Racism refers to pervasive and systematic assumptions of the inherent superiority of certain groups, and inferiority of others, based on either birth or cultural differences in values, norms and behaviours. Those who are assumed to be inferior are treated differently and less favourably in multiple ways.

Racism can be blatant or subtle and disguised. It is now less socially acceptable to believe in racial superiority, or to express racist views overtly. This is not to say, however that racism has disappeared. ‘Modern’ racism still involves a rejection of minority groups and discrimination, but is now framed in terms of values and ideology rather than a straightforward dislike. Research has demonstrated that the modern variant of racism is more insidious, entrenched, resilient and difficult to counteract.

There are many subtle and covert ways in which racism can be manifested at all levels of society, as well as in our own behaviour and attitudes. Pervasive negative stereotypes about minority groups are likely to affect our own behaviour unless we consciously and deliberately choose to reject them.

The APS believes that all forms of racism are absolutely wrong, and psychologically unhealthy, and that the whole community would benefit if it could be eliminated in all its forms. There is no race or cultural group that is superior to others, and people are not ‘lesser’ because of their racial, ethnic or cultural origins. Racism interferes with our ability to see people as individuals, and diminishes peoples’ ability to achieve to their potential.

This tip sheet is the first in a series of tip sheets exploring what people can do to combat racism and prejudice. We begin the series by looking at what individuals can do. This is where we can immediately start contributing to a more just world. This tip sheet will be followed up with ideas for what communities, organizations, psychologists, the government, our leaders and the media can do.

What adults can do

There are many ways in which individuals can consider making a contribution to breaking down racism and prejudice:

  • Examine your own prejudices, biases, and values.
  • Discuss your own experiences of being hurt by prejudice.
  • Learn about your own culture in relation to others.
  • Make friends with someone from another culture or background
  • Educate yourselves about the psychological impact of oppression. Be aware that it is easy to dismiss the difficulties that others face if you do not face them yourself.
  • If you are a member of a cultural group which is not subject to racial abuse or oppression, consider ways in which you might have benefited from discrimination of others.
  • Make a rule that that comments and/or jokes that belittle or insult the racial or cultural ancestry of any person or group are unacceptable in your home.
  • Support people who have been victims of discrimination.
  • Become an advocate for people in minority groups.
  • Become an active members of groups which are attempting to encourage tolerance and reduce prejudice and racism.
  • Examine your organizational or educational settings for institutionalized racism, and advocate for changes to racist policies and practices.
  • Talk with others about racism and prejudice, and point out examples when you see them.
  • Read the APS tip sheet Communicating about violence, peace and justice for tips on talking with others about these issues.
  • Remember that different points of views and values:
    • make the world a more interesting and richer place
    • allow for new ideas and advances
    • are not necessarily better or worse, but just different
  • Think of the world as a global community, not just individual nations or peoples.
  • Learn about other cultures.
  • Take part in international and interfaith special events and festivals.
  • Work together cooperatively with people from other groups, or from other cultures or backgrounds.
  • Ask your local member of parliament what she/he is doing to combat racism and prejudice.
  • Learn interest-based conflict resolution and practice using it in your everyday life
  • Write to the newspapers expressing your concern about the promotion of stereotypes of certain groups. Suggest ways the media could take responsibility for representing ethnic groups, ethnic differences, and conflict between ethnic groups, by:
    • highlighting diversity with groups and similarities across groups, thereby discouraging negative stereotyping;
    • increasing media coverage of successful non-violent resolution of ethnic conflicts at local and international levels.

What families (and educators) can do

A key part of developing acceptance of others is being able to see another person’s point of view, rather than seeing others as foreign, unknown and unknowable. Children can be helped to develop non-prejudiced attitudes and behaviours in a number of ways:

  • Awaken a sense of injustice in children by helping them to understand that fairness means treating all people in an equal way irrespective of their social background.
  • Expose your young children to people from another culture or background before they have formed their own biases and prejudices.
  • Seek out role models for your children of people that come from another culture or background.
  • Teach children interest-based conflict resolution. (See Wise Ways to Win poster from Psychologists for Peace).
  • Provide children with non-racist books, and teach them how to detect racist and sexist themes in books and films.

(See APS tip sheet Children and the media for ideas on how to discuss the content of films with children).

  • Tell children stories about people who have become famous for their fight against racism and injustice. Celebrate anniversaries of these heroes’ lives.
  • Ask your children’s school what they are doing to create a culturally diverse community. Offer to help them out.
  • Read APS tip sheet Talking with children about violence and injustice.

What children can do

Once a sense of injustice has been awakened in children, we need to help them to find positive ways to respond to these injustices.

  • Make friends with someone from another culture or background.
  • Write to a pen pal who belongs to another culture or background.
  • Think about times when power is used by one group over another, and whether that is fair.
  • Think about what you could say when you see children treating other children unfairly.
  • Be a detective and collect examples of:
    • diversity being valued and celebrated that you see or read about
    • stereotypes, prejudices and discriminatory behaviour that you see or read about.

Acknowledgements

The ideas in this tip sheet were drawn from the APS position paper Racism and Prejudice: Psychological Perspective, the Enhancing Relationships in School Communities Project – Psychologists for Peace, and from the Wise Ways to Create Cultures of Peace poster – Psychologists for Peace