Mental Health Impacts of Racial Discrimination in Victorian Aboriginal Communities - The Localities Embracing and Accepting Diversity (LEAD) ...

Mental Health Impacts of Racial Discrimination in Victorian Aboriginal Communities - The Localities Embracing and Accepting Diversity (LEAD) ...
Mental Health Impacts of
Racial Discrimination
in Victorian Aboriginal
The Localities Embracing and Accepting
Diversity (LEAD) Experiences of Racism Survey

                               Angeline Ferdinand, Yin Paradies and Margaret Kelaher
Mental Health Impacts of Racial Discrimination in Victorian Aboriginal Communities - The Localities Embracing and Accepting Diversity (LEAD) ...
‘The colour of my skin might be different but inside
I’m the same as you’ by Heidi Knowles, a descendant of the
Yorta Yorta tribe from Cummeragunja, Victoria

About the Artwork
‘The two Longneck Turtles in the painting represent Peace and
Harmony, while the People represent those on whom the research
was based. They are surrounded by Spirit Figures, which represent the
different nationalities living in the community, and if you look inside
these figures you will see that each one has the same insides but
different coloured skin. This means that no matter what the colour of
your skin, inside we are all exactly the same and bleed the same colour.’
Mental Health Impacts of Racial Discrimination in Victorian Aboriginal Communities - The Localities Embracing and Accepting Diversity (LEAD) ...
Mental Health Impacts of
Racial Discrimination
in Victorian Aboriginal
The Localities Embracing and Accepting
Diversity (LEAD) Experiences of Racism Survey

                    Angeline Ferdinand, Yin Paradies and Margaret Kelaher
Mental Health Impacts of Racial Discrimination in Victorian Aboriginal Communities - The Localities Embracing and Accepting Diversity (LEAD) ...
© The Lowitja Institute and the individual authors

ISBN 978-1-921889-22-6

First published in January 2013

This work is copyright. It may be reproduced in whole or in part for study or training
purposes, or by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community organisations subject to
an acknowledgment of the source and no commercial use or sale. Reproduction for other
purposes or by other organisations requires the written permission of the copyright holder(s).
The project on which this report is based has been funded by the Lowitja Institute, which
incorporates the Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health.

Additional copies of this publication can be obtained from:
The Lowitja Institute
PO Box 650, Carlton South
Victoria 3053 AUSTRALIA
T: +61 3 8341 5555
F: +61 3 8341 5599

Authors: Angeline Ferdinand1, Yin Paradies2 and Margaret Kelaher1
Managing Editor: Jane Yule
CRCATSIH Program Manager: Vanessa Harris
Artwork: ‘The colour of my skin might be different but inside I’m the same as you’ by Heidi Knowles
Design: Inprint Design

For citation: Ferdinand, A., Paradies, Y. & Kelaher, M. 2012, Mental Health Impacts of Racial Discrimination in Victorian
Aboriginal Communities: The Localities Embracing and Accepting Diversity (LEAD) Experiences of Racism Survey, The
Lowitja Institute, Melbourne.

Please note: For the purposes of this report, the term ‘Aboriginal’ has been used to denote Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander peoples.
    Centre for Health Policy, Programs & Economics, School of Population Health, The University of Melbourne (;
    Centre for Citizenship and Globalisation, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University (
Table of Contents                                                       iii

Acknowledgments                                                      iv
Executive Summary                                                    1
   Experiences of racism                                             1
   Mental health Impacts of experiences of racism                    1
   Implications                                                      1

Background                                                           2
   The Localities Embracing and Accepting Diversity (LEAD) Program   2
   Contextual background                                             2
       Definitions and concepts                                      2
       Cultural diversity in Australia                               3
       Racism and health                                             3
   Purpose of the survey                                             4

Survey Methods                                                       5
    Survey administration                                            5
    Survey structure                                                 5
         Demographic items                                           5
         Experiences of racism                                       5
         Mental health                                               6
    Data analysis                                                    7

Results                                                               8
   Demographic data                                                   8
   Sense of belonging                                                 9
   Experiences of racism                                              9
        Interpersonal racism: Types and frequencies of experiences    9
        Interpersonal racism: Settings                               10
        Perpetrators                                                 11
        Responses to interpersonal racism                            11
        Factors affecting experiences of interpersonal racism        12
        Internalised racism                                          14
        Mental health and racism                                     14

Discussion                                                           19
    Prevalence and nature of racism experienced                      19
    Settings where racism was experienced                            19
    Racism and mental health                                         21
    Responses to racism                                              21
    Limitations                                                      22
    Implications                                                     23

Conclusions                                                          24
   Strategies for change                                             24

References                                                           25
Appendix 1. Statistics                                               30
Appendix 2. Experiences of Racism survey items                       33
List of Tables and Figures
     Table 1:     Demographic data                                                                          8
     Table 2:     Item regarding sense of belonging to local area/neighbourhood                             9
     Table 3:     Witnessing racism                                                                         9
     Table 4:     Experiences of racism by demographic characteristics                                     13
     Table 5:     Item regarding internalised racism                                                       14
     Table 6:     Items from the Kessler 5 Psychological Distress Scale                                    15
     Table 7:     Items regarding anticipation, worrying and avoidance                                     18
     Table 8:     Items regarding perceived impact of racism                                               18

     Figure 1:    Experiences of racism in past 12 months                                                  10
     Figure 2:    Settings of racist experiences in past 12 months                                         10
     Figure 3:    Participant responses to interpersonal racism                                            11
     Figure 4:    Number of different responses used in reaction to last reported experience               12
     Figure 5:    Experiences of racism by setting and university education                                14
     Figure 6:    Experiences of racism and mean K5 score                                                  15
     Figure 7:    Experiences of racism and being above the threshold for high or very high
                  psychological distress on the K5                                                         16
     Figure 8:    Types of experiences and odds of being above the threshold for high or very
                  high psychological distress on the K5 adjusted for frequency of exposure                 16
     Figure 9:    Settings of experiences and odds of being above the threshold for high or
                  very high psychological distress on the K5                                               17
     Figure 10:   Responses to last experience and odds of finding the experience stressful
                  or very stressful                                                                        17

     This report is based on research from the project   program and beyondblue, Australia’s peak body
     ‘Understanding and addressing racism against        for mental health issues. The Experiences of
     Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians   Racism survey was carried out as part of these two
     through the LEAD (Localities Embracing and          interrelated projects. The report authors are part of
     Accepting Diversity) program’ funded by the         the University of Melbourne LEAD evaluation team.
     Lowitja Institute, Australia’s National Institute   We would like to thank the community workers
     for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health    for their invaluable support in administering the
     Research, which incorporates the Cooperative        surveys. We would also like to thank Peter Streker
     Research Centre for Aboriginal and Torres Strait    and Pamela Rodriguez from VicHealth for their
     Islander Health. The LEAD program is funded         support and advice in compiling this report, as
     by the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation        well as Anna Ziersch and Donna Cormack for
     (VicHealth), the Department of Immigration and      reviewing the report.
     Citizenship (DIAC) through its Diverse Australia

Executive Summary                                                                                        1

