Commission reveals spike in racism reports

10 Dec 2013By Karen Ashford

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The Australian Human Rights Commission has revealed a substantial jump in reports of racism.

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(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

 

The rise comes despite the Commission campaigning for the past 12 months to encourage Australians to take a personal stand against racism wherever they find it.

 

South Australia has become the first state to sign up to the Commission's anti-racism strategy, titled "Racism.It stops with me".

 

But as Karen Ashford reports, far from stopping, racism's surging.

 

(Click on audio tab above to hear full item)

 

"I certainly played football and the catchphrase was 'to catch that nigger'. That was back there in the '60s and certainly in the early '70s."

 

Aboriginal elder Roger Thomas has never forgotten the racism he endured on the football field as a youngster.

 

Mr Thomas says racism today may not be as brutal, but he still feels it.

 

"75 per cent of Aboriginal people experience racism in their everyday lives. 75 per cent. I would say it's much higher than that because there's lots of incidents that never get reported. 44 per cent of Australians think they are casual racists. I've never heard that term before. A casual racist. You're either a racist, or you're not."

 

Views like this have prompted the Human Right's Commission's "Racism. It stops with me" campaign, a grassroots effort to encourage Australians to stand up against racism at any time, in any place.

 

Human Rights Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane says there's been a noticeable escalation in complaints of racism, with at least 20 per cent of people now affected.

 

"Contemporary Australian society still faces a challenge of battling racism, in spite of our successes as a multicultural society. In my own work I can let you know that during the past 12 months the Australian Human Rights Commission has received a 59 per cent increase in the number of racial vilification complaints. If one in five Australians is experiencing this, and we all know that racism can go under-reported, it simply is not good enough. It diminishes those who perpetrate it, and it diminishes those who are targeted - in short it diminishes us all."

 

Two hundred organisations and 1,000 individuals have pledged their support for the campaign: South Australia the first state to do so.

 

South Australia's Premier, Jay Weatherill, hopes it'll be a catalyst for other state and territories to similarly stand in defence of their citizens against what he calls a poisonous practice that's causing real harm.

 

"We know of course what it means for people - it does rob them of their dignity. It hurts people and at a basic level it's a justice that must be remedied. But at a broader level it robs us of the talents and capacities of people to express themselves fully and to be all they can be."

 

It's Mr Weatherill's aim to galvanise South Australians to act against racial discrimination: people like Eritrean-born student Manal Younus, who says she encounters it daily.

 

"Just last week when we were out for dinner with my cousins, it was suggested that one of us order a main meal instead of all of us getting entrees so that people wouldn't think we were a group of broke, black girls. Despite whether or not the waiters would actually think this, the problem is that people have a reason to feel this way. Because they've been treated this way in the past or because they've heard jokes and stereotypes about whether it's black people or whether it's Asians or people of Indigenous background being too broke so they get the cheapest thing on the menu. To this we have to say no. We can't accept that racism just is, and that we should act in certain ways to either conform or to try to prove that we're not conforming to a ridiculous stereotype. We must feel comfortable with who we are, and we must feel that others will not judge us based on a part of our appearance that we had absolutely no say in."

 

Change, says Manal Younus, is the responsibility of each individual.

 

"For this to happen we must all take responsibility for our contribution to the problem. When we hear and see racism we must actively decide that we will not participate. This might in some situations mean standing up and speaking against it. In others it may just mean not compromising who we are and who we want to be in order to appease others."

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