Is Australia a Racist Country?

I have asked this question my entire adult life.

And with the Black Lives Matter movement being the equal biggest topic on the planet today, it seems apposite to ask the question again?

Are we racist?

It’s a complicated question with a complicated answer, so I’ll try my best to be honest (as a middle-aged, white male) and express what I really believe to be my own position.

YES, I am racist to the extent that I recognise people of other races being different from me.

NO, I am not racist to the extent that the difference, although I can’t help but acknowledge it, does not matter to me.

Of course, the issues are far more complex than just that, but I suspect my top-of-head response to my own question would be the same for more than 50% of mainstream Australia.

Now for the complexity…

We live in a really lucky country.

Australia has only a teensy population by world standards (25 million) but we’re the 12th or 13th biggest economy. That’s a huge amount of money being shared by only a very privileged few. Sure, many Australians don’t feel wealthy, but if you’ve got a job in Australia – any job – you would comfortably make it into the top 0.4% of wealth on the planet.

Holidays are your right. International travel is possible for you. You enjoy leisure time, political rights, free medical care (of the highest quality there is), ease and freedom of movement, freedom of association, freedom to be rich (if you earn it). You can have a car, you can buy a house (or at least rent a really good one), you are connected to the internet, watch movies and sport on your television, have clean water, longevity and can boldly walk the streets at night in comparative safety.

Unless you’re indigenous.

The plight of our Aboriginal men, women and children is a disgrace. We all know it, but we don’t deal with it – not enough of us.

That’s why we shrug our shoulders and let the status quo continue. Our First Nation people are massively unemployed, uneducated, unsupported, under-resourced, over-represented in the prison population, ghetto communities, bad health and death statistics and generally non-existent as a middle class.

That’s why I think we’re a racist country because we all know about this, but we don’t take the hard decisions to redress the imbalance of 250 years.

Certainly we’re alright at making symbolic gestures, like Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generation, but where did that go? What did it really mean?

Or the Bridge Walk. I was there that day, and it truly felt like the start of a change. But nothing has changed.

As a lawyer, I’ve struggled with the idea of Constitutional recognition of our First Nation, because a Constitution surely needs to treat all people equally.

But I’ve changed my mind. We haven’t done enough to treat all people equally under the current Constitution so clearly it’s not adequate for the needs of all Australians.

If real Constitutional change is what it takes to redress the imbalance then that’s what needs to happen.

First Nation people make up approximately 3% of the Australian population. In a truly equal society that would mean 1 in every 33 households, on any street, would identify as Aboriginal. We are a really long way from that statistic being realistic, but to my mind – that’s the challenge.

And it won’t be made any easier by the conservatives among us who want to protect the homogeneity of the socio-cultural mix within their neighbourhoods and work places.

So often, when I raise these ideas in conversation with other white Australians I am confronted with the old arguments about how well “the blacks” do from government hand outs and other “bullshit positive discrimination that white people don’t get”.

My response is always: ‘What would you rather be in Australia…black or white?’

‘Shut up, smartarse!’ is the usual reply.


  1. I love this piece Adrian. Recognition of Australia’s first people, in the Australian Constitution is a no brainer to me and it continually perplexes me that it’s a topic for debate.

    • Thanks Kathryn, recognition is a no brainer but something more than just recognition is warranted, I think.

      • Couldn’t agree more!

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