive it is part of everyday language and behaviour.
  • Racism occursat all levels of society, and in our own behaviour and attitudes. Negative stereotypes about minority groups are likely to affect our own behaviour unless we consciouslychoose to reject them.
  • People can do muchto combat racism and prejudice. Indoing so they will contributeto a healthier and more just world.

What adults can do

Individuals can help to reduce racism and prejudice in many ways:

  • Examine your own prejudices, biases, and values
  • Discuss your own experiences of being hurt by prejudice
  • Learn about your own culture in relation to others
  • Make friends with someone from another culture or background
  • Educate yourselves about the psychological impact of oppression
  • If you are a member of a cultural group which is not subject to racial abuse or oppression, consider ways in which you might have benefited from discrimination against others
  • Be aware that it is easy to dismiss the difficulties that others face if you do not face them yourself
  • Make a rule that comments or jokes that belittle or insult the racial or cultural ancestry of any person or group are unacceptable
  • Support people who have been victims of discrimination
  • Become an advocate for people in minority groups
  • Become active ingroups that encourage tolerance and tackle prejudice and racism
  • Examine your organisational or educational settings for institutionalised racism, and advocate for changes to racist policies and practices
  • Ask your local member of parliament what she/he is doing to combat racism and prejudice
  • Talk with others about racism and prejudice, and point out examples when you see them
  • The APS information sheet Communicating about violence, peace and justice has tips on talking with others about these issues
  • Think of the world as a global community, not just individual nations or peoples
  • Take part in international and interfaith special events and festivals
  • Work cooperatively with people from other groups, or from other cultures or backgrounds
  • Learn interest-based conflict resolution and practice using it in your everyday life
  • Write to newspapers or online publications expressing concern about the promotion of stereotypes of certain groups. Suggest ways the media could betterrepresentethnic groups, ethnic differences, and conflict between ethnic groups. This could involve:
    • highlighting diversity within and similarities across groups
    • and reporting on successful non-violent resolution of ethnic conflicts
  • Remember: different cultures, points of view and values are not necessarily better or worse, but are just different. They make the world a more interesting and richer place and allow for new ideas and advances that benefit all Australians.

What families (and educators) can do

Seeing another person’s point of view, rather than seeing others as foreign, unknown and unknowable is critical for developing acceptance of others. Children can be helped to develop non-prejudiced attitudes and behaviours in a number of ways:

  • Awaken a sense of injustice in children by helping them to understand that fairness means treating all people in an equal way irrespective of their social background. The APS information sheets about helping children cope after community violence and tragic events may assist
  • Expose your young children to people from another culture or background before they have formed their own biases and prejudices
  • Seek out role models for your children of people from different cultures or backgrounds
  • Teach children interest-based conflict resolution. A good resource is the Wise Ways to Win poster from Psychologists for Peace group
  • Seek out non-racist books and films, and teach them how to detect racist and sexist themes in others they consume
  • Tell children stories about people who have become famous for their fight against racism and injustice. Celebrate anniversaries of these heroes’ lives
  • Ask your children’s school what they are doing to create a culturally diverse community. Offer to help them out.

What children can do

Children can find positive ways to respond to racism. You could:

  • Make friends or become pen pals with someone from another culture or background
  • Think about times when power is used by one group over another, and whether that is fair
  • Think about what you could say when you see children treating others unfairly
  • Be a detective and look for examples you see or read in which stereotypes, prejudices and discriminatory behaviour occur, or where diversity is valued and celebrated.


  1. Dunn, K., Forrest, J., Babacan, H., Paradies, Y. & Pedersen, A. (2011). Challenging racism: the anti-racism research project. National level findings, University of Western Sydney, NSW.
  2. Markus, A. (2016). Mapping Social Cohesion: The Scanlon Foundation surveys 2016.
  3. Paradies, Y. (2006). A systematic review of empirical research on self-reported racism and health. International Journal of Epidemiology, 35, 888-901.
  4. Paradies, Y., Priest, N., Ben, J., Truong, M., Gupta, A, Pieterse, A., Kelaher, M.&Gee, G. (2013). Racism as a determinant of health: a protocol for conducting a systematic review and meta-analysis (protocol). Systematic Reviews,2, 85.
  5. Scanlon Foundation (2016). Multiculturalism: Discussion Paper.
  6. VicHealth (2012a). Mental health impacts of racial discrimination in Victorian Aboriginal communities. Experiences of Racism survey: a summary, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, Carlton.
  7. VicHealth (2012b). Mental health impacts of racial discrimination in Victorian culturally and linguistically diverse communities. Experiences of Racism survey: a summary, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, Carlton.

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