Tackling racism starts with one act

The largest survey on racism, The Challenging Racism Project released recently found that, despite some “racist hotspots”, most Australians are tolerant and welcoming.

I believe that a majority of Australians want to end prejudice and discrimination, but often ask, “How can one person make a difference?”

Here is my fighting racism manifesto:

Look in the mirror: Make a decision to examine your own biases. It’s not easy to acknowledge your own intolerance and then work through to overcome it. The process of breaking the cycle of racism begins with you.

Stand up: Edmund Burke said that “All it takes for evil to triumph in the world is for good men to do nothing”. Don’t be indifferent when you witness racism or any kind of prejudice. Apathy may be viewed as acceptance. The Challenging Racism Project stated that 84 per cent of people had seen evidence of bigotry.

Side with the victim: Listen to their story, empathise with their pain and needs, reassure and support them every step of the way. Don’t blame the victim, only the perpetrator.

Do not remain silent: Speak up, write letters to the newspaper, call talkback radio, report any type of hate and injustice to your parents, teacher, employer, police. Condemn and challenge such destructive behaviour. Silence sends the wrong message and gives strength to the bigot.

Set an example: Watch and think about what you say in front of others, especially your children. Don’t miss the chance to set an example of what it means to be a tolerant person. Walk the talk.

Take racism seriously: Even if it appears to be a harmless racist joke or a sexist remark, treat it seriously. Don’t brush it aside as just silly, unintentional talk. Slurs, offensive words, vicious stereotypes are often the beginning to harassment and physical violence.

Educate: No one is born a bigot. Prejudice is a learned trait. Counter and reject hurtful stereotypes by teaching family and friends about the impact of prejudicial attitudes. Don’t miss the chance to eradicate ignorance. Summon the courage to tell a brother or a grandfather that what they’ve said sounds so cruel. Describe the behaviour, not the person. To be effective, you need to be informed and knowledgeable.

Build up a coalition: Call on your friends, family, workmates, neighbours, school, faith group and sport club to unite in the war against hate. There is strength in numbers. There are plenty of decent people ready to share the workload. Each one will pitch an idea and will add creativity and energy.

Lobby politicians: Politicians can be powerful allies and play a vital role in responding to bias. Ask for action, for public statements condemning bias-driven incidents, and for a declaration supporting tolerance. Insist on real solutions that address the root causes of hatred.

Love thy neighbour: Shouting back is important, but channelling your energies into acts of love is also productive. Organise walks, picnics, garage sales, retreats, live music and discussion groups in the name of human rights and equality. Take your family to an ethnic restaurant, encourage them to read books that promote understanding of different cultures, reflect on the music and art you buy. Befriend people from different backgrounds to your own.

All people are valuable, no one is “less than”. For all our differences, we live in and share the one country. We can make a difference. One act at a time.

This article was originally published in The Age, march 24, 2011