In Australia, Are Cultural Rights a Form of Racism? Essay

October 14, 2020 by Essay Writer


Racism is a destructive form of discrimination. This is because is devalues other people’s identity and denies them their right to exercise power. It destroys the unity within a community and leads to social divisions. It violates the democratic right of equality and the fair treatment of all people.

One has to understand the nature and form of racism that exist if he has to succeed in countering it. It is a world wide phenomenon that has been experienced in many countries and it mainly results from economic, political, and social factors. Racism takes diverse forms that vary depending on its contexts.

Racism is therefore an end product of the disparities that exist in society, their attitudes and other cultural practices. It can be observed from how individuals express their actions and its form changes with changes in the society. Racism is a vice that is eating up many communities globally and it is a restriction to international growth and development.

In Australia, racism has been persistent for a long period of time and the commission of human rights seems to be doing very little in countering the problem. Racism emerges when a certain group of people perceive themselves to be superior to others because they originate from a particular ethnic group, race, or nationality. This is not a scientific concept and should therefore be addressed socially.

Racism is based on differences that are quite evident in values, customs, color, religion, perception about the world, and how people live. It also extends to the use of language where a certain group of people have negative attitudes towards the language used by others. It is normally expressed in different ways, for instance, racial discrimination and stereotyping about a certain culture which may extend to xenophobia.

The “superior” group of people perceives their culture, way of life, color, and language to be over and above others and expect the inferior group to emulate them if they are to be accepted in the society.

This group fails to understand that, the world is composed of different groups of people with different customs, values, originality, and general way of life which they hold dear and are not willing to let go. It is through these differences that we get diversity in cultures which are important aspects even in trade.

This paper looks at some of the behaviors portrayed by racists, gives an in-depth analysis of racism in Australia; when it started, how it started, and the major contributing factors. It also gives an overview of human rights in Australia and explains what the government is doing to counter racism.

Behaviors of Racists

Racism can be termed as myths expression about other ethnic and racial communities rendering them inferior (Human rights and equal opportunity commission, 1995: 20).

Some of the behaviors expressed by racists are abuse, mockery, aggravation, physical assault, and property damage. Other practices such as exploitation and exclusion from some aspects of the society are also examples of these behaviors.

For instance, Africans living in the developed nations such as Australia have for along time being discriminated against education, employment and participation in political matters simply because of their color. Some have also be denied they property and are often ridiculed when they try to fight for their rights.

The behavior expressed by racist can either be direct or indirect; an example of a direct behavior can be seen in employment where an employer refuses to employ someone on the ground of their cultural background.

An indirect behavior would translate to the violation of rules. For example, a school prohibiting students from wearing head gears can be taken as discrimination for those students whose religion require them to cover their heads e.g. the Muslims.

Institutional racism occurs in social or political institutions. This occurs when these institutions discriminate some groups of people from exercising their rights. These people are expected to conform to certain cultural assumptions which are deemed to reflect the dominant group. This form of racism is normally difficult to identify and also to counter, especially when the perpetrators view themselves as non-racist.

Institution racism extends to the learning institutions and often leads to poor performance and early dropout by the affected group of people. The students who are able to complete their education are not guaranteed of employment because of they are normally discriminated against employment and this results in high levels of unemployment consequently leading to low income levels.

Because of the low income, they are not able to access proper housing, goods and services, health care, among other necessities. This forms of circle of racism which goes back to education where their children receive the same treatment.

Racism in Australia

In Australia, racism is related to colonization and migration. The aboriginal people were evicted from their original land and discriminated against in the provision of necessities including education, goods and services and health care by the European settlers and the British. The culture of the Aboriginal people consists of both physical and non physical substances.

Their cultural heritage gives a relationship between the interaction of Aboriginal people and their environment. It is through cultural heritage that, we recognize and understand Aboriginal people and their cultural practices which form part of their past and their present lives.

Since the arrival of the Europeans, the Aboriginal people have been uncertain about their culture and identity (Terrill, 2000:10). Their cultures have been done away with and they have been forced to adapt the western way of life. Most of them have lost their land to the Europeans with very little compensation if any.

Migration to Australia has also led to the increased levels of racial discrimination. The first recorded European to arrive to Australia is thought to be name is Willem Janszoon (1571–1638) who was a Dutch, later that year Spanish explorer, Luis Vaez de Torres arrived in Australia.

They explored the country and opened trading points for their countrymen. It took until 1770 for the first British man to arrive in Australia; his name was Captain James Cook. During the days, convicts were jailed in United States but towards the end of 17th century Britain lost to United States and needed to look for another place to jail their convict since their jails were full and crowded.

From 1788 British Crown colony of New South Wales was established and on January 26. 11 ships carrying 1500 people arrived in Sydney Harbor from Britain.

The day was later referred to as Australian day. From that first successful sailing about 160000 man and women were brought in the country as convicts. Other than convicts wool industry and the gold rushes of the 1850s attracted more European settlers in the country (Lack &Templeton, 1988:70).