We surveyed 755 Aboriginal Australians in four          of exposure into account. The items ‘felt left
communities across Victoria in 2011.                    out and avoided because you are Aboriginal’
                                                        and ‘having property vandalised because you
• Aboriginal people were asked about their
                                                        are Aboriginal’ were associated with being
  background, experiences of racism and where
                                                        above the threshold for high or very high
  they occurred, response strategies and the
                                                        psychological distress. Racism experienced
  impact of racism on anxiety, mental distress
                                                        while seeking housing or dealing with real
  (measured using the K5 scale for psychological
                                                        estate personnel and on public transport was
  distress) and behaviour and the impact of racism
                                                        significantly associated with being above the
  on their family and community.
                                                        threshold for high or very high psychological
• The surveys were conducted in consultation            distress on the K5.
  with local communities and the data were
                                                     • Accepting racism or just putting up with it
  collected by local Aboriginal interviewers in
                                                       was associated with greater stress. Making
  each community.
                                                       a legal complaint was also associated with
                                                       higher levels of stress although this association
Experiences of racism                                  is potentially more likely to be due to more
                                                       severe experiences of racism than the effects
• Almost every Aboriginal Victorian who
                                                       of making a complaint.
  participated in this survey had experienced
  racism in the previous 12 months.                  • Talking to others about racism reduced the
                                                       stress associated with experiences of racism.
• Most people had experienced racism multiple
  times, with more than 70 per cent experiencing     • Thirty per cent of respondents reported
  eight or more incidents a year.                      avoiding situations in daily life because of
                                                       racism often or very often. This suggests that
• Racism occurred across a broad range of
                                                       rates of racism would otherwise be much
  settings. It was most commonly experienced in
                                                       higher than reported here.
  shops (67%) and public spaces (59%).
                                                     • This method of coping restricts opportunities
• There were no differences in experiences of
                                                       for Aboriginal Australians to participate in
  racism due to gender, age or rurality.
                                                       activities that many other Australians take for
• There were differences in experiences                granted.
  of racism due to education, with people
                                                     • Many participants were also worried about the
  educated at Year 12 or above reporting more
                                                       impact of racism on their families and friends.
  experiences of racism compared to people
  with lower levels of education.
Mental health impacts of experiences                 • The mental health of Aboriginal Australians
                                                       can be improved if they are exposed to fewer
of racism                                              incidents of interpersonal racism.
• Fifty per cent of all participants and 65 per
                                                     • Prevention is likely to be a more effective
  cent of participants exposed to 12 or more
                                                       and efficient public health intervention than
  incidents reported experiencing high or very
                                                       responding to harmful incidents.
  high levels of psychological distress.
                                                     • Interventions targeting organisational and
• There was a dose effect – that is, the risk
                                                       community settings are needed to reduce
  of high or very high levels of psychological
                                                       racism because of the high frequency of
  distress increased as the volume of racism
                                                       experiences of racism in these settings.
                                                     • Effective anti-racism measures need to be
• Some types of racism seemed to be more
                                                       implemented to reduce racism.
  harmful than others even taking frequency
2 Background

  The Localities Embracing and                            economic participation, specifically by working with
  Accepting Diversity (LEAD) Program                      mainstream organisations in order to prevent race-
                                                          based discrimination from occurring and to promote
  In 2007, the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation      the benefits of cultural diversity. VicHealth research
  (VicHealth) published data from a survey of 4000        has found that this is the best way to reduce
  Victorians in the report More than tolerance:           discrimination and support diversity. By taking this
  Embracing diversity for health.1 The findings show      approach, LEAD aims to have a wide reach in the
  that although most Victorians supported society         community to generate long-lasting cultural change.
  being made up of people from different cultures,
  a small number (around 1 in 10) held views that are     LEAD is a pilot program that works with local
  blatantly racist (e.g. the notion that some groups      governments to build fair and welcoming
  are inferior to others or that people from different    communities and to prevent discrimination and
  ‘races’ should not marry), while a substantial          support cultural diversity within local communities
  minority (around 1 in 3) held attitudes suggestive      and organisations. It is being implemented in
  of intolerance of ethnic difference (e.g. the belief    two Victorian municipalities with assistance from
  that there are groups that do not fit into Australian   the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human
  society, or resistance to people retaining what         Rights Commission (VEOHRC), the Department of
  makes them culturally distinctive).                     Immigration and Citizenship through its Diverse
                                                          Australia program, beyondblue, Australia’s
  The Localities Embracing and Accepting Diversity        peak body for mental health, and the Municipal
  (LEAD) program was developed by VicHealth in            Association of Victoria (MAV).
  response to the More than tolerance findings,
  and comprises a coordinated range of actions
  within a specific locality. The design of the LEAD      Contextual background
  program is underpinned by Building on our               Definitions and concepts
  strengths: A framework to reduce race-based
  discrimination and support diversity in Victoria,2      Racism can be broadly defined as the types of
  and is being implemented in partnership with            behaviours, practices, beliefs and prejudices that
  local councils.                                         underlie avoidable and unfair inequalities across
                                                          groups in society based on race, ethnicity, culture
  In this report we examine exposure to interpersonal     or religion. Race-based discrimination is those
  racism and its impacts on the mental health of          behaviours and practices that result in avoidable
  Aboriginal Australians in four communities in           and unfair inequalities across groups in society.2
  Victoria using baseline survey data collected           This definition encompasses not only racial violence
  as part of the LEAD program evaluation. The             or illegal forms of discrimination, but subtle forms
  Experiences of Racism survey is part of the Lowitja     of exclusion as well.
  Institute-funded project, ‘Understanding and
  addressing racism against Aboriginal and Torres         Racism can occur at three conceptual levels,
  Strait Islander Australians through the LEAD            which overlap in practice:
  program’. This project was developed to add an          • interpersonal racism (i.e. racist interactions
  enhanced Aboriginal perspective to the broader            between people);
  LEAD program of work by ensuring that those
  components of concern to Aboriginal communities         • internalised racism (i.e. the incorporation
  are implemented appropriately and that the benefit        of ideologies within the worldview of an
  of LEAD is maximised for communities, mainstream          individual who experiences racism which
  policy makers and service providers with potential        results in the unequal distribution of power
  to impact positively on Aboriginal affairs.               between racial, ethnic, cultural or religious
                                                            groups); and
  The overall objectives of LEAD are to improve
  health outcomes and reduce anxiety and                  • systemic or institutional racism (i.e. formal
  depression among Aboriginal and migrant                   policies, practices, processes and conditions that
  communities through increased social and                  serve to increase power differentials between
                                                            racial, ethnic, cultural or religious groups).3, 4
Racism can be direct (or overt) or indirect (covert    Federal government issued a formal apology to
or hidden). Direct racism is based in differential     Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over
treatment that results in an unequal distribution      the forced removal of their children in 2008.5,6
of power, resources or opportunities across
                                                       In 1972 the Federal government introduced
different groups, such as a refusal to hire people
                                                       the policy of self-determination for Aboriginal
from a particular ethnic group. Indirect racism is
                                                       Australians, which was based on the rights of
equal treatment that impacts groups differently
                                                       Aboriginal people to maintain their cultural
and, therefore, results in an unequal distribution
                                                       and linguistic heritage and natural resources on
of power, resources or opportunities across
                                                       Australian land.5,6 However, despite the evolution
different groups. An example of indirect racism
                                                       of government policy towards the support of
is a policy that requires all employees to have
                                                       cultural diversity, the social changes necessary
their head uncovered while working: although the
                                                       to eliminate racist attitudes, actions and beliefs
policy is the same for all employees, it adversely
                                                       within individuals, and policies and processes
affects the opportunities of those who wear head
                                                       within organisations and institutions, are complex
coverings for religious or traditional reasons.2
                                                       and develop slowly.

