Racial Politics and Cultural Diversity
• Distinguishing between race and ethnicity
• A brief of history of race in Australia
• Racism and institutionalised racism
• Critical Race Theory (CRT) and White Privilege
• How race and ethnicity plays out in schools
“A great many people think they are thinking when they
are arranging their prejudices”
(William James, 1842-1910)
Othering: Determining the membership or our own social groups, and its boundaries, by deciding
who we are not. Othering is about deciding who is in and who is out and why.
Ethnocentrism: Viewing others from our own cultural perspective, with an implied sense of
cultural superiority based on an inability to understand or accept the practices and beliefs of
Prejudice: A hostile attitude towards a person from another group based solely upon their
membership of that group.
Stereotyping: When a group becomes characterised without regard for individual difference
Scapegoating: A group blamed for all problems. This is associated with both stereotyping and
victim-blaming. The victims of the system are blamed for the problems within it.
Discrimination: When members of particular groups are denied equal treatment, based solely on
their membership of that group.
Race and Ethnicity
Race: A term without scientific basis that uses skin colour and facial features to describe what are
alleged to be biologically distinct groups of humans. Race is actually a social construction used to
categorise groups of people and sometimes implies assumed (and unproven) intellectual
superiority or inferiority.
• Race as a social construct
• Race as a discursive system
• Race as relational
Ethnicity: While often used as a synonym for race, it is built around an entirely different logic.
There are no necessary biological components to ethnicity as there are with race. Ethnic
classification is based on social factors such as nationality, culture, religion, and language
Australia and Race (A brief history)
• In Australia, there is arguably a long historical legacy of racism, evident since
colonisation, that underpins racial and ethnic discrimination today.
• We need to acknowledge the way that ‘whiteness’ functions throughout
Australia’s colonialist history as a signifier of social worth and how ‘race’ and
‘whiteness’ have played an ongoing role in the politics of contemporary Australia
• The legacy of racial violence, social exclusion and structural disadvantage in
Australia is extensive and is evidenced by:
– Massacres of Indigenous people during colonisation
– The genocide of Aboriginal Tasmanians
– The ‘White Australia’ policy – introduced in 1901 as the first act of parliament
– The ‘Stolen Generation’ of Aboriginal children forcibly removed from their families and
– The large number of deaths in custody and imprisonment of Aboriginal people
– Mandatory detention of boat people since 1989
Racism and Government Policy
• Having British heritage was considered a measure of social merit
• Social merit (to a degree) could also be earned via conformity to the dominant social group (the ‘white’ British) in custom,
habits and manners
• Whiteness became enshrined as a political and social ideal when the ‘White Australia’ policy was introduced
• Immigration was restricted to people of certain countries (mainly Europe) and largely excluding non-Europeans – with a
dominant belief at the time that only Europeans could adequately understand the concept of democracy and that keeping
Australian society ‘racially pure’ would best protect its democratic ideals
• This policy stayed in place until 1966 when Australia signed the United Nations Convention to eliminate racial discrimination
however many scholars argue that it has continued in the immigration detention policies that have continued with relation
to asylum seekers and refugees
• During the Whitlam era, and later under the Fraser government ,there was increased attention towards multiculturalism and
efforts to ensure that migrants had adequate legal rights and services in making the transition to Australian life
• During the 1980’s multiculturalism was the target of funding cuts under the Hawke government cutting funding to ESL and
other language programs in schools. This resulted in considerable public protest which resulted in the reformation of some
of the programs however the government had arguably already demonstrated that issues of minority ethnic groups were
expendable by ‘White’ government bureaucracies
Post 9/11 Australia
• A renewed emphasis on non-white minority ethnic groups as a potential ‘threat’ to national security and cultural hegemony
• Most pronounced in Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, many of whom have been displaced from their
countries of origin due to the ‘war on terror’ – of which Australia continues to be a part of
• Must be considered as connected to, rather than separate to, racist policies of the past
• It involves the belief that humanity can be
organised in various groups – races – and
that these groups can be ranked according
to achievement and worth. In essence, it is
the belief that some groups are inherently –
biologically – inferior to other groups
• Abuse, violence, discrimination, rejection on
the basis of assumed differences from the
• For minority groups, this may be throughout
their lives, within and outside school
• Name-calling, teasing, verbal abuse,
exclusion from activities, violence,
assumptions of difference, ‘jokes’,
stereotypes are all racism – common in
schools but often little is done
Where the system acts to discriminate – in schools - testing, content,
structures, pedagogy, power….
