Casual Racism Explained

By Brianna Danielson

There is nothing casual about racism, but the term “casual racism” has emerged over the last couple of years in media coverage reporting on more extreme forms of interpersonal racism, such as racist slang, and racist diatribes on public transport. These incidents occur on a seemingly “casual” basis.



While the media focus on these more obvious experiences of racism, in reality racism occurs everyday in both blatant and subtle forms.

Subtle forms of racism often goes unnoticed, except for the person receiving it, and therefore unaddressed. This racism can include speech and behaviours that treat cultural differences as problematic, manifesting in disapproving glances, exclusionary body language, and marginalising people’s experiences as invalid.

Referring to these types of experiences of racism as “casual” diminishes their importance. “Casual” suggests “irregular”, which is inaccurate and also implies we need not take this type of racism too seriously. Therefore, we prefer not to use the term and instead draw attention to the persistence and prevalence of everyday forms of interpersonal racism.

The power of everyday racism is in its cumulative effect – the ongoing experience of marginalisation and repression can be a heavy burden with future incidents triggering memories of past experiences.

How racism can affect our health

Racism has a range of harmful effects on those targeted, including limiting access to employment, health services and education and reduced workplace productivity. Racism has been linked to mental and physical health problems, particularly depression and anxiety.

The Beyond Blue campaign shows how subtle or “casual” racism can be just as harmful as more overt forms. Researches demonstrates that racism can make people feel that they don’t belong in Australia, even if they were born here or their ancestors have lived in Australia for millenia.

A comment, joke or action doesn’t need to be intentionally hurtful for it to be racism. But understanding this requires us to evaluate words or behaviours by their outcomes, rather than just their intention.

Denial included outright dismissal that racism exists, claims that there is no racism in this area, and arguments that racism is a thing of a past. Most importantly for this discussion there were “deflections from the mainstream”. People who “deflected” racism believed that there are a small number of people who are “racists”, but they are quite separate from the rest of us.

How to fight racism

The lion’s share of racism in our day-to-day interactions. Yet we also negotiate cultural difference in a productive, or even mundane way every day.

The act of challenging racism as we see it happening on an everyday basis is important – it demonstrates that any form of racism is socially unacceptable. It also supports the person being targeted and shows other bystanders that you do not condone what is happening.

You can also talk to family and friends about what happened and keep the conversation going. Regardless of intent or awareness, racism continues to have damaging effects, both for the people experiencing it and the just society that we all want to live in.

The article was derived originally from SBS News.

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