Topic 3: Countering racism

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An exploration of social justice, racism, privilege and power to support teachers in constructing inclusive curriculum and anti-racism pedagogies.

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Race: a social construct

Race is a way of classifying people into groups based on physical characteristics. These groups are socially constructed and there is no evidence to support biological ideas of races.
'More than a century's worth of biological study has failed to explain folk-racial categories in terms of genetic categories. This failure is due in large part to the well-documented fact that, as with any differences between human populations, the genetic differences within folk-racial categories range over a distribution that is larger than the average genetic differences between these categories' (Clough & Loges 2008, p. 81).
Race is a socially constructed category that positions people in different ways so that some people have access to more resources and power than others. To avoid the trap of reifying race as biological entity, many authors write 'race' (using single quotation marks) rather than race, to indicate that the concept is problematic  (Nado Aveling, Murdoch University).
You will examine race as a social construct and how whiteness is positioned as the norm against which everything else is measured. This becomes the backdrop to teachers becoming better equipped to construct an anti-racism pedagogy and an inclusive curriculum that addresses racism, ethnicity and discrimination. If social justice seeks to provide "equitable outcomes to marginalised groups by recognising past disadvantage and existence of structural barriers embedded in the social, economic and political system that perpetuate systemic discrimination" then our focus must  be on those groups of students who are served least well by our schools.[1] Use Peggy McIntosh's 'White Privilege Checklist'—found within The Invisible Knapsack video—to consider the privileges that apply to you or that you have encountered.

The Invisible Knapsack

See also:

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Clough, S & Loges, W 2008, 'Racist value judgments as objectively false beliefs: A philosophical and social-psychological analysis', Journal of Social Philosophy, vol.39, no.1, p. 81.

Social justice education

Social justice is concerned with the ways in which benefits and burdens are distributed among the members of a society. This includes the fairness in which a society provides, protects and recognises the means and qualities individuals require to both determine a conception of, and live, a good life.
There are many methods that scholars use to evaluate the extent to which a society is just, most of which seek to assess the quality or wellbeing of individuals in that society. For example, indicators used include: observance of/adherence to declarations of human rights, Gross National Product per capita (GDP), Gross National Happiness (GNH), Social Progress Index, OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) Better Life Index, Human Development Index and so on. Most of these involve measuring levels of one or more of the following indicators in relation to either, or both, the national average or the individual person: material wealth, income, employment, health, safety and security, education, equality and opportunities to exercise valued human capabilities. Child at RedfernOn many important indicators, the disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, which can be considered as arising through no personal fault of the individuals reported in the statistics, can be considered a social injustice. Closing the gap in the achievement of such indicators is considered a social justice imperative. The Prime Minister's Closing the Gap Report documents the progress made on targets set by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in 2008

The role of education in achieving social justice report

Social justice education is concerned with achieving equitable and quality education for all students. As prominent social justice education theorist, Lee Ann Bell (1997) puts it: "... [S]ocial justice education is both a process and a goal. The goal of social justice education is full and equal participation of all groups in society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs. Social justice includes a vision of society in which the distribution of resources is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure. We envision a society in which individuals are both self-determining (able to develop their full capacities), and interdependent (capable of interacting democratically with others)." Social justice would involve achieving the two aspects of anti-racism education: the curricular justice goal, which aims to deliver curricular justice to Indigenous students and the wider responsibility goal, which aims to redress social disadvantage including, importantly, reducing racism (Vigliante 2007, p. 103).

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Bell, L 1997, 'Theoretical foundations for social justice education', in Adams, M, Griffin, P & Bell, L (eds), Teaching for diversity and social justice: a sourcebook, Routledge, New York. Vigliante, T 2007, 'Social justice through effective anti-racism education: A survey of pre-service teachers', Journal of Educational Enquiry, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 103–128.
Image: Phoenix Wunba Briscoe, a proud Ku Ku Yalanji descendant. Photograph by Luke Briscoe (2013). The photo was taken at ‘the Block’, Redfern – an urban iconic meeting place and a symbol of hope for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Social justice campaigns

In their summary of anti-racism strategies that work, Pedersen, Walker, Rapley, & Wise (2003, p. 5) state: [T]he literature suggests that the best possible strategy for combating racism is multi-faceted, and developed in accordance with the specific and local circumstances of the community for which it is intended.

[A] dynamic, iterative and consultative approach, using both ‘top-down’ strategies (e.g., community or institutionally instigated action, such as advertising campaigns targeting specific actions or behaviours.

An example of this approach is the successful HIV/AIDS prevention Grim Reaper campaign) and ‘bottom-up’ strategies (e.g., addressing specific racist behaviours), is more likely to succeed than are replications of ‘one-size fits all’ programs, without due regard for local community concerns and political sensitivities around the issues of entitlement, dispossession, racism and prejudice.

Racism: It Stops with Me

RACISM: IT STOPS WITH ME is a community campaign by the Human Rights Commission that aims to:
  • ensure more Australians recognise that racism is unacceptable in our community
  • give more Australians the tools and resources to take practical action against racism
  • empower individuals and organisations to prevent and respond effectively to racism.

