Date: August 24 2012
Australia’s race discrimination commissioner says the nation’s ‘‘brand’’ has at times been maligned by outbreaks of of racism and there is a poor understanding of the problem in the wider community.
Helen Szoke has also identified a ‘‘cultural glass ceiling’’ that hinders certain minority groups from rising up in workplaces as among the subtler issues that must be tackled.
In advance of today releasing a national anti-racism strategy, Dr Szoke said: ‘‘We understand sex discrimination much better than we understand racism — and we know far we have got to go with sex discrimination — so that gives you an indication of how far we have to go with racism.’’
Dr Szoke said racism in Australia existed in multiple forms. ‘‘People who actually don’t experience racism think it’s something like riots or violence whereas often racism occurs in quiet places and quiet ways.’’
In a paper outlining the public awareness plan to be rolled out over three years, the Australian Human Rights Commission notes indigenous people are among the most vulnerable to racism.
The commission said the experience of people from culturally diverse backgrounds tended to vary, ‘‘being shaped in large part by their particular histories of migration and settlement’’.
New arrivals, especially those distinguished by dress and skin colour, were more likely to encounter prejudice than ‘‘settled’’ migrants.
In an interview, Dr Szoke cited the episode involving attacks on Indian students in Victoria as particularly harming Australia’s ‘‘brand’’.
She said Victoria Police, which recently raised the alarm about youth from Sudanese and Somali backgrounds, also needed to exercise caution in how it engaged with such a complex matter.
‘‘As soon as you name a particular racial group and associate them with crime it has two immediate effects,’’ Dr Szoke said.
‘‘The first is that it builds a perception in the eyes of the community that all people from that racial group are criminals and the second is it actually subjects members of those community who may have a public profile to vitriol and race hate.
‘‘That’s exactly what happened in the past week. I’ve seen some of the emails that have been sent to the African community leaders with some horrific and threatening (messages).’’
Dr Szoke acknowledged sometimes law enforcement agencies needed to name a particular racial group, but a cautious and sensitive approach was required so as to avoid stigmatising a whole ethnic community.
She rejected the notion that a repeat of the Cronulla race riot situation was on horizon.
Dr Szoke also said she believed that the asylum seeker debate had a racial element to it, ‘‘because at its heart, racism is a fear of difference’’.
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