Constructing racism in Australia

Kevin M. Dunn*, James Forrest, Ian Burnley, Amy McDonald

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

200 Citations (Scopus)


There is a dearth of empirical evidence on the extent of racist attitudes, broadly defined, in Australia. A telephone survey of 5056 residents in Queensland and NSW examined attitudes to cultural difference, perceptions of the extent of racism, tolerance of specific groups, ideology of nation, perceptions of Anglo-Celtic cultural privilege, and belief in racialism, racial separatism and racial hierarchy. The research was conducted within a social constructivist understanding of racisms. Racist attitudes are positively associated with age, non-tertiary education, and to a slightly lesser extent with those who do not speak a language other than English, the Australia-born, and with males. Anti-Muslim sentiment is very strong, but there is also a persistence of some intolerance against Asian, Indigenous and Jewish Australians. Those who believe in racial hierarchy and separatism (old racisms) are a minority and are largely the same people who self-identify as being prejudiced. The 'new racisms' of cultural intolerance, denial of Anglo-privilege and narrow constructions of nation have a much stronger hold. Nonetheless, sociobiologically related understandings of race and nation remain linked to these new racisms. Narrow understandings of what constitutes a nation (and a community) are in tension with equally widely held liberal dispositions towards cultural diversity and dynamism. Encouragingly, most respondents recognise racism as a problem in Australian society and this is a solid basis for anti-racism initiatives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)409-430
Number of pages22
JournalAustralian Journal of Social Issues
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2004


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