Cultural diversity in Australia                        The relationship between Aboriginal and other
                                                       Australians has been heavily impacted by racist
From the early days of European settlement             practice over many years and there continues to be
in Australia in 1788, racism against Aboriginal        a need to address both the effects of past racism
people took the form of murder, exploitation and       and ongoing forms of discrimination. In 2010
the dispossession of Aboriginal people’s land          the University of Western Sydney’s ‘Challenging
and culture. The requirement or expectation that       Racism Project’ reported that although a large
minority ethnic, cultural or religious groups should   majority of Australians are positive about living in
strive to become culturally indistinguishable from     a multicultural country, 41 per cent have a narrow
the majority population is an approach called          view of who belongs in Australia.8 The ‘Challenging
‘assimilation.’ By contrast, ‘multiculturalism’ is a   Racism Project’ echoed More than Tolerance in
policy that sees the retention of cultural, social     finding that approximately one in 10 Australians
and linguistic distinctions as a private matter,       hold blatantly racist views. Although more difficult
rather than being controlled by government. In         to establish, there is also evidence of ongoing
1937, the Federal government developed an              systemic discrimination in Australia, including
official policy of assimilation towards Aboriginal     within health care settings and in responding to
Australians, detailing that Aboriginal people          issues of child services.2,9,10
of mixed descent were to be assimilated into
white society regardless of individuals’ desires
                                                       Racism and health
while confining those not of mixed descent to
Aboriginal reserves. This policy led to the further    The link between poorer physical and mental
destruction of Aboriginal culture, families and        health and self-reported perceptions or
social structures, segregationist practices and the    experiences of racism is well documented.11–14
removal of Aboriginal children from their families     Racism can affect mental health in several
and Aboriginal people from their land.5, 6             ways. In particular, there is a risk that targets of
                                                       racism will develop a range of mental health
The denial of full citizenship rights to Aboriginal
                                                       problems such as anxiety and depression.11,14,15
and Torres Strait Islander people continued
                                                       Racism is understood to have a negative impact
until the Constitutional amendment of 1967,
                                                       on health for a number of reasons, including
which allowed for Aboriginal people to be
                                                       restricting access to resources required for health,
counted in the census and empowered the
                                                       stress and negative emotions having harmful
Federal government to legislate for Aboriginal
                                                       psychological and physiological effects, and injury
people. In 1969 all States repealed legislation
                                                       through racially motivated assault.2 People may
that had allowed the systematic forcible
                                                       experience anxiety when anticipating that they
removal of Aboriginal children under the
                                                       may be subject to racism in specific settings,
policy of ‘protection.’ However, the decades
                                                       and past experiences of racism may cause social
of removal and displacement of families and
                                                       isolation of both individuals and communities that
the institutionalisation of Aboriginal people
                                                       might in turn contribute to mental disorders. In
on reserves and missions continues to have
                                                       some cases, it may be that the racist experiences
long-standing effects, including the loss of
                                                       themselves do not contribute directly to poorer
cultural knowledge and Aboriginal identity
and attenuation of family relationships.7 The
                                                       health, but are mediated by other factors along        3
the pathway. For example, if an individual              Purpose of the survey
    experiences racism that prevents them from
                                                            The Experiences of Racism survey attempted
    finding adequate employment, the resultant
                                                            to understand Victorian Aboriginal community
    un- or underemployment may then contribute to
                                                            members’ self-reported experiences of
    poorer health outcomes. There is also evidence
                                                            interpersonal, systemic and internalised
    that responses to racism may mediate the
                                                            racism, their responses and reactions to these
    relationship between experiencing racism and
                                                            experiences and the association between these
    poorer mental and physical health.16
                                                            experiences and measures of psychological
    There is clear evidence that Aboriginal Australians     distress. The survey was developed in conjunction
    experience substantially lower levels of health in      with the LEAD program evaluation and
    comparison to the wider Australian population,          administered as part of baseline data collection
    including a reduced life expectancy of 11.5 years       at the beginning of the LEAD program. The two
    for males and 9.7 years for females.17 This has         rural and two metropolitan local government
    led to a number of studies examining racism             areas (LGAs) surveyed have been de-identified
    as a determinant of ill health in Aboriginal            in this report in order to protect the affected
    Australians.18–24 Collectively, these studies support   communities. The surveyed LGAs were selected
    the correlation between experiencing racism             as areas that had a high level of racial and ethnic
    and poorer mental and physical health outcomes          diversity in which the local council recognised
    for Aboriginal Australians. The studies also            racism as a concern in the community and
    address factors that may mediate the relationship       demonstrated both a capacity and commitment
    between experiencing racism and ill-health,             to addressing it. Selection was not due to
    including stress and social disconnectedness.           particularly high levels of racism in comparison to
    Many of these studies aim to develop an                 other Victorian communities.
    understanding of how racism is experienced
    by Aboriginal Australians, including specifying
    details around incident settings, perpetrators
    and individual responses in order to assist in
    developing appropriate and effective approaches
    to support the health of Aboriginal Australians.25

Survey Methods                                                                                             5

Aboriginal participants in the Experiences of          (K6) questionnaire to assess psychological distress
Racism surveys were aged 18 years or older and         in response to feedback from the community.
lived within Rural Council 1 (n=313), Metropolitan     Only items that were included on all surveys are
Council 1 (n=90), Metropolitan Council 2 (n=57) or     presented in this report.
Rural Council 2 (n=295) for at least one year.

