Challenging casual racism

waleed alyFriday Forum
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The nominations of Waleed Aly and Lee Lin Chin for the 2016 Gold Logie created an opinionated storm in the Australian media this week.

Following the announcement, The Daily Telegraph published an article titled ‘Six reasons why Waleed Aly should not win Gold’. Today show host Karl Stefanovic joked that his co-host Lisa Wilkinson was “too white” to receive a nomination.

Mr Aly and Ms Chin are the first non-Anglo Australians to be nominated in the 56-year history of the award.

In a speech about cultural harmony delivered in Brisbane on Thursday, Australia’s race discrimination commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane, expressed his concern at the lack of cultural diversity in the Australian television industry.

“It is all of a pattern with the casual racism that can pass for banter on Australian commercial TV,” Mr Soutphommasane said.

“When inroads have been made in cultural diversity on TV, it doesn’t take much to reveal how threatened or uncomfortable it can make some people feel.”

For many Australians, personal experiences of racism are all-too-common. Racist remarks are often passed off as ‘jokes’. A person who speaks out against racism can be accused of being too ‘sensitive’ or ‘politically correct’. As Mr Soutphommasane noted in his speech, calling out racism can sometimes be seen as a worse moral offence than the perpetration of racism itself.

But casual racism can impact significantly on people’s lives.  Stereotypes about race can fuel prejudice and discrimination.

Mr Soutphommasane, who is of Laotian background, shared the story of how a new acquaintance asked if he worked in IT or finance. This exchange reflected the common assumptions people make regarding ethnicity and employment.

In an interview with Crosslight last year, Australian Human Rights Commission president Professor Gillian Triggs spoke about the dangers of casual racism, which is often more pervasive and hidden than overt forms of racism.

“The kind of racism that we are fighting at the Commission is the more casual or subterranean racism,” Prof Triggs said.

“That arises where somebody doesn’t get a job because the company has never employed a Korean in the workforce, or the business has a stereotypical view of South Pacific Islanders or Indigenous Australians and they don’t employ them.”

Casual racism is usually not driven by a desire to denigrate or humiliate other people. It often stems from a person’s unconscious bias, which makes it harder for perpetrators to identify their own behaviour as racist.

On this week’s Friday Forum, we ask: Have you ever been guilty of ‘casual racism’? How can we tackle casual racism in Australian society?

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