After the world second war, countries embarked on massive globalization measures that facilitated migration from one county to another. During 1947 and 1971, Australia experienced a rise in Muslims Migrants from 2704 to 22 311. During the early years after Second World War, Australia had scarcity of labor; known as the land of opportunities, it developed measures to ensure that immigrants are allowed in the country.

People migrated from all corners of the world leading to increased cultural diversity in Australia.

This was not received with a good heart by the European settlers and the First British who prejudiced and discriminated all the non-English speaking groups of people irrespective of the fact that, they had been invited by the Australian government. Sadly there were reported cases of racisms in Australia despite the wide range of immigrants and friendly policies that allowed immigration (Acker, 2007: 100).

In Australia, Racism takes the form of discrimination and use of abuse language to those discriminated. This act is against the Racial Discrimination Act (1975), which perceives racism as an illegal act that is punishable by law. Racism takes the form of discrimination on the grounds of color, race, country of origin, religion and immigrants refugees face discrimination (Smolicz, 1999:81).

The Aboriginal people faced discrimination during the migration and colonial days. Today there is a direct discrimination of those people who do not speak English like the Asians. In the early days there were schools that were meant for Europeans and those for native people. Today this is more seen in restaurant and entertainments sites where not all are welcome (Cornell & Hartmann, 1998:75).

Religious racism is seen among the minority religions in the county they include Buddhism and slam which form 2.1% and 1.7% of the population respectively. The majority over 70% are Christians of different denominations (Gladigau & Ben, 2007:157). There are only 57 mosques in the entire country. Islam’s centers and schools are limited to the mosque sites.

Refugees are not spared either, they are discriminated in terms of employment opportunities and face a hard time getting job permits to allow them get decent jobs in the country. They are reserved in camps and given food and other necessities from international bodies like the United Nations. For along time, Australia has been having racist policies entrenched in its laws.

The most obvious was the separation of the aboriginal children from their relatives and the denial of their right of citizenship. Likewise, the immigration policies were aimed at restricting immigrants from non-Europeans communities (Price, 1987: 205).

Dominant and Minor Cultures

With the increase in immigration rates, Australia has become a diverse society and expressions of racism have changed. The language used by racists and their attitude during the 19th century have become unacceptable although racism is still evident in other forms especially through the media. Presently, racism is based on nationality which is perceived to be unsuited to diversity.

Questions arise as to which population constitute the real Australian. The present form of racism is based on the national culture and all minor cultures are perceived as a menace to social unity.

The behaviors of the inferior groups of people are judged in respect to the culture of the dominant group and nay violation is punishable by law (National Multicultural Advisory Council, 1999: 3). The dominant group comprise of the British and the Europeans who were also the first settlers in Australia.

The attitude, way of life, and behaviors of the dominant groups are extensively discussed over the media because they are seen as being reasonable and common although they do not exhibit the cultural diversity that is evident in Australia. Through the media, ideologies concerning racism are articulated and later armored through group relations thereby forming a popular culture (Archaeo, 2003:2).

As the government takes measures to address the discrimination imposed on the minority group of people, racist beliefs are given first priority. the discrimination on the minority groups is seen as being positive and confirmatory measures are seen as partisan treatment of one group by another rather than harassment by a popular group of people.

For instance, the denial of land rights from the aboriginal attracts the exclusion of certain benefits for a specific group and bitterness towards the support given to the English speaking migrants. The racists hold the notion that, equity is the same as treating people in the same manner which is not supposed to be the case because people do not always have the same opportunities in life.

There is also the belief of reverse racism; this is a condition whereby the minority group is perceived to be discriminating the dominant group. In real sense, this is not feasible because, the minority group do have neither the power nor the opportunity to discriminate the dominant group; they are always the victims of racial discrimination in almost all institutions.

Negative Effects of Racism

Racism is a vice in society, it affects everyone and everything. It results in economic degradation as people are denied the right to work in the profession of their choice. It also destroys the cohesion in communities and member’s contribution is interfered with. It also damages peace and cooperation between different social groups.

Individual self-confidence and will power is destroyed denying them the opportunity to utilize their potential. It mostly affects children in their social development since they are exposed to cultures that are different from their parents and are also given limited opportunities in children.

For instance, in Australia, Family education which was commonly provided to the younger generation has been swept away and has been replaced with Europeans native education. The main purpose of introducing the native education was to get rid of the Aboriginal language, their cultural values and beliefs and the traditional way of life.

To do this, they ensured that the Aboriginals children were sent to schools which were many miles away from their homes and by the time they returned home none of them could communicate fluently in their mother tongues. Some of the children died in those schools while others were adopted by the Europeans (Anon. “Aboriginal people and cultural life”, 2010:5).

These children may grow with a lot of resentment towards the children of the popular group and may never learn to appreciate even when they grow up. Denying children their right to education is not only unjust but also destruction to economic development. Therefore racism results in a less productive economy that lacks cohesion among its members, this is not only damaging to the sufferers but to the society at large.

Cultural Rights and Racism

In Australia, the laws prohibit people from engaging in any racist acts and aims at protecting people who are suffering from racism. It is also illegal to discriminate any citizen on the ground of nationality, race, color, ethnic group, or religious background. Racial discrimination (in Australia) centers on employment, accommodation among other forms.