                                                       Survey structure
Survey administration                                  Demographic items
In each area, four (Metropolitan Council 1 and
                                                       The survey began with demographic questions,
Rural Council 2) or five (Rural Council 1 and
                                                       including age, gender, education and whether
Metropolitan Council 2) Aboriginal workers
                                                       the participant was Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait
were recruited to administer the surveys. The
                                                       Islander. Although a range of other factors such as
recruitment process included a consultation
                                                       existing chronic conditions and socio-economic
phase with relevant stakeholder groups in each
                                                       status can also be associated with health
council. This process was used to identify the
                                                       outcomes, these were not measured in the survey
most appropriate way of recruiting community
                                                       as it was believed that inclusion of additional
interviewers and to develop data governance
                                                       items would lead to an overly long survey and
protocols. Community workers were trained
                                                       reduce participant interest in completing it.
in ethical research practices and survey
administration by the LEAD evaluation team
and supported throughout the data collection           Experiences of racism
period by frequent contact with evaluation             The next section of the survey presented items
team members. Community workers distributed            assessing participants’ sense of belonging within
surveys through their personal and professional        their local area or neighbourhood, internalised
contacts as well as at local community events and      racism, frequency of witnessing discrimination,
functions. Surveys were administered face-to-face      frequency of anxiety around friends and family
in group or individual sessions.                       experiencing discrimination, and the level
The community workers who administered the             of effect that racism has had on their own
surveys recorded both participants and people          lives and the lives of their friends and family.
who were invited but declined to participate. The      Internalised racism was assessed through the
reasons provided for declining to participate were     item: ‘I feel good about being Aboriginal…’
recorded. Community workers also participated in       using a subjective frequency scale (i.e. ‘very
a follow-up session for feedback and debriefing.       often’/’often’/’sometimes’/etc.). For all other
Participants received a $20 supermarket gift           items in this section, the response categories
voucher after completing the surveys. Surveys          consisted of either Likert scales (i.e. ‘to a great
were administered between March and May 2011           extent’/’to a moderate extent’/’only slightly’/’not
in Rural Council 1, between January and April          at all’) or objective frequency scales (e.g. ‘at
2011 in Metropolitan Council 1, between June           least once a week’/‘a few times a month’ etc.).
and October 2011 in Metropolitan Council 2, and        An additional item to assess internalised racism
between December 2010 and June 2011 in Rural           by asking whether the respondent believed that
Council 2.                                             Aboriginal people should think and act more
                                                       like other Australians was removed because
Consultation was conducted in each area to ensure      communities felt that it could be construed as
that the relevant Experiences of Racism survey was     offensive. ‘Local area or neighbourhood’ was
appropriate for each community. The Experiences        not defined in the survey to allow participants to
of Racism survey varied slightly in each locality as   interpret their local area in a way that reflected
wording was changed or items removed on advice         their own experiences.
of local community members. Most significantly, in
the Experiences of Racism survey for Rural Council     The next section in the survey recorded frequency
2, one question was removed from the Kessler 6         of exposure to systemic racism as well as the level
of distress caused by exposure. Participants were         well the participant knew the perpetrator, how
    asked to indicate the frequency and resulting             stressful the incident was for the participant, and
    stress level over the previous 12 months of               actions that the participant took in relation to the
    negative media exposure of Aboriginal people              incident. An open-ended item gave participants
    and communities, witnessing discrimination as a           the opportunity to supply any other comments
    result of policies or practices at work, in businesses    about their experiences. The survey items and the
    or in government agencies, exclusion from                 sources of the items are listed in Appendix 2.
    decision-making opportunities or witnessing racial
    tension or conflicts in the local area. Responses to      Mental health
    this section are not detailed in this report.
                                                              All participants were asked to indicate how
    The survey assessed types of interpersonal racism         frequently they anticipated and worried about
    experienced in the past 12 months, and where              experiencing racism as well as how often they
    these incidents took place, using a grid that had         took action to avoid racism.
    experiences listed on the left and settings listed
    across the top. Participants then indicated which         Mental health was assessed through the inclusion
    type of experience had occurred and where it              of a modified version of the Kessler 6 (K6)
    took place by marking the appropriate grid box.           scale. The scale is a quantifier of non-specific
    This method was based on a tool used previously           psychological distress, which was derived from
    with young Australians.26                                 the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10) as
                                                              a simple measure of psychological distress. It
    Experiences listed included racist name-calling           has demonstrated excellent internal consistency
    or teasing; verbal abuse or offensive gestures;           and reliability as well as consistency across major
    being told the participant does not belong, that          socio-demographic sub-samples.27 The K6 involves
    they should ‘go home’ or ‘get out’; being left            six questions about emotional states, each with
    out or avoided; being treated as inferior or less         a five-level response scale. The measure can be
    intelligent; being ignored, treated with suspicion        used as a brief screen to identify levels of distress.
    or treated rudely; having property vandalised; and        The K6 can be given to participants to complete,
    physical abuse or the threat of physical abuse.           or alternatively the questions can be read to the
    Settings listed were:                                     participant by the administrator. The question ‘In
                                                              the past 4 weeks, about how often did you feel
    • in a shop, store or mall                                worthless?’ was removed from the K6 in Rural
    • while doing sport, recreational or leisure activities   Council 2 on advice from the community that it
                                                              could be offensive. The five-question scale (K5)
    • while seeking housing or in dealing with real           has also been used by the Australian Bureau of
      estate personnel                                        Statistics for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
    • in a bank or other financial institution                people’s surveys, after consultation with the
                                                              creator of the K10.28–30
    • in dealings with local council
                                                              The K5 is scored using the sum of answer
    • in dealings with other government agencies
                                                              responses, where responses of ‘None of the
    • at work, on the job or when looking for a job           time’ are given a score of one to ‘All of the
                                                              time’ yielding a score of five. Thus, the range of
    • at school, university or another educational
                                                              responses is 5–25. Low scores indicate low levels
                                                              of psychological distress and high scores indicate
    • in public spaces (on the street, beach, park etc.)      high levels of psychological distress. There are
    • with the police, courts or jails                        a number of different categories and groupings
                                                              used for analysis of the K10 and K6 scores.30,31
    • in hospitals, health centres, at the doctor’s           However, in most ABS and other Australian
      office                                                  surveys, the data is presented according to four
    • on public transport.                                    categories (low, moderate, high and very high),
                                                              with a very high score of psychological distress
    The participants who reported experiencing a              possibly indicating a need for professional
    racist incident over the past 12 months received a        help.31 In 2003, data from the 1997–98 NSW
    series of questions asking for details about their        Health Survey were used to validate K5 scoring
    most recent experience. These included how                categories. According to these categories, scores
    long ago it occurred, whether it had occurred in          of 12 to 25 on the K5 indicate high or very high
    the participant’s local neighbourhood, whether
6   the perpetrator was Aboriginal or not, how
                                                              psychological distress.30 Despite the reduction
in the number of items the reliability of the scale    racism and position above or below the threshold
was high among this sample (Cronbach’s α=0.85).        for high or very high psychological distress on the
                                                       K5 scale. The relationship between the types of
The final item in the survey was an open-ended
                                                       racism experienced and settings for experiencing
question for participants to give any comments
                                                       racism and being above or below the threshold
they thought relevant.
                                                       for high or very high psychological distress on
Someone who can be visibly identified as               the K5 scale was also explored using logistic
belonging to an ethnic minority group is likely to     regression. Logistic regression is used to predict
have higher exposure to racism than someone            the outcome of one variable based on other
who is not visibly identifiable. However, visibility   variables within a model. A logistic regression
status was not taken into account in this survey       was conducted to assess the role of response
as there is no accepted way of assessing visibility    strategies on stress associated with the most
for Aboriginal people and questions to this effect     recent racist incident.
were likely to be highly offensive to communities.
                                                       Stress was coded into two categories (Not at
                                                       all/a little/somewhat stressful and very/extremely
Data analysis                                          stressful). These relationships are reported in
                                                       the form of odds ratios, which indicates the
SPSS Statistics 19, a statistical software package,    strength of the relationship. An odds ratio of one
was used to analyse the data. Participants’            indicates that there is no difference between the
experiences of racism were divided into None,          groups being studied. All models controlled for
Low (1–7 experiences), Medium (8–11) and High          age, gender, education and LGA as potential
(12+) frequency categories. These cut-off points       confounding factors. As some participants did
were selected so approximately one-third of            not complete every item, valid percentages
people who experienced racism were in each             are reported for all frequencies, with missing
category. Chi-square analysis was used to assess       data removed. Within demographic items, data
demographic differences between people with            regarding education is missing for 17.4 per cent
different frequency levels. Chi-square analysis is     of participants and age is missing for 6.9 per cent
used to determine whether there is an association      of participants. Throughout the rest of the survey,
between two variables based on their frequencies       data is missing for between 1.6 per cent and 5.2
in the data.                                           per cent of participants.
Logistic regression was used to assess the
relationship between participants’ experiences of