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Pederson, A, Walker, I, Rapley, M & Wise, M 2003, 'Anti-Racism—What works? An evaluation of the effectiveness of anti-racism strategies', prepared for the Office of Multicultural Interests, Centre for Social Change & Social Equity, Murdoch University, Perth.

Multicultural education

Multicultural education is not a discrete learning area, or simply the provision of Languages and English as an Additional Language (EAL).
Multicultural education makes sure that all students have access to inclusive teaching and learning experiences. These experiences will allow students to successfully take part in a rapidly changing world where cross-cultural understanding and intercultural communication skills are essential. In a school context, and with the support of school policies and programs, multicultural education helps students develop:
  • proficiency in English
  • competency in a language or languages other than English
  • in depth knowledge and awareness of their own and other cultures
  • an understanding of the multicultural nature of Australia’s past and present history
  • an understanding of, and skills to interact in, intercultural settings
  • an appreciation of the importance of local, national and international interdependence in social, environmental, economic and political arenas and an understanding that mutual support in these areas is vital to local and global harmony.
Focus Area 1.3 Demonstrate knowledge of teaching strategies that are responsive to the learning strengths and needs of students from diverse linguistic, cultural, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds. Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (Graduate level)
Schools should make sure multicultural perspectives are incorporated into all aspects of school life by:
  • promoting diversity as a positive learning experience
  • incorporating multicultural perspectives across all learning domains
  • incorporating multicultural, anti-racism, and human rights perspectives in school policies and practices
  • enhancing teachers’ and students’ intercultural understanding and cross-cultural communication skills
  • making sure all school policies, including three year strategic and annual plans, codes of conduct, dress codes and discipline policies
  • reflect the diverse nature of the school community.


Victorian Department of Education and Training 2014, What is multicultural education?, viewed 7 November 2016, <>

Readings: Topic 3

Suggested readings for Topic 3: Countering racism
Fozdar, F, Wilding, R, & Hawkins, M 2009, 'Race and othering', in Race and ethnic relations, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne, Victoria, pp. 3–25.

Explorations of race

Activity: Explore a range of Australian and international resources and media on race and racism.
Write down everything you know about race. Watch the following clips from the documentary ‘Race, the power of an illusion’ and write down any questions that are raised for you:
Use the following resources from the web forum Is Race “Real”? to try to answer any further questions that you have about race:

History of racism

There is a long history to racism. To learn more watch the following clips from the BBC documentary Racism – A History which explores the impact of racism on a global scale:[1]
Racism – A History was first broadcast on BBC Four in March 2007 to mark the bicentenary of the Slave Trade Act 1807 which abolished the slave trade in the British Empire. For a synopsis of this 3 part series see

Forms of racism

Use the 'Racism no way' site to investigate the different forms of racism.
Read through this resource and then consider the following questions:
  • Is racism wrong? Explain your answer.
  • Should we be combating racism in schools and in our classrooms?
You might like to consider the ethical principles of equality, the common good, harm caused, empathy, and the consequences to evaluate whether racism is wrong.

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[1] Activity contributed by Michael Colbung, Adelaide University

Equity and life outcomes

Activity: Consider the disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
View the YouTube clip below. You should focus on:
  • education outcomes
  • home ownership
  • jobs
  • life expectancy

Closing the Gap

In 2008, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed to six ambitious targets to address the disadvantage faced by Indigenous Australians in life expectancy, child mortality, education and employment.
Research what needs to be achieved for the Closing the Gap targets.
  • What contributions can teachers make to close the gap in educational outcomes?

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Investigating prejudice

Activity: What does prejudice look like, feel like or sound like?
From images available in the public domain select one image from the Gallery that in some way reflects a time when you felt discriminated against, or you saw someone being discriminated against. Gallery of images (PDF file; 44 images) Explain your choice to your group. Select another image that reflects your understanding of inclusion. Explain your choice to your group.
As a group or class complete a 'Y Chart' for each of the following questions:
  1. What does prejudice look like/feel like/sound like?
  2. What does inclusion look like/feel like/sound like?
A Y Chart example A Y Chart example
Once you’ve considered prejudice and inclusion answer the following reflection questions:
  • How inclusive do you believe Australian society to be? Justify your answer.
  • In what ways can you create an inclusive classroom environment?

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Racism and the media

Activity: Choose a media story where race is the central issue in sport.
In Australia, racism and the media are regularly entangled.
Choose a media story where race is the central issue in sport (such as the 2013 AFL incident below) or from other sections of the community such as politics or education, and answer the following questions in relation to this story.
  • Do you believe that media stories portraying racist attitudes help educate the public or are they counter-productive and entrench existing attitudes?
  • Do you agree with the statement by Waleed Aly that Australia has a high level of low level racism?
See the Monthly article by Waleed Aly: Racism, Australian Style

Social justice and society

Activity: Whether a society is just involves thinking about what can be considered a good life and where the responsibility lies for achieving human wellbeing.

