Dr Jennifer Cheng, part of the Challenging Racism Project research collective at Western Sydney University, has written a wonderful response to your question. Here it is in full:
Educate yourself and be more reflective about stereotypes and biases you might hold, perhaps subconsciously, and vow to do better.
There is a reason people with non-Anglo names receive far fewer callbacks for an interview after submitting a CV of equal calibre as someone with an Anglo name. But racist stereotyping can manifest itself in many ways, not just in rejecting job candidates. I was once chosen for a job over another candidate because the managers believed I (as an Asian female) would be more docile. They started passing me the work of a white male colleague (who was less qualified but paid more), expecting compliance. My complaints were met with accusations of ‘not being collegial’. They struggled when I did not fit their racist stereotypes, but, instead of taking it as a learning experience and trying to do better, they became defensive, leading to racist statements thrown at me such as ‘This is Australia and you need to adapt to our culture’.
Always speak up when you witness something that is not right.
It could be something obvious like a racist joke, but could also be more covert such as everyone ignoring the idea of a non-white colleague but praising it when a white colleagues raises the same idea.
A joke is never ‘just a joke’ for the person being made fun of, especially if someone has been on the receiving end of others’ racist jokes all their life. Showing solidarity with the person on the receiving end of racist jokes or invalidating behaviours and speaking up on their behalf can go a long way. Also: racist behaviour is not OK even if the victim laughs or shrugs it off. Many people from minority backgrounds have been sidelined all their lives and have normalised or internalised such treatment. That is a sad indictment of Australian society and such treatment needs to be condemned, not supported.
Another issue is to check whether seemingly good intentions are actually offensive. At one of my first part-time jobs, the first thing a colleague said to me was ‘Do you know why Asians have slanty eyes?’ He had seen a documentary on it and wanted to show off his new knowledge. People’s appearances and identities are not fair game for white people to show off how clever they think they are (such as saying ‘Ni hao’ to any Asian-looking person) or to satisfy their curiosity about why someone doesn’t look or speak like a white Anglo person (‘Where are you originally from?’).
It is odd that politics and religion are considered taboo topics, yet it is all right to delve deep into someone’s family history within one minute of meeting them if they diverge enough from the white Anglo norm. Think: if it is impolite to say ‘G’day mate’ in an ocker accent to every single white person you meet or ask an Anglo person where their great-grandparents were born within seconds of meeting them, it is also impolite to do the same with non-whites. Get to know the person first before making assumptions or prying into their family history because you think they need to justify themselves.
Got a work-related question? You can email Work Therapy at: firstname.lastname@example.org