8 Results

  A total of 755 Aboriginal people participated in              and 2 make up the majority of the sample, with
  the Experiences of Racism survey. The response                Metropolitan Councils 1 and 2 each having
  rate across all LGAs was 99 per cent. There was               fewer than 100 participants. In Rural Council 1,
  no indication that anyone declined to participate             27 per cent of the Aboriginal population over
  due to not experiencing racism. The most frequent             18 years old was surveyed. These proportions
  difficulties reported by community workers in                 for Metropolitan Councils 1 and 2 and Rural
  conducting surveys were privacy and confidentiality           Council 2 were 14 per cent, 7 per cent and 32 per
  concerns and low levels of literacy and numeracy              cent respectively.32 The majority of participants
  in the communities. The use of community workers              were female, with a mean age of 36 years.
  to conduct the surveys helped to ensure that the              Approximately one-fifth of participants held either
  survey items could be explained in an accessible              tertiary, trade or TAFE qualifications (Table 1).
  manner, and also reassured participants that
                                                                The 2011 Census reports that across the four
  their data would be handled sensitively, without
                                                                LGAs, the majority of Aboriginal residents over
  identifying information being made available to the
                                                                18 years old are women (55%) with a mean age
  university researchers without explicit permission.
                                                                of 38 years. In the 2006 Census, 24 per cent of
                                                                Aboriginal residents in these LGAs held tertiary,
  Demographic data                                              trade or TAFE qualifications.32

  Demographic data for participants is presented
  in Table 1. Participants from Rural Councils 1

  Table 1: Demographic data

                                                                                           n              %

   LGA                                 Rural Council 1                                    313            41.5
                                       Metropolitan Council 1                              90            11.9
                                       Metropolitan Council 2                              57            7.5
                                       Rural Council 2                                    295            39.1

   Gender                              Male                                               284            37.6
                                       Female                                             451            59.7

   Age                                 18–24                                              178            23.6
                                       25–34                                              175            23.2
                                       35–44                                              174            23.0
                                       45–54                                               90            11.9
                                       55–64                                               53             7.0
                                       65+                                                 33             4.4

   Education                           Tertiary qualifications                             78            10.3
                                       Trade or TAFE                                       88            11.7
                                       Higher School Certificate                           99            13.1
                                       School certificate                                 236            31.3
                                       Primary school                                      74             9.8
                                       Other                                               49             6.5

   Level of experiences                None                                                26             3.4
                                       Low                                                191            25.3
                                       Medium                                             285            37.7
                                       High                                               253            33.5

  *n may not add up to 755 due to missing values; percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding.
Sense of belonging
Nearly 85 per cent of respondents reported a moderate or great sense of belonging to their local area/
neighbourhood (Table 2).
Table 2: Item regarding sense of belonging to local area/neighbourhood

                                              To a great        To a moderate         Only slightly
                                   n                                                                    Not at all %
                                              extent %             extent %                %
I have a sense of
belonging in my local area/       743               44.4               38.9               11.8              3.3

Experiences of racism                                      and 11 experiences and 34 per cent reporting
                                                           12 or more experiences. Only 3 per cent of
Interpersonal racism: types and frequencies                participants reported no racist experiences. The
of experiences                                             highest number of experiences reported was
                                                           101, reported by one person. The average across
Nearly all participants reported at least one              the sample was 13.7 experiences. Nearly half of
racist incident in the preceding 12 months, with           respondents (44%) also reported witnessing other
25 per cent reporting between one and seven                people being treated unfairly due to their race,
experiences, 38 per cent reporting between eight           ethnicity, culture or religion at least once a week.

Table 3: Witnessing racism

                                             At least           A few          A few        Less than
                          n                  once a            times a        times a        once a         Never
                                every day     week             month            year          year
How often have
you seen people
being treated
unfairly because         738       17.8           25.6          28.4           15.6              7.5         2.7
of their race,
ethnicity, culture or

When asked about the most recent racist incident           comments that rely on stereotypes of Aboriginal
that they had experienced, approximately                   people. Two-thirds of participants reported being
one-third of the incidents (35%) had occurred              told that they don’t belong, that they should
within the past month. A majority (81%) had                ‘go home’ or ‘get out,’ and more than half of
occurred within the respondent’s local area or             participants (55%) reported having property
neighbourhood and of those that were not in the            vandalised (Figure 1). Overall, Figure 1 suggests
local area, 70 per cent happened within Victoria.          that experiences of racism are very common even
                                                           at the more extreme ends of the spectrum.
Almost all participants reported being a target
of racist names, jokes or teasing, or hearing

                                  90                            85.8            84.1

                                  70                                                                                                 67.4          66.0
       Percent of respondents







                                       Names, teasing          Ignored        Swore at/    Less intelligent      Left out            Spit or   Don’t belong            Property
                                        or comments                        verbally abused                                         something    in Australia          vandalised

      Figure 1: Experiences of racism in past 12 months

     Interpersonal racism: settings                                                                       level and in banks and other financial settings,
                                                                                                          although more than one-fifth of participants
     Participants indicated that racism was most
                                                                                                          indicated experiencing racist incidents in each
     commonly experienced in shops and public
                                                                                                          of these settings (Figure 2). As data were not
     spaces, as reported by 67 per cent and 59 per
                                                                                                          collected on perpetrators in specific settings, it is
     cent of participants respectively. People were
                                                                                                          not known whether the racist behaviours in these
     less likely to experience racism at a local council
                                                                                                          settings were initiated by staff, clients or others.


                                  70    92.3

                                  60                  58.5

        Percent of respondents

                                  50                                         47.8

                                                                                                                            33.6        33.5


                                       Shops          Public   Education    Sport Employment Justice          Housing      Public      Other   Health     Finance         Council
                                                      spaces                                                             transport     gov’t

       Figure 2: Settings of racist experiences in past 12 months
Perpetrators                                                                                                                   Responses to interpersonal racism
When asked about the last racist incident                                                                                      People who had experienced racism used a range
experienced by participants who had experienced                                                                                of methods to respond to these incidents. Twelve
interpersonal racism, a high proportion (92%)                                                                                  responses were listed, plus an ‘other’ category,
of respondents reported that the perpetrator in                                                                                with participants able to choose however many
the incident was non-Aboriginal. Approximately                                                                                 applied to their most recent experience. With
one-quarter (26%) of respondents knew the                                                                                      regards to respondents’ most recent experiences,
perpetrator of their most recent experience                                                                                    the two most common responses were either to
a little, while 64 per cent did not know the                                                                                   ignore it or to verbally confront the perpetrator
perpetrator at all. The remaining 10 per cent of                                                                               (33% and 32% respectively of respondents who
respondents reported that the perpetrator was                                                                                  reported at least one experience) (Figure 3).
someone they knew well or someone who was
close to them.

