The Australian workforce today includes individuals from diverse racial backgrounds. Yet Australian society has not equipped many of us with the racial literacy and skills we need to talk about race in an informed and thoughtful way and to identify and respond to racism.
These resources are designed to provide an Australian approach to anti-racism at work. Any approach to anti-racism in Australia will only work if it examines how race functions in this country – that is, the unique role race has played in colonisation and First nations dispossession and in successive waves of migration in Australia. It is this historical context which determines how racism shows up in Australian society and workplaces today.
In this section you will find information to help navigate discussion about race in the workplace, including key definitions and state of play for race and racism in Australia, why organisations should become anti-racist, and leading practice guidance on how end racism at work.
What is race?
‘Race’ is a social construct, not a biological one, as science tells us that there are no specific genes that can determine someone’s race. The concept of race as we know it today, emerged during European colonisation of nations and was used to categorise people into a social hierarchy based on arbitrary criteria such as their skin colour, hair texture, or facial features. Peoples deemed to be non-white were treated as ‘different’, ‘outside the norm’ and inferior to peoples judged to be white. Science now tells us that race is a very poor measurement of human variation as physical characteristics used to identify racial groups vary with geography – they do not correspond to underlying biological traits (see DCA’s Racism at Work).
While race may not be ‘real’ in the genetic sense, it remains important because people believe it is real and act on it, resulting in people’s physical characteristics (e.g., skin colour, hair texture, facial features, accent, name, religion, and religious dress) being a trigger to racism. This results in very real and powerful consequences for those negatively deemed racially ‘different’.
What is racism?
Racism is when an individual or organisation with race-based societal power discriminates, excludes, or disadvantages a racially marginalised person because of their race, colour, descent, nationality, ethnicity, religion and/or immigrant status. Racism can be systemic or interpersonal, unconscious or conscious, active or passive, obvious or subtle.