Racism is harmful to human rights and health

In the run up to International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on 9 August, our Indigenous Rights Campaigner Roxanne Moore looks at the human rights and health consequences of racism.

Racist attacks on Adam Goodes

Racism is not only a violation of human rights, but it has serious health consequences. We have seen the very real impact of racism recently with the experience of Aboriginal footballer Adam Goodes.

In 2013, Goodes suffered backlash in media coverage and from the public for speaking out against being called “an ape” by a young spectator. More recently, Goodes was criticised after celebrating his culture by doing a war-cry after kicking a goal during the AFL Indigenous Round. After he spoke out about this event, and teammate Lewis Jetta also did the war-cry in support, football crowds steadily increased their booing of Goodes.

Goodes was shamed for exercising his rights to be free from racial hatred and to practice and promote understanding of his culture. These rights are protected under international law, and people are protected from racial hatred in Australian law under section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. No one should be targeted, publicly shamed or intimidated for speaking out against racism or for expressing their cultural identity.

No one should be targeted, publicly shamed or intimidated for speaking out against racism or for expressing their cultural identity.

Goodes has been the target of continued public racial vilification. Any Indigenous person can tell you why the “ape” comment is offensive: our mob used to be officially classified as “flora and fauna”, considered “less evolved” and not counted in the census, a history reflected in continuing prejudice about Indigenous people being “primitive”. The outrage against the war-cry was clearly racially motivated; a reaction to Goodes’ public expression of cultural identity and pride.

Racism and health

The booing eventually reached a level where it had a humiliating and intimidating impact Goodes, leading to him taking time away from the game.

There are serious consequences for those experiencing racism, including poor physical and mental health. Indigenous people who experience discrimination are more likely to be in poor health, and engage in substance abuse, which is also a risk factor for Indigenous involvement in the justice system.

Indigenous people who experience discrimination are more likely to be in poor health, and engage in substance abuse, which is also a risk factor for Indigenous involvement in the justice system.

Over half the number of Indigenous people who experience discrimination also experience psychological distress, which increases the more a person is exposed to racism. These high levels of stress lead to obesity, chronic disease, and, sadly, suicide.

What needs to happen

To tackle racism, Australia must fulfill its international obligations to protect against racial hatred, to promote understanding and harmony between cultures.

But we also need to have some honest and uncomfortable conversations with each other, as Australians, about what racism actually is. A beyondblue study found that almost half of those surveyed did not recognise moving away from an Indigenous person when they sit near them as an act of discrimination and 1 in 10 did not recognise direct examples like verbal abuse as an act of discrimination.

To tackle racism, Australia must fulfill its international obligations to protect against racial hatred, to promote understanding and harmony between cultures.

We must continue to condemn and eradicate racism for many reasons: for the protection of the continually violated rights of Indigenous people; for the health of so many Indigenous people who experience racism; for Indigenous children’s pride in identity and culture; and for the healing of our nation.

Amnesty International has signed a joint statement in support of Adam Goodes, along with 150 organisations, to call for renewed efforts to stamp out racism in sport and everyday life.

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Roxanne Moore, Indigenous Rights Campaigner