 Percent of respondents who experienced at least one incident




                                                                15                                          13.7     13.4
                                                                                                                               11.2    10.8


                                                                     Ignored Verbally Wanted to Talked to Accepted Tried to    Used   Made a Changed Received Reported    Wrote,    Other
                                                                        it  confronted confront; someone     it    reason     humour complaint self    help   to police    drew,
                                                                                        didn’t                                                                            sang or
 Figure 3: Participant responses to interpersonal racism

More than one-third of participants who reported                                                        used more than one type of response in relation to the
     experiencing racism (37%) indicated that they had                                                       last racist incident they had experienced (Figure 4).


                                                                       40   39.4
        Percent of respondents the experienced at least one incident







                                                                                                                 1       0.7      0.4               0.3
                                                                             1      2      3      4    5         6        7        8        9       10

       Figure 4: Number of different responses used in reaction to last reported experience

     Factors affecting experiences of interpersonal                                                          education. Figure 5 shows that university-
     racism                                                                                                  educated people reported more experiences of
                                                                                                             racism than non-university educated people in
     There were no differences in experiences of
                                                                                                             council, government, employment, education,
     racism due to gender (χ2=2.84, df=3, p=0.42),
                                                                                                             public spaces and health settings (Figure 5).
     age (χ2=11.5, df=9, p=0.24) or rurality (χ2=2.8,
                                                                                                             Levels of experiences in shops, sport, housing,
     df=3, p=0.43). People educated at Year 12 or
                                                                                                             finance, justice and public transport were
     above reported more racism than people with
                                                                                                             not significantly different between university-
     lower levels of education (χ2=32.5,df=12, p=0.001)
                                                                                                             educated people and others (see Appendix 1,
     (Table 4). This effect was particularly marked for
                                                                                                             Table 1 for statistics).
     the small number of people with a university

Table 4: Experiences of racism by demographic characteristics

                                           Experiences of racism
 Demographics                                                              Total
                           None            Low           Medium    High


                  n           6             67              107     104      284
                  %         2.1%          23.6%            37.7%   36.6%   100.0%

                  n          17            117              171     146      451
                  %         3.8%          25.9%            37.9%   32.4%   100.0%

                  n          23            184              278     250      735
                  %         3.1%          25.0%            37.8%   34.0%   100.0%


                   n          5             51               79      57      192
                   %        2.6%          26.6%            41.1%   29.7%   100.0%

                   n          4             64              103      88      259
                   %        1.5%          24.7%            39.8%   34.0%   100.0%

                   n          9             40               62      69      180
                   %        5.0%          22.2%            34.4%   38.3%   100.0%

                   n          4             27               27      28      86
                   %        4.7%          31.4%            31.4%   32.6%   100.0%

                   n         22            182              271     242      717
                   %        3.1%          25.4%            37.8%   33.8%   100.0%


                   n          5             34               38      34      111
 Below Year 10
                   %        4.5%          30.6%            34.2%   30.6%   100.0%

                   n          7             77               91      74      249
 Year 10
                   %        2.8%          30.9%            36.5%   29.7%   100.0%

                   n          3             18               50      37      108
 Year 12
                   %        2.8%          16.7%            46.3%   34.3%   100.0%


                   n          7             19               53      49      128
                   %        5.5%          14.8%            41.4%   38.3%   100.0%

                   n          0             8                13      27      48
                   %        0.0%          16.7%            27.1%   56.3%   100.0%

                   n         22            156              245     221      644
                   %        3.4%          24.2%            38.0%   34.3%   100.0%


                   n          6             30               56      55      147
                   %        4.1%          20.4%            38.1%   37.4%   100.0%

                   n         20            161              229     198      608
                   %        3.3%          26.5%            37.7%   32.6%   100.0%

                   n         26            191              285     253     755
                   %        3.4%          25.3%            37.7%   33.5%   100.0


       Percent experienced racism







                                               s        t           g           ce           il                t             t               n                 es         ce           h                  rt
                                            op       or         sin                       nc                 en            en              io               ac        sti        alt                   po
                                          Sh       Sp                        an          u                                            at
                                                                            n         Co                 nm            ym            c                     p        Ju         He                  an
                                                                                                      er            lo            du                   ics                                       tr
                                                                                                   ov              p             E                bl                                       lic
                                                                                                  G           Em                                Pu                                     b

       Figure 5: Experiences of racism by setting and university education

     Internalised racism                                                                                                         on the advice of local communities. However, nearly
                                                                                                                                 90 per cent of respondents felt positively about
     One of the two items designed to assess
                                                                                                                                 being Aboriginal often or very often (Table 5).
     internalised racism was removed from the survey

     Table 5: Item regarding internalised racism

                                                                                                                            Often                              Sometimes                         Rarely           Never
                                                                   n                 Very often %
                                                                                                                             %                                    %                                %               %
     I feel good about
                                                                   735                       72.6                                13.8                               9.5                               1.1            0.4
     being Aboriginal...

     Mental health and racism                                                                                                    psychological distress was common among
                                                                                                                                 survey participants. This is well above the level
     Scores of 12 to 25 on the K5 scale are indicative
                                                                                                                                 obtained in other large population surveys of the
     of high or very high psychological distress. The
                                                                                                                                 Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander population,
     mean K5 score for the sample was 11.5 (Table 6).
                                                                                                                                 including those that used the K5 as a measure of
     Overall, 50 per cent of the sample scored over the
                                                                                                                                 psychological distress.17, 33–38
     K5 threshold for high or very high psychological
     distress, indicating that high and very high

Table 6: Items from the Kessler 5 Psychological Distress Scale

                                    None of the    A little of the   Some of the     Most of the        All of the
                                      time %           time %          time %         time %             time %
In the past 4 weeks, about
how often did you feel so
                              716      25.4              28.6           29.4             9.7                 1.7
sad that nothing could
cheer you up?
In the past 4 weeks, about
how often did you feel        723      19.3              36.3           29.3             8.2                 2.6
In the past 4 weeks, about
how often did you feel        727      24.5              26.5           31.5            10.2                 3.6
restless or fidgety?
In the past 4 weeks, about
how often did you feel        719      35.9              22.8           26.8             7.8                 2.0
In the past 4 weeks, about
how often did you feel that   728      21.3              29.0           31.0            11.5                 3.6
everything was an effort?

