Discussion paper

Building resilience in the face of racism: options for anti-racism strategies

27 Oct 2014

This paper recommends incorporating a focus on resilience in anti-racism strategies and suggest a framework for doing so which builds on the factors understood to promote resilience in those vulnerable to racism.

Executive summary

A significant number of Australians experience racism and racial discrimination every year. Research shows that racism has serious consequences for the health and wellbeing of those who experience it, and impacts negatively upon society more broadly.

Given the prevalence of racism and the harm that it causes, governments and civil society organisations have adopted anti-racism strategies which aim to prevent and reduce racism by targeting those who may perpetrate or condone racism and discrimination. Such strategies however do not tend to focus on building the resilience of those subject to racism. Arguably, this should also be an objective of an anti-racism strategy.

A recent Australian research project, Bubalamai Bawa Gumada (Healing the Wounds of the Heart) investigated agents of resilience in high-achieving Aboriginal people with experience of racism. The research identified a number of key themes for building resilience to racism: acknowledging racism, emotional distancing, staying calm and positive in the face of racism, having a strong sense of identity, seeking support from friends and family, and challenging racism.

These themes reflect the findings of international research on racism and resilience and provide a framework for incorporating a focus on resilience into anti-racism strategies. The framework outlines objectives for actions targeting individuals, organisations and the broader community, including: having organisations and community leaders who name racism when it occurs and who implement strong sanctions against it, making sure that the targets of racism think positively about their identities and understand that racism results from flawed thinking by those who perpetrate it, the presence of supports, including safe spaces, for those subject to racism, and ensuring that both the targets of racism and bystanders are empowered to respond safely and effectively when encountering racism.

Actions to promote these objectives could include communication campaigns aimed at individuals and groups vulnerable to racism, support for organisations such as businesses, schools and sporting clubs to oppose racism and provide safe spaces for vulnerable groups, and initiatives to promote bystander anti-racism action.

Further research is necessary to develop safe and effective ways for those who experience racism to challenge it, and to understand what constitutes effective bystander action from the perspective of the target of racism. Research into agents of resilience with leaders of a broader range of culturally and linguistically diverse communities would be beneficial, as would work to build an understanding of the benefits to resilience of collective, as well as individual, resistance to racism. Such work is necessary in order to minimise the harm of racism to the individuals and communities who continue to bear the brunt of it.

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