Racism is a serious global health issue – to which we all need to pay attention


By now, most Australians – and indeed, people around the world – have probably seen the stomach-churning cartoon published by The Australian earlier this month. Frustratingly, in 2016, people like Bill Leak still have racist work published by widely-read newspapers.


Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion, Aboriginal leaders, and countless outraged groups and individuals have condemned the cartoon. For most people, it’s frustrating that racism is still present in 2016. Unfortunately, the fact is that racism is prevalent. A huge portion of the population, in fact, experience racism in their everyday lives.


It’s hard to believe our society is progressive when we’re confronted with material like the Leak cartoon. I spoke to Yin Paradies, Professor of Race Relations at Deakin University, to find out how racism presents in Australia in the 21st century – and how we might go about solving it.


First of all: how do you define racial prejudice?


Yin defines racism as unfair, avoidable conditions and actions which result in inequalities between different races, cultures, ethnicities and/or religions.


“Racial prejudice leads to inequalities between different groups within society,” Yin explains. “These disparities mean marginalised people experience social, economic and physical hardships – which have a direct, negative effect on their health.”


Why is racism such a massive global health issue?


Yin describes living conditions, societal systems and global resources – or lack thereof – that create inequality as drivers of global health.


“Racism means opportunities, resources and capabilities can be unfairly impacted for those who experience prejudice,” he explains. “This is extremely detrimental to mental and physical health – high blood pressure, PTSD, anxiety and depression are commonplace amongst those who experience racial prejudice.”


How does racism present in Australia today?


Have you ever had to go out of your way to feel safer? Take the longer route home because the quickest path is risky, even in broad daylight? For a staggering amount of aboriginal Australians, this is part of everyday life. Up to around 30–40% have reported avoiding public transport and shopping centres for fear of racial discrimination.


“Of course, this reduces the ability to be healthy, happy and easily achieve things that many of us take for granted,” says Yin.


What’s more, experiences of racism are complex. Anecdotal evidence suggests:

  • men are more likely to harbour racist attitudes than women.
  • men experience more racism from police, while women experience more racism in the workplace and  public spaces.
  • Muslim women experience and Sikh men are more likely to experience racial prejudice than most.
  • racially-motivated violence affects men more than women.


When people are excluded and marginalised simply because of their race, what does this mean for society?


It may come as no surprise that victims of racism experience severe health issues as a direct result of discrimination. But one thing that might be shocking to hear is the economic cost of racism: A recent study has found that racism actually costs the Australian economy $38 billion annually.


“Street violence, increased alcohol consumption, smoking, little exercise, poor quality of sleep, hypervigilance, anxiety – these come at a cost not just to the individual, but to society,” says Yin. “10–20% of Australians have reported experiencing racism – so of course the health-related costs are going to be incredibly high. And with global changes such as Brexit, fear of terrorism and anti-immigration, we can only expect this to climb unless we do something about it.”


“What’s more, when racist attitudes are so prominent, we also miss out on the benefits of cultural diversity – the creativity, innovation and richness of culture that we would get from a harmonious society.”


Hear from Yin at Global Ideas Forum 2016


Yin wants to encourage people at GIF16 to question the foundations of racism and discuss ways in which we can work towards ending racial prejudice. Specifically, he’ll speak about:

  • diversity of toys and books, and the cognitive abilities of 8–10 year olds to understand complex ideas.
  • education and diversity training in the workplace
  • interculturalization
  • what cyber-racism looks like.


“Did racism exist in antiquity?” he asks. “Evidence suggests not – it’s more likely that 15th century colonisation is to blame. That means racial prejudice has been around for a short time in relation to the history of society – so I like to think that means we can solve this problem. And I certainly believe we can expect sustained improvements over the coming decades – if we put in the effort.”


Yin Paradies conducts interdisciplinary research on the health, social and economic effects of racism as well as anti-racism theory, policy and practice. If you’re interested in hearing him speak at GIF16, head over to Eventbrite to get your ticket!


By lucy godwin, Communications Manager