Figure 6 demonstrates that while racism at any            be above the threshold for high or very high
level was associated with worse mental health,            psychological distress compared to people who
the deleterious effects of racism were greatest           experienced less racism (see Appendix 1, Table 2
among people who reported more than 11                    for statistics). There were no significant differences
incidents of racism in a year.                            in being above the threshold for high or very high
                                                          psychological distress for people who experienced
Figure 7 shows that people who experienced
                                                          none, low or medium levels of racism.
high levels of racism were much more likely to



                                                                                                   Mean K5 score

  K5 score

              11                                                                                   Threshold for
                                                                                                   high or very high



                     0               1–7                  8–11                 12+

                                      Number of experiences

  Figure 6: Experiences of racism and mean K5 score

      Percent above threshold for high or very high

            psychological distress on the K5






                                                                             0                                 1–7                             8–11                     12+
                                                                                                                     Number of experiences

        Figure 7: Experiences of racism and being above the threshold for high or very high
        psychological distress on the K5

     The items ‘having someone suggest that you                                                                                 the threshold for high or very high psychological
     do not belong in Australia, that you should                                                                                distress. Once frequency of experiences was taken
     ‘go home” or “get out”’, ‘feeling left out and                                                                             into account feeling left out and avoided, and
     avoided’, ‘having property vandalised’ and ‘having                                                                         having property vandalised, were associated with
     someone spit or throw something at you or hit                                                                              greater odds of being above the threshold for high
     you or threaten to because you are Aboriginal’                                                                             or very high psychological distress on the K5 (see
     were significantly associated with being above                                                                             Appendix 1, Table 3 for statistics) (Figure 8).

                                Had someone spit or throw something at you or hit
                             you or threaten to hit you because you are Aboriginal?

      Has your property vandalised because you are Aboriginal?

                                                       Been ignored, treated with suspicion or treated
                                                                  rudely because you are Aboriginal?

                                                             Had someone treat you as less intelligent,
                                                               or inferior, because you are Aboriginal?

                                                Felt left out or avoided because you are Aboriginal?

                                    Had someone suggest you do not belong in Australia
                                         because you are Aboriginal, that you should ‘go
                                                          home’ or ‘get out’ and so on?
                               Been sworn at, verbally abused or had someone make
                                     offensive gestures because you are Aboriginal?

                                                      Been a target of racist names, jokes or teasing or
                                                       heard comments that rely on stereotypes about
                                                                                    Aboriginal people?

                                                                                                           0            0.5                1          1.5           2         2.5   3
                                                                                                                       Odds ratio 95% CI               Odds ratio

        Figure 8: Types of experiences and odds of being above the threshold for high or very high
        psychological distress on the K5 adjusted for frequency of exposure

     Experiencing racism while seeking housing                                                                                  being above the threshold for high or very high
     or dealing with real estate personnel and on                                                                               psychological distress on the K5 (See Appendix 1,
16   public transport was significantly associated with                                                                         Table 4 for statistics) (Figure 9).

                               Public Transport

                   Hospitals or health services

                          Police, courts or jails

   Public space on the street, beach, park etc.

     School, university or another educational

   Work, on the job or when looking for a job

                        Government agencies

                                  Local Council

             Bank or other financial institution

        Housing or in dealing with real estate

        Sport, recreational or leisure activities

                            Shop, store or mall

                                                    0              0.5                1              1.5               2           2.5       3

                                                                Odds ratio 95% CI                    Odds ratio

  Figure 9: Settings of experiences and odds of being above the threshold for high or very high
  psychological distress on the K5

A participant was more likely to report that the                                    whether these incidents were more extreme,
most recent experience was very stressful or                                        and therefore more stressful, or whether higher
extremely stressful if they had responded to the                                    levels of stress are attributable to the response
incident by ‘accepting racism as a fact of life’,                                   strategy chosen. Talking to someone about the
‘getting into a verbal confrontation with the                                       experience was associated with lower odds of
perpetrator’ or ‘reported [it] to the police or took                                finding the experience stressful or very stressful
legal action’. However, it cannot be determined                                     (see Appendix 1, Table 5 for statistics) (Figure 10).

                                 Other coping strategy
    Tried to change the way you are or things you did
                              to avoid it in the future
           Reported to the police or took legal action

                                     Made a complaint

             Talked to someone about the experience

   Wrote, drew, sang or painted about the experience

                        Got into a verbal confrontation

                 Sought or accepted help from others

                                           Used humour

                       Tried to reason with the person

           Wanted to face up to the person but didn’t

                                             Accepted it

                                               Ignored it

                                                            0       1        2            3    4           5      6         7      8     9   10

                                                                                 Odds ratio 95% CI                    Odds ratio

  Figure 10: Responses to last experience and odds of finding the experience stressful or very
  stressful                                                                                                                                       17
Nearly three-quarters of respondents reported that                      with 70 per cent of respondents worrying about
     they sometimes, often or very often anticipated                         experiencing racism sometimes, often or very
     people saying or doing something racist. Nearly                         often and 70 per cent worrying about people they
     two-thirds tried to avoid specific situations because                   know experiencing racism a few times a month or
     of racism sometimes, often or very often. High                          more frequently (Table 7).
     levels of worrying about racism were also evident,

     Table 7: Items regarding anticipation, worrying and avoidance

                                                                           Often             Sometimes          Rarely         Never
                                           n     Very often %               %                   %                 %             %
      When you interact with
      people how often do you
      anticipate them saying or         726             6.2                  19.3              45.2              18.3            7.2
      doing something racist
      either intentionally or
      In the past 12 months,
      how often did you worry
      that you would experience         731             9.5                  22.3              35.9              19.1            10.1
      unfair treatment because
      you are Aboriginal?
      In your daily life, how often
      do you try to avoid specific      730             9.4                  19.6              32.7              17.2            17.7
      situations because of

                                                Almost            At least           A few         A few         Less than      Never
                                       n       every day          once a            times a       times a         once a         %
                                                  %               week %            month %       year %          year %
      In the past 12 months,
      I worried about people
      I know experiencing              741       17.1               22.1              30.9            15.5          6.9           5.7
      unfair treatment because
      of their race, ethnicity,
      culture or religion...

     Additionally, the majority of respondents                               and family. Respondents indicated a stronger
     indicated that racism has had a large or moderate                       perceived effect of racism on the lives of friends
     effect on their lives and the lives of their friends                    and family than on their own lives (Table 8).

