Habibis, Daphne, Maggie Walter & Penny Taylor: To move forward on reconciliation, Australia must recognise it has a race relations problem

Daphne Habibis, Maggie Walter & Penny Taylor

To move forward on reconciliation, Australia must recognise it has a race relations problem‘, The Conversation, 20 September 2016 updated

Our research in Darwin [survey of 474] shows most Indigenous people feel judged, stereotyped and disregarded by white people. Rather than always asking what Indigenous people can do to change the relationship, we need to start asking non-Indigenous people to:

  • consider how their attitudes and behaviour impact on Indigenous people;
  • be open to the possibility that not everything in white culture is desirable or good; and
  • consider what they need to do to engage in equal and respectful relationships.

The research found that

more than 90% of our 474 survey respondents say non-Aboriginal people talk to them as if their views don’t matter. A similar number say white people judge them by stereotypes. Nor is the relationship improving. Three-quarters of survey respondents say race relations are not very good or bad. And nearly 60% rated race relations as worsening over the last decade.

The authors make an important distinction between ‘ “old racism” …, based on arguments about biological differences and manifested in violence and verbal abuse” and ‘ “new racism” [which] rests on notions of cultural inferiority and is manifested in everyday disregard’. They consider examples of this disregard and conclude:

While it is essential to maintain programs to tackle Indigenous disadvantage, what is missing from the picture is an understanding of the problems caused by white attitudes. White Australia must consider the damage that disregard generates, and understand that from the Aboriginal perspective, white ways are not the only ways, or necessarily the best ways.

Many of our survey respondents expressed a willingness to improve the relationship. But so long as white Australia is resistant to Indigenous inclusion on any terms but its own, it’s hard to see how progress can be made.

Update 1 September 2017: Philosopher Adam Hochman writes in The Conversation about terminology and philosophy around race, racism and diversity.

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