Racism in Australia – a covert story

Last week a girlfriend, Kris (pictured above with daughter, Bella), came over to my house with her two kids for a play date.  Now, to give you a bit of necessary background Kris is a white 4th generation Australian, her husband is originally from Zimbabwe and has been an Australian citizen for 10 years. They have two kids, 3 year old Bella, and 1.5 year old Marley who were both born and bred in Australia.

During our catch up Kris told me of a recent experience shopping with her kids where a complete stranger came up to her out of the blue, pointed at her kids, and asked, ‘where did you get them from?’.  Kris quipped back that she got them on sale at Big W and walked off.

I couldn’t help but laugh at her quick wit but this stopped fast when she explained that these ignorant comments happen almost every single time she goes out alone with her kids.

People, lots of them, all the time, from all different age groups, but mainly white Australians have randomly approached her in front of her kids and ask where she adopted them from,  or how long she’s had them for, or where their parents are.

The worst bit is Bella is getting old enough to question why people are asking her mummy these things.   She wants to know why people don’t think Kris is her mummy.  She wants to know if she has other parents and where are they.  She wants to know why people are being mean to her mummy.

Mind you, this never happens when the kids are out with their dad.  Or when the four of them are all out together as a family.

So, if this is happening nearly every time Kris goes out with her kids, then this must be happening to other parents in the same situation.

This is what we call racism!  And it seems to be everywhere!!

Of course it is not what you would coin, ‘overt racism’, but more of the ‘covert’ type.  Covert in that it has a cover story, an alibi, plausible deniability.  The act itself is practised openly, but the racism is covert.

This is where people are judging others based on racial categorisation or profiling.

“Well of course, if a white woman is with darker skinned children, then she must have adopted them from some third world country. I wasn’t being racist, I was just asking out of interest”

I would put money on the fact that these people approaching Kris would deny that they are racist. What they don’t realise, is these daily negative racial comments potentially have a harmful or unpleasant psychological impact on the target person, or in this case, the family.  Racism can make people feel that they don’t belong in Australia, even if they were born here or their ancestors have lived in Australia for centuries.

Covert racism represents an evolutionary form of racism, one that has sprung from changing social norms that have made racism something that most people want to deny practising.  It is socially unacceptable to be a racist.  But pretty much only in its overt form.

Racism is not just disliking an entire race or reactively negatively to them, it is also this subtle or casual racism that we need to make socially unacceptable and put a stop to.  A comment, joke or action doesn’t need to be intentionally hurtful to be racist. Understanding this requires us ALL to evaluate our words or behaviours by their outcomes, rather than simply their intention.


Do you believe there is a presence of covert racism in Australia? Have you been a victim of covert racism?  If you have, how you have handled it? 

Please feel free to comment but note all racist comments will be deleted