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What’s the cost of racism in Australia?

What’s the cost of racism in Australia?

Professor Yin Paradies, Alfred Deakin Professor of Race Relations and Indigenous Knowledges and Cultures Coordinator, discusses the economic cost of racism in Australia for ADI Insights.

Professor Paradies began his research career at 17 years old as an Indigenous cadet at the Australian Bureau of Statistics at the Centre for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Statistics. It was here that some of the first comprehensive reporting on Aboriginal health was initiated, creating the basis for campaigns like ‘Close the Gap’.

Much of Professor Paradies’ research in recent years has been concerned with the impacts of racism on health, as well as the social and economic impacts.

“We know that racism is bad for your health. Essentially it’s a form of stress for people that impacts mostly on their mental health, as well as their physical health,” Professor Paradies said, “When people have trouble getting housing or a job or have less return on their education because of racism, these impact indirectly on their health.”

“We calculated that racism costs almost $38 billion per year due to the health impacts.”

To calculate this figure, Professor Paradies and his team determined the ‘level’ of racism there was using surveys that measured the prevalence of racism in Australia or how much racism people experienced. They averaged out these figures, and then used international and Australian evidence to determine how much racism contributes to health issues like anxiety or depression and the relative cost of those negative health outcomes. Multiplying these figures was able to give them the rough idea of how much racism costs our country every year.

But Professor Paradies isn’t pessimistic about the state of race relations within Australia.

“Australians are supportive of multiculturalism and immigration generally. 80 per cent or so think that it’s good that Australia is culturally diverse. But what we do have is a lot of people who are worried about cultural change and an “Australian way of life”. They feel that some racial and cultural groups don’t fit in to Australia or are a threat to an Australian society or way of life.”

“About 30 or 40 per cent of Australians have those concerns or those negative views of some cultural groups, and probably about 10 per cent of Australians have much stronger racist attitudes where they think that, for example, some races are superior to others or people of different races shouldn’t intermarry.”

“So race relations are complex, and we do have a strong positive sentiment towards difference and race but also some concerns and some more extreme attitudes in a small percentage of the population.”

Professor Paradies was awarded Deakin University’s first Discovery Indigenous grant from the Australian Research Council in 2017, ‘Beyond recognition: Postcolonial relationality across difference’, with Dr Sam Balaton-Chrimes and Dr Victoria Stead.

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“Our project on recognition centers around the question of how indigenous and non-Indigenous people relate to each other, and in particular, how Indigenous people might seek recognition, or in some cases refuse it. We don’t assume recognition is a good thing – some Indigenous people don’t want or need recognition from the Australian government as they see it as an illegitimate colonial power. But others do, and see that in the Recognise campaign. Our project is interested in how recognition shapes the way Indigenous and non-Indigenous people relate to each other, and how those relationships impact provisioning of rights, representation, advancing indigenous interests, and other related provisions,” Professor Paradies said.

“The project focuses on three countries, Australia, Kenya and Papua New Guinea, which you might not think are very related to one another.”

“But all of these countries have their own particular indigenous groups and their own individual histories of colonialism. In Papua New Guinea, for example, indigenous people are the majority but there’s a history of colonialism and colonisation between Australia and PNG. In Australia, we’re obviously focusing on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their connection to new developments such as constitutional recognition and treaty negotiations. And in Kenya, there are lots of different Indigenous ethnic groups, and whether or not a group is considered by the Kenyan government and Kenyan society as Indigenous has a big impact on their access to rights and resources. A lot of this depends on how they were classified by the British colonial government. When international organisations want to work in Kenya, they often have difficulty making sense of these inter-ethnic relations. We’re interested in how Kenyans and international organisations work through these kinds of issues.”

“What we’re trying to understand broadly is the recent moves by indigenous people in how they want to be treated and how they want to interact with governments in particular, but also multinationals and large corporations and organisations. Part of it is about being recognised in certain ways, but then part of it is actually about refusing to be recognised in certain ways, saying ‘we don’t want to be part of mainstream society’, or ‘we want to change the way this relationship is working’.”

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