Invisible Racism – Do you think it exists?

Australia is a beautiful and welcoming country, where we celebrate multiculturalism not tolerate it, unlike many other countries. Multiculturalism is truly ingrained in our society in every aspect ‘BUT’ still there is an underlying hidden part of our society which sees the color, language, race, food & name and differentiates based on it. This form of racism often eludes our eye as it is covert and invisible.

In the streets, shops & states we subconsciously notice a certain dislike, discord, or disengagement by some. However, we move on thinking it’s nothing or we are being misunderstood. Have we ever pondered why it happens to particular communities and not happens to others? Do we see the invisible element of racism here?

Not all racism is visible. A store vendor might be cold towards you as a customer based on your looks; an employer might reject an application because of your ethnicity or name; and a child could be bullied or harassed at school playgrounds for their language or food. Racism happens in many different ways – not only via bullying, abusing, or intimidating. It could be because of typecasting or stereotyping a race, making jibes, jokes, name-calling or negative comments about a particular ethnic group or race, excluding someone from groups because they’re different or don’t belong are also racism. These kinds of racism can be much harder to address; sometimes even the victims don’t realise it’s happening to them.

Around one in five Australians say they have experienced verbal abuse or name-calling. More than one in twenty Australians say they have been physically attacked because of their race. Racism is more than just words or actions. It also includes the invisible barriers, big and small, that can prevent people from doing as well in life as others simply because of their cultural background. (Source:

What’s in a Name?
Helen Kapalos famous TV personality & Ex Victorian Multicultural Commissioner said she faced resistance early in her career to her Greek heritage, with one TV boss asking her to tone down her ethnicity and change her surname. A Harvard study found job candidates were more likely to get an interview when they “whitened” their name. Many have changed their names just to fit in the environment around them. You will see so many Sams and Daves in your day-to-day life. Unfortunately, in an attempt to fit in, it’s so open and almost a norm to have a name which is Anglicized, so you feel and act the part. If you are in the hospitality, sales or retail sector and have an Ethnic name you will need extra time at work to explain your name. Many change their names partly in the assumption, an anglicized name may elevate them. Parents from multicultural communities often face difficult times explaining to their children why their names are different and why it’s their most important identity. It’s important to have that conversation so the child feels proud of their name not feel shy about it. I for one never changed mine and yes I still go through a hard time explaining how to say it when I meet someone new, but I take pleasure in it, it’s my name, and I am proud of it.

Electoral Racism: Ask any council election candidate from the ethnic community and they will say how their names played a major part in the elections. I know some who have changed their first names just before nomination, and many have received votes without any campaign or being known to the community just with the strength of their names on the ballot paper.

Social racism: This is the hard one, often passed on as jokes, one will say anything to you, call you names, mock your food, accent, appearance and say it’s the Aussie way – toughen up buddy. No, it’s not the Aussie way, giving a fair go to anyone and rooting for the underdog is the True Blue Aussie way. In today’s world, hardly anyone would say using racial slur is acceptable, but still many actively use it. Subtle forms of racism exist, but they are often dismissed or brushed under the carpet and even the victims are blamed for it. Systematic racism, institutional racism, stereotypes both negative & positive, just a simple bias due to the different background routinely go unnoticed due to fear and ignorance. Of course, there is another ugly side to this that is when someone blames the other person as racist just to get away from their mistakes. This destroys the struggle of the real victims and gives ammunition to the racist. If someone says or does something out of lack of understanding or ignorance, educate first rather than fight as this will go a long way in removing the stenches of racism from society.

Covert racial discrimination often exists concealed and hidden in the fabric of society, it discriminates equally as any other form of racism. Racially biased decisions in the workplace are often passed on as a bitter pill coated in honey and rationalised in ways we tend to accept. If you see or notice any discrimination, speak up, racism is more than an individual issue as it shackles our society and darkens our future. So, the next time don’t laugh when a racist joke is told just to fit in, walk away from offenders and make sure they know what they are doing to you and our society. Don’t try to fit in; you are already an invaluable part of this beautiful golden land.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 (up to age 25), Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, Mental Health Foundation Australia on 1300 643 287

Author: Karthik Arasu is a social and political activist, who has been involved with various initiatives for the multicultural community in Australia. He is currently the President of “Australia India Sports Council”.


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