     Table 8: Items regarding perceived impact of racism

                                                                                               To a
                                                                       To a great                            Only slightly
                                                              n                              moderate                        Not at all %
                                                                       extent %                                   %
                                                                                             extent %
      When I think about my family and friends,            737               38.5              38.3              17.1            3.7
      in general, racism has affected their lives...
      Racism has affected my life...                       731               25.3              37.0              23.4            11.1

Discussion                                                                                                 19

The current study highlights that experiencing       tenet of terra nullius, used to dispossess Aboriginal
high levels of interpersonal racism is associated    people of their land on the claim that Australia
with increased psychological distress which          had no occupants prior to European arrival.41–43
itself is an indicator of increased risk of mental   The legal concept of terra nullius was overturned
illness. The demonstrated mental health impact       20 years ago and was followed by the institution
of experiencing racism supports the rationale        of the Native Title Act in 1993; however, the
for programs like LEAD in protecting the mental      delegitimisation of Aboriginal Australians continues
health of Aboriginal communities through             to have legal and social ramifications.42 The
addressing race-based discrimination.                historic apology to Australia’s Stolen Generations
                                                     in 2008 was welcomed as an important step not
                                                     only in recognising past wrongs but in bringing
Prevalence and nature of racism                      the legitimacy of Aboriginal people as the first
experienced                                          Australians into mainstream consciousness. The
                                                     high prevalence of social exclusion reported in this
Almost every Aboriginal Victorian who
                                                     sample suggests further work is required to ensure
participated in this survey had experienced
                                                     that the intentions of the apology are reflected in
at least one racist incident in the previous 12
                                                     the everyday experiences of Aboriginal people.
months, with more than 70 per cent experiencing
eight or more incidents a year. Notably, the         The results also indicate that a high proportion
prevalence of racism remained high even at the       of respondents avoid specific situations because
more severe end of the spectrum with around          of racism, which implies that the levels of
two-thirds of participants reporting being spat      experienced racism may have been higher if
at or having something thrown at them and            avoidance behaviour was not as common.
more than half reporting vandalism of property.
The rate of property destruction offenses in the
four LGAs included in the study was higher on        Settings where racism was experienced
average than for Victoria overall in the 2011/2012   High levels of racism were reported in every
financial year (1079.839 and 879.540 per 100,000     setting identified in the study. However, there
people respectively). However, the data suggest      was considerable variability in the frequency
that rates of vandalism experienced by Aboriginal    with which people reported racism in different
people are still much higher than would be           settings, ranging from around two-thirds of
expected based on the overall rate of property       people reporting racism in shops and more than
destruction in the LGAs studied.                     half reporting racism in public places to one-fifth
It was particularly striking that two-thirds of      reporting racism at a council level. The variability
participants reported being told that ‘they didn’t   in experiencing racism in different settings
belong in Australia, that they should “go home”,     suggests that the organisational and institutional
or “get out”’. This indicates a high prevalence      contexts in different settings and the nature of
of social exclusion based on Aboriginality within    interactions between people in these settings can
this sample. Although this item includes general     impact on the level of racism experienced. This
social exclusion based on Aboriginality, it is       indicates that intervening at an organisational or
likely that at least some of the participants who    institutional level may be an effective approach in
reported this experience had been told they          reducing exposure to racism.44, 45
don’t belong in Australia. This is supported         Within this sample, a high proportion of racist
by qualitative data collected in training and        incidents happened in areas where interactions
debriefing sessions with community workers, who      occur with peers or other members of the public,
confirmed that they had also experienced being       such as within shops, public spaces and sport
told that they did not belong in Australia.          and recreational settings. The high prevalence
The idea that Aboriginal Australians do not belong   of racism in shops and other public places is
in Australia is deeply problematic and echoes the    supported by the finding that almost two-thirds
                                                     of respondents reported they did not know the
perpetrator involved in their last experience of       people from Aboriginal backgrounds receive
     racism. Experiencing racist incidents in these         harsher sentences for similar offences or are
     settings may limit the ability of Aboriginal           unnecessarily arrested or detained for minor
     community members to take part safely in some          infractions. Repeated contact with both the
     aspects of community life, including enjoyment         juvenile and adult justice systems is linked to a
     of parks and recreation centres, interacting with      higher risk of developing mental illness and can
     other community members through sports clubs           exacerbate existing mental illness.50,51 Community
     or events or attending community celebrations or       consequences of overrepresentation in the justice
     festivals. One-fifth of participants reported having   system include increased rates of substance
     racist experiences in dealings with the local          abuse, violence, un- and underemployment and
     council, which may also hamper participation in        family breakdown.52–54 Racism within health care
     community life by causing them to have limited         settings may lead to reduced access to health
     contact with local government. This has important      care services, including preventative services,
     implications for the social connectedness of           and poorer treatment and care from health
     Aboriginal Australians, particularly if these          professionals.9,55,56
     settings are avoided in order to limit personal
                                                            The current study further suggests that Aboriginal
     exposure to racism. This highlights the need to
                                                            Australians who have higher levels of formal
     implement strategies that reach the community
                                                            education may be more subject to discrimination
     as a whole, in addition to interventions within
                                                            than their peers with lower levels of education.
     organisational contexts.
                                                            This effect was particularly marked for the small
     Both employment and education are within the           number of Aboriginal people with university
     five settings where racism was most commonly           education in the sample. The finding that
     reported. This may indicate a reduction in life        more educated minority people report higher
     chances for Aboriginal Australians, which also         exposure to racism is consistent with the research
     has significant implications for mental health         literature.57–59
     and wellbeing. Mental health inequality is at
                                                            There are three possible explanations for this
     least partly linked to income inequality, which
                                                            effect. The first explanation is that more educated
     is associated with differential employment and
                                                            people may have higher expectations about how
     education outcomes.46–48 Although the LEAD
                                                            others should treat them: that is, the difference
     survey was restricted to people aged 18 and over,
                                                            is about perception rather than actual exposure.
     other Australian research with young people
                                                            The second explanation is that higher educated
     also indicates that racism in schools is prevalent.
                                                            people from minority groups defy stereotypes of
     In 2009, the Foundation for Young Australians
                                                            Aboriginal people as being uneducated.60 They
     conducted a survey of 698 students from 18
                                                            are, therefore, more likely to be in situations
     Australian secondary schools across four States.
                                                            where they challenge the status quo with more
     This study found that 80 per cent of young
                                                            racism directed against them as a result. A related
     people (including 63% of only 20 Aboriginal
                                                            third possibility is that educated Aboriginal
     and Torres Strait Islander students in this study)
                                                            people are more likely to work and socialise with
     had experienced racism, with 67 per cent of
                                                            people from majority (Anglo) backgrounds. Under
     these incidents taking place at school.26 This is
                                                            the assumption that racism is more likely to be
     particularly concerning as racism has the potential
                                                            perpetrated by those from the majority culture,
     to negatively affect young people’s psychological
                                                            this would lead to increased experiences of
     adjustment and thereby their wellbeing into
                                                            racism for this group.
     adulthood. Experiencing racism within school
     may also have a negative effect on Aboriginal          The settings in which university-educated people
     and Torres Strait Islander students’ educational       were more likely to report racism than non-
     outcomes49 as a social determinant in its own right.   university educated people were overwhelmingly
                                                            institutional (council, government, employment,
     It is also concerning that 40 per cent of
                                                            education, public spaces and health settings).
     participants indicated that they had experienced
                                                            However, there were no differences in reported
     racism within the justice system and 30 per
                                                            exposures in a range of other settings. The levels
     cent within health care systems. Experiences
                                                            of racist incidents experienced in shops, sport,
     in these settings can strongly influence
                                                            housing, finance, justice and public transport
     individual and community health and wellbeing.
                                                            were not significantly different between people
     Experiencing racism within the justice system
                                                            educated at university level and those educated
     may lead to further unnecessary contact with
20   this system and higher rates of incarceration if
                                                            below university level. A bias in perception
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