In the midst of COVID-19, Australians are also facing another threat: a rise in racist incidents affecting both children and adults. It’s important to reach out to people in our communities who have been targeted, and ensure they feel respected and supported.
In particular, many people from Asian backgrounds have experienced racist treatment since COVID-19 was detected. Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner reported a spike in complaints during February and March, one in four of these related to COVID-19.
And when Kids Helpline surveyed young Australians about going back to school after COVID-19 isolation, one of the concerns students raised was fear of racism.
Racism takes many forms. It includes prejudice, discrimination or hatred directed at someone because of their colour, ethnicity or national origin. It can range from violence and intimidation to name-calling, ‘jokes’, or excluding people from things like education or employment. Children and teens can be exposed to hate speech online, or to racist bullying at school, where a student is repeatedly and deliberately harmed, threatened, humiliated, belittled or left out of things on the basis of race.
Children who experience racism are at higher risk of sadness and loneliness, psychological distress and unhealthy behaviours in order to cope – eg. drinking and drug use.
Of course, these problems existed before COVID-19. For example:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students experience high rates of racial harassment at school.
- More than half of Australian teens have seen racist comments online.
- Young Australians from refugee and migrant backgrounds are much less likely than their peers to tell their parents or friends if they have a bad experience online.
To change things, we need positive bystander action. If you or your family know someone who’s experienced racism, you can:
Reach out and show you care
Make contact with the person who has been harassed. For example, you might:
- Stand, sit or talk with them, so they don’t have to face the situation alone.
- Ask how they are going, and make clear the harassment was not OK.
- Invite them to join in something fun with your friends or family.
- If they agree it would help, post something positive about them online.
Speak up if you can
Every situation is different, and you’ll need to decide whether it’s safe for you to intervene. It’s important not to put yourself or other people in danger.
If it’s safe, you might decide to approach the person being racist and try one of the following. Where possible, keep your manner calm and respectful.
- Ask them to explain themselves, and remind them of basic empathy. For example: “Why did you say that? What do you mean, exactly? Why is that ‘joke’ funny? How would you feel if someone spoke to you like that?”
- Describe how their behaviour affected you personally. For example: “I find that language offensive. It upsets me.”
- If you know the person, appeal to your shared history, or to the person’s better image of themselves. For example: “I’m surprised to hear you say that, because I’ve always thought of you as someone who believes in a fair go for everyone.” Or: When we were growing up, Mum always taught us to treat everyone with respect. I want us to keep doing that now.”
- Set reasonable boundaries – eg. “In this house, we value tolerance and respect.”
Other tactics might include:
- Changing the subject or creating a distraction.
- With children and teens especially, replacing ignorance with information – eg. “Where did you hear that? That doesn’t sound accurate. Let’s check a source we can trust.”
- Identifying someone who’s a positive influence – eg. an older relative or a mentor – and getting them involved.
Help them make a report
If the incident happened at school, you can help your child report it to a teacher. Keep a record of what happened – eg. where, when, who was involved – and see if other witnesses can back it up.
If the incident happened online, you can report it to the website, or to the eSafety Commissioner if the person harassed was aged under 18 and being cyber bullied.
If the incident involved racial discrimination or hatred, you can support the person to make a complaint under the Racial Discrimination Act or contact the equal opportunity commission in your state or territory.
Encourage your kids to enjoy diverse friendships, expose them to multicultural experiences, and keep talking about racism and why it’s not OK.
Your family might explore these lists of apps and games with diverse characters and TV shows that inspire empathy.
And you might share this writing and photography by young people challenging racism during COVID-19.
Seek help if needed
If you have been distressed by racist harassment, consider seeking professional support. You might choose to speak with your school wellbeing team, a trusted GP, or a free, confidential helpline. Helplines include:
- Dolly’s Dream Support Line 0488 881 033
- Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800
- Lifeline 13 11 14