racism sign on road

Looking for racism goes against the fabric of Australian society

Determined to portray Australia in the drab colours of bigotry and prejudice, anti-racism warriors are digging deep once again to remind us how truly racist we all really are. The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has launched a new $500,000 campaign to show that we all harbour racist views – even if we have no direct experience of racism.

It sounds a bit like directing a anti drink-drive campaign at those who never get behind the wheel of a car. But when there’s money in fighting racism, then racism must be found. Funding for this year’s instalment of the AHRC’s long-running campaign comes from the fallout of the racism stoush which embroiled Collingwood Football Club in 2021. When a report found Collingwood fostered a culture of ‘structural racism’, one of the sponsors redirected funds to the AHRC to help pay for this year’s anti-racism campaign.

Now, Race Discrimination Commissioner, Chin Tan, is insisting that all Australians must confront the issue of racism and discrimination, which he says spiked during the pandemic. But findings from the Scanlon Foundation’s 2021 Mapping Social Cohesion survey suggest that Mr Tan’s claims don’t quite stack up.

Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic has been a huge a challenge, the 2021 Scanlon report found that levels of social cohesion and community resilience remained high throughout. Last year’s survey also found those of us with racist or xenophobic views are a rapidly shrinking segment of the population while our support for immigration rose to 86 per cent.

Yet report author, Andrew Markus, was puzzled by an apparent 20 per cent rise in those who thought racism a problem – which conflicts with Scanlon’s findings in all previous years. According to Markus, even though more respondents did think racism was a problem in Australia, there has been no perceptible rise in those holding racist or xenophobic views.

Of course, this is not to say there are no racists in Australia.  But we are one of the world’s most integrated multicultural and multi-ethnic societies with more than 50 per cent of us being born, or descended from those born, overseas.

Census data released last month shows that as Australia’s population continues to grow, we are attracting ever larger numbers of people from China, India, and south east Asia. And while English remains the predominant language used at home, nearly 25 per cent of us now live in households where English is not the main language used around the hearth.

No wonder that for many Australians, the AHRC’s claims of persistent racism do not fit with their experience of the country they know and love, and are proud to call home. Anti-racism campaigners, with growing financial support from corporate Australia, are painting a picture of a society that few of us recognise as we go about our daily lives.

As pressure to submit to this distorted picture of Australia mounts, the danger is that more of us will simply nod our assent and assume that activist distortions must be true after all.

Peter Kurti is Director of the Culture, Prosperity & Civil Society program at the Centre for Independent Studies, and Adjunct Associate Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame Australia

Photo by Kelly