Putting non-Indigenous Australians under the microscope could be key to closing the gap and cutting out racial discrimination, according to a Queensland researcher.
17 Apr 2018 - 11:55 AM  UPDATED 17 Apr 2018 - 11:55 AM

James Cook University's Dr Lorraine Muller interviewed non-Indigenous Australians to understand how their values and beliefs differ from Indigenous Australians.

"They've never had to explain their culture. We have to explain our culture, but no one ever bothers explaining non-Indigenous culture," Dr Muller told AAP.

Dr Muller interviewed senior health professionals, public servants and academics on their understanding of respect, gender roles, spirituality and time, and gave examples of how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people perceive these ideas.

On respect, she found non-Indigenous people view it as something that is earnt and commodified whereas Indigenous Australians see it as something everyone should receive.

"Respect is often linked to money, power and social strata - and Indigenous people are the lowest on the social scale," Dr Muller said.

She said these differences in beliefs can underpin behaviour including accidental racial stereotyping, particularly in healthcare.

She cited a doctor dismissing an Indigenous Australian's health problems as alcohol-related despite the patient not drinking.

"In that particular case, if the patient had taken offence and walked out of the doctor's surgery, the consequences could have been fatal, health-wise," Dr Muller said.

She said the doctor was shocked by how instant his reaction had been to the wrong conclusion.

"He knew immediately that his comment was triggered by deeply embedded cultural differences. And he didn't like it. I'm sure he never did it again."

She hopes her work will help non-Indigenous people better understand themselves and their relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

"There's an ulcer that hasn't been healed in Australian culture," Dr Muller said.

"People have a feeling of guilt or sadness and they want to change things, but they don't know where to go from here.

"My work is a way of harnessing those feelings of guilt and moving in a positive direction."