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Everyone experiences or witnesses racism at some point in life. Race is not a biological categorisation, but is rather an artificial grouping of persons based on social constructions. Racial classification has little to do with scientifically certifiable facts such as genetics (Doane 2006).
On the contrary, races are classified according to the way societies conceive certain ideas, faces, skin colour, practices, and certain cultures. Though racism is a global dilemma, young Australians are particularly faced with this problem due to the diverse nature of Australia’s population.
How different young Australians experience racism
According to a study conducted by the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) on racism and its impact on young Australians, 70% of students in secondary schools within Australia report having contact with racist confrontation frequently (Mansouri et al. 2009). Many young Australians face racism in school.
This kind of racism takes several forms ranging from provocative slang names to certain racist jibes and stereotypes. Racism in Australian schools also takes the form of exclusion from certain activities or groups based on race or ethnicity.
Young migrants who have lived in Australia for a short period (four to five years) are more predisposed to racism than those born in the country (Mansouri et al. 2009).
They are closely followed in their predisposition to racism by second or third generation migrants. Young female migrants are more likely to face racism than their male counterparts. This vulnerability is closely linked to the already existent gender disparities. However, racist experiences are not a confine of a specific group (Pruitt 2013). This is particularly evident when looking at racism in a broad context. For instance, more than fifty percent of young Anglo-Australian population is regularly confronted with racist experiences.
The FYA reports that cases of racism are more rampant among older students in schools than those aged between seven and eight years (Mansouri et al. 2009). This indicates that attitudes and tendencies towards racism are acquired as students grow and interact. Racist exposure reduces the victim’s self-confidence. Students who have experienced racism may get the impression that the culture to which they subscribe is not valued. This negatively impacts their degrees of self-esteem and encourages feelings of worthlessness.
Exposure to racism at this critical stage in the psychological development of the victims may cause the victims to feel the need to distance themselves from their own cultures, values, norms, and languages. From the ridicule they experience by being associated with these cultures, the discriminated students associate the cultures with inferiority.
In addition to distancing oneself from one’s culture, racism also contributes to psychological suffering among the young victims. This kind of psychological distress is often evident in increased anxiety levels, depression, elevated temperament and lowered self-esteem. Some suicide cases are linked directly or indirectly to incidences of racial abuse.
The effects of racism are not limited to the mental health of the young Australians. There is evidence to indicate that the effects of racism extend to an individual’s physical health. For instance, young Australians who confront racism undergo several physical experiences ranging from elevated heart rates and impaired concentration when performing certain activities such as schoolwork (Bulbeck 2012).
Other relatively serious physical effects of racism on young people include relentless headaches, post-traumatic stress and pre-emptive anxiety. Some of these physical and psychological conditions affect other physical and mental functions such as sleep and moods.
Australia has for a long period been under the radar of the international community for the way cases of racism especially among the young are handled. Concerns raised about racism, especially among the young cannot be fully addressed. However, given the far-reaching effects that racist experiences have on the younger members of the society, institutional measures ought to be devised to help fight racism when the children are still young.
Bulbeck, C 2012, Imagining the future: young Australians on sex, love and community, University of Adelaide Press, Adelaide.
Doane, A 2006, ‘What is racism? Racial discourse and racial politics,’ Critical Sociology, vol. 32 no. 2-3, pp. 255-274.
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Mansouri, F, Jenkins, L, Morgan, L & Taouk, M, 2009, The impact of racism upon the health and wellbeing of young Australians, <https://www.fya.org.au/>.
Pruitt, L 2013, Youth peacebuilding: music, gender, and change, SUNY Press, Albany.