Racism includes both deliberate and indirect discrimination which are punishable by law. The law observes the right of the aboriginal and the other minority communities. It protects them from being abused and violated by the majority (Jupp, 2001:23).

However, the same law assumes that, the culture of the majority group should be adopted by other groups because it forms a basis for interaction. It is true that, these groups are given the cultural rights while at the same time they are expected to emulate the culture of the dominant group.

Australia is among the countries in the world that have diverse cultures. It also has a wide variety of multicultural rules that were developed many years ago by the government to cater for the diversity in cultures. Everyone is allowed to access government services which are provided for free and offered without discrimination.

This cultural diversity is also protected by a variety of human rights that are exercised by the state and federal government prohibiting discrimination on all ground. The Australian government is obliged to provide health care and education to all groups of people according to their cultural beliefs and in respect to human dignity (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2001:2).

However, Australia is faced by different challenges especially due to its diverse cultures. Some events that have occurred recently, for instance the September 11 bombing, prejudice against the Islamic communities are believed to be acts of racists.

The government recognizes the existence of the diverse groups in the country and respects their cultural rights. However, these people are not supposed to practice their cultural practices because it is seen as a violation of the law. The same rights form a basis of their discrimination which is rampant in the education and employment institutions. Every nation recognizes the existence of human rights of different cultures.

Even countries with high rates of slavery recognize the rights of the indigenous people. These people are enslaved although their rights are not violated. The same applies to Australia where we have human rights for the diverse cultures although they are not stipulated in the constitution.

Although these people are allowed to enjoy their rights, they do not in real sense enjoy them because the racists use the same rights to discriminate them.

Lack of inclusions of the rights of the indigenous people in the country’s constitution explains why these people will continue to suffer even if some laws are laid down to protect them. If a racist is convicted in a court of law, there is no basis for his prosecution because the rights are not clearly stated.


Racism affects people of all races, ethnicity, national origin and color. It has been happening in many countries especially the developed nations and Australian is not an exemption. In Australia, Racism started as early as the 19th century when the Europeans and British entered the country and gained control over its administrations.

Most of the racially discriminated populations are the Aboriginal people who have lived in the country long before civilization. Colonization and migration are believed to be the key factors behind racism in Australia. The country was going through periods of shortage of labor forcing it to accept immigrants from over the world to revive the economy.

This was not well accepted by the Europeans who had already gained control over everything including the media.

Colonization began and the aboriginal people were dispossessed off their land by the Europeans while the immigrants were discriminated against in the provision of goods and services, health care, education, and employment and were forced to live as peasants even though the had all it it would have taken them to live a comfortable life.

The Aboriginal people suffered in the hands of the Europeans and were also discriminated against. They were prohibited from participating in their cultural activities and the children separated from their families to be taught in the western curriculum. Recently, the government has been taking legal measures to protect these people from racism.

Leaders advocate for no racism and they are backed by law which makes discrimination an offence. The law recognizes the cultural rights of these people and gives them the right of speech, although the media still recognizes the dominant group whose culture forms the norm to be emulated by other cultures.

Despite the fact that, the government recognizes and appreciates the diverse cultures and allows them to enjoy their rights, it has not put strong measures to ensure that they are not discriminated against by the dominant group. These cultural rights are not included in the constitution making it hard for the minority groups to fight for their rights.

Reference List

Acker, E. 2007. Globalization and the politics of restructuring the Australian labor market Web.

Anon. 2010. Aboriginal people and cultural life. Environment, climate change and water government Web.

Archaeo., 2003. Australia colonized earlier than previously thought? Web.

Australian Human Rights Commission, 2001. Address on issues around racism in Australia Web.

Cornell, S. & Hartmann, D. 1998. Ethnicity and Race: Making Identities in a Changing World. Pine Forge Press, Thousand Oaks, California.

Gladigau, K. & Ben W. 2007. “Religious affiliation and moral conservatism in Australia and South Australia” Flinders Social Monitor (8). ISSN 1834-3783.

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, 1995. State of the Nation: A Report on People of Non-English Speaking Backgrounds, Federal Race Discrimination Commissioner, AGPS, Canberra.

Jupp, J. 2001. The Australian People: An Encyclopedia of the Nation, Its People and Their Origins. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) (2005). Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups (ASCRG), cat. no. 1266.0, ABS, Canberra.

Lack, J. and Templeton, J.1988. Sources of Australian immigration history Parkville, Vic: History Dept., University of Melbourne, Melbourne University history monographs.

National Multicultural Advisory Council, 1999. Australian Multiculturalism for a New Century: Towards Inclusiveness, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, ACT.

Price, C. 1987. “Chapter 1: Immigration and Ethnic Origin”. In Wray Vamplew (ed.). Australians: Historical Statistics. Broadway, New South Wales.

Smolicz, J. 1999. Countering Racism: On a voyage of discovery towards human rights, conference paper presented at the Tolerance or Respect? Countering Racism Seminar. Adelaide: South Australian Department of Education, Training and Employment.

Terrill, R. 2000. The Australians: The Way We Live Now, 2nd ed; Sydney: Doubleday.

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