• Organisation of schools
• Standardised testing
“The distinctive feature of racist thinking is not hatred, what sets it off
from other thinking is that it justifies policies and institutional
priorities that perpetuate racial inequality” (Wellham, 2001, 164).
When thinking about whether policies and institutions are racist, we
need to look beyond their stated intents to their lived effects.
Critical Race Theory
• Critical race theory has been used by educators to examine how race and
ethnicity can be implicit in unequal power relationships between teachers
and their students by examining the normalised practices of privileged
white teachers who teach students unlike themselves.
• The ideas of critical race theory provide a useful ways for pre-service and
practicing teachers to critique their own cultural positioning, how they
view their students, and more significantly, how they become responsible
for their actions.
• A key element of critical race theory is examining privilege.
• Teachers can gain a better understanding of how educational policy,
curriculum, pedagogy and other institutional school-based practices are
developed and enacted in ways that are normalised by the dominant
culture through critical race theory
The Invisibility of Whiteness and White
• The fact that white people don’t see any issues of racism,
sociologists argue, means that their ‘race’ is privileged and that
they do not experience racism, since whiteness is the powerful
position on the social hierarchy (Leonardo, 2004).
• In this sense whiteness is invisible, meaning it is positioned as
‘natural’ and ‘normal’, as if every other racial identity is ‘different’
or ‘other’ (Roman, 1993).
• When white privilege is the focus, it is possible to shed light on key
deficit presumptions that have widespread impact on the quality of
education frequently offered to children and young people in
disadvantaged communites. For example, cultures of low
expectations and how this is associated with race, ethnicity, and
Race, Ethnicity and Schooling
Schooling is affected by broader social contexts in positive and negative
• What are schools like as settings for the making of race and ethnicity; as
places fostering racism or diversity?
• The everyday practices, organisational procedures & discourses of school
reproduce racial and ethnic inequalities – make people into ‘winners’ and
Educational Outcomes: Affect of Race
Non-Anglo Celtic Ethnicity
• Evidence suggests ethnicity plays a significant role in determining educational
outcomes – although not clear cut.
• Complex relationship between social class, gender, and ethnicity
• Segregation according to public and private school enrolments
• Indigenous students perform significantly below other ethnicities
Immigrants and Refugees
• Australia is one of only four countries where immigrant students perform above
the OECD average
• The top 25% of immigrants perform better than the topic 25% of Australian-born
• The bottom 25% of immigrant students perform significantly worse than the
bottom 25% of Australian born
• Refugees struggle in our education system
Diversity is dynamic and enriching –
something we could all benefit from…
The teacher who stands for equity…
Learns about how racial and ethnic discourses are used to
position and regulate us and our students – how we
police ourselves with the same discourses – we then
might learn to construct oppositional discourses
It’s all about valuing multiple and diverse forms of race
and ethnicity – trying to remain vigilant so that no one is
disadvantaged or harassed on the basis of their racial
and/or ethnic identities.
Ballantine, J.H. & Hammack, F,M. (2012). The Sociology of
Education: A Systematic Analysis. Boston: Pearson.
Lampert, J., Burnett, B., and Morse, K. (2015). Destabalising
privilege: Disrupting deficit thinking in white pre-service
teachers on field experience in culturally diverse, high poverty
schools. In Understanding sociological theory for educational
practices (Ed. Fefolja, Jones Diaz, and Ullman). Port
Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.
Connell et al. (2011). Education, Change and Society. South
Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
Tait, G. (2016). Making sense of mass education. Port
Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.