What do you know about racism?

Situations aren’t necessarily black or white
Discrimination comes in many forms – sometimes it’s obvious, but often it’s subtle or unintended. Hear what the experts have to say about some scenarios you could encounter and what you can do about them.

How can you know if something someone says or does is 100 percent racist? Acts of racism aren’t always clear; but being able to recognise them in their many forms and act accordingly is a social responsibility we all share, according to Polykala, a leadership development organisation that specialises in anti-discrimination. 

As a student at the University, it's important that you know your responsibilities under the Student Charter. This includes treating others with respect regardless of gender, religion, race, sexuality or disability. 

What is casual racism?

Most people recognise racism when it involves abusive, intimidating behaviour, but it can also be subtle or unintended, such as so called joking, name-calling, or social exclusion.

A comment or action may not be intended as malicious or hurtful, but this doesn’t change the impact felt by the victim. Imagine you’re passing a football with a friend and accidentally hit them in the face. You didn’t mean to hurt them, but nevertheless the impact might leave your friend with a bleeding nose.

What can you do?

While casual acts of racism are often unintentional, they’re still learned behaviours caused by attitudes that need to be unlearned. We all need to play a part in calling out these kinds of remarks and standing up for those who are the target.

This can be hard to do, particularly if the offender is a friend, family member or peer. But being a bystander to racism tells people that their behaviour is okay, which perpetuates hateful attitudes and beliefs.

Some strategies you can use:

  • Call out the perpetrator’s behaviour by questioning them in a polite tone: ‘What did you mean by that?’ It may be best to do this in private to avoid shaming them.
  • Check in with the victim: ‘Were you okay with that comment?’ Give them the opportunity and support to speak up.
  • Change the topic or end the conversation. If a situation is becoming hostile, diffusing the tension may the safest way to support the victim.

If you encounter or witness discrimination on campus, we encourage you to report it to our Student Affairs Unit. You can contact the team by email to make a confidential report. 

The University of Sydney is partnered with the Australian Human Rights Commission's Racism. It Stops with Me campaign to rule out racism on campus and ensure everybody’s right to study, work or visit without facing discrimination. 

Last updated: 15 March 2024

15 October 2018

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