Social justice for yourself and others

Answer the following questions:
  • What do you believe to be a good life?
  • What conditions contribute to your wellbeing? If certain things were lacking would this impact on achieving a good life? You might like to consider the following as examples; equality, dignity, respect, rights, freedoms (freedoms to think for yourself, freedom of speech, freedom from government intervention), health, education, etc. You might also consider the material goods/resources required to achieve wellbeing or a good quality of life.


sample-image1Reflect on your own life and what has influenced your wellbeing by responding to the following questions:
  • What factors/conditions led you to study at university?
  • How will completing university studies contribute to your wellbeing?
  • What likely factors/conditions would have made it impossible for you to come to university? What might stop you completing your degree?
  • What choices did you have regarding the circumstances you were born into?
  • Did you choose the abilities/inabilities, talents/incompetencies that you were born with?
  • Do you think you have had any advantages or disadvantages because of the circumstances that you were born into?
  • Do you think you have had any advantages or disadvantages due to the abilities/inabilities, talents/incompetencies that you were born with?


Think about the lives of others and address the following questions, giving reasons for each answer:
  • How are some people advantaged/disadvantaged because of the circumstances that they are born into?
  • In what way are some people advantaged/disadvantaged by the abilities and talents that they were born with?
  • What factors can you identify that possibly led to people living in poverty or to being wealthy?
  • How do societal structures advantage/disadvantage some people?
  • What factors that influence a person’s wellbeing can be considered as outside of their control?
  • Some may say that individuals are totally responsible for the circumstances in which they find themselves. What is your response?
  • When reflecting on what constitutes a good life, consider who/what is responsible for providing and/or protecting the means that individuals require for wellbeing/a good life?

Social justice and wellbeing

The American philosopher John Rawls argued that one’s wellbeing should not be the result of what he referred to as a ‘natural lottery’, by which he meant factors that are distributed by chance and outside an individual’s control (Kaufman 2006). These factors include inheritance of such advantages (or lack of advantages as the case may be) including wealth, talents and social position and the fairness of social structures in which we operate.
  • Do you agree with his argument?
  • What other factors would you like to include?
  • How does what you believe about these factors impact on your understanding of what is required of a society to be called just?
  • To answer the question, ‘Is Australia a fair and just nation?’ use one of the wellbeing or quality of life measures and do some research on Australia to decide whether you think Australia can be considered a just and fair society.

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Kaufman, A 2006, Capabilities equality: basic issues and problems, Routledge, New York. Pederson, A, Walker, I, Rapley, M & Wise, M 2003, 'Anti-Racism—What works? An evaluation of the effectiveness of anti-racism strategies', prepared for the Office of Multicultural Interests, Centre for Social Change & Social Equity, Murdoch University, Perth.

Whiteness and privilege

Activity: Explore notions of identity, whiteness, race and racism, and their impacts on learning and teaching.
Analysing whiteness opens a theoretical space for teachers and students to articulate how their own racial identities have been shaped within a broader racist culture and what responsibilities they might assume for living in a present in which whites are accorded privileges and opportunities (though in complex and different ways) largely at the expense of other racial groups. (Giroux 1997, p. 314)

Explore the following Me, My Race & I slideshow. Consider the impact of past economic advantage/disadvantage on the present.
  • To what extent would the situation described in the clip be similar in Australia?
  • In what way do you benefit from your parents'/family’s opportunities/achievements and or assets?
Race slideshow

Colour blindness

If teachers are to be educators for social justice, it is important to critically deconstruct whiteness, given that it is positioned as the norm against which everything else is measured (Moreton-Robinson 2005). While the idea of being ‘blind’ to colour seems to appeal to a sense of equality, this form of thinking in education can have serious implications for our students and has been labelled by some as the new racism. The following resource explains why.


Moreton-Robinson, A 2005, 'Whiteness, epistemology and Indigenous representation', in A Moreton-Robinson (ed) Whitening race: essays in social and cultural criticism, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, pp. 75–88. Giroux, H 1997, 'White Squall: resistance and the pedagogy of whiteness', Cultural Studies, vol. 11, no. 3, pp. 376–389. Malin, M & Ngarritjan-Kessaris, T 1999, Confronting the deceptions of racism: whiteness, social change and teacher education, paper presented at Australian Curriculum Studies Association conference, Perth, viewed 29 August 2016, <>.

Anti-racism strategies

Activity: In groups choose a strategy that has been evaluated for its effectiveness in reducing prejudice and racism.
'Anti-Racism – What works? An evaluation of the effectiveness of anti-racism strategies'

Anti-racism resources

Now that you have an idea of the strategies that are effective in reducing racism consider the following goal and principles outlined on the RacismNoWay Anti-racism education for Australian schools website
Review the lesson ideas on the RacismNoWay website, for Years K-2 and 3-12.
  • What else is required to achieve the goal of social justice education?
The Racism. No Way web site offers many teaching resources:

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Countering racism

Assessment objectives

  1. Based on your readings, discuss the ways in which social justice, anti-racism and multicultural education have been conceptualised.
  2. Compose an essay of approximately 1500–2000 words.
In your essay, choose one topic (social justice, anti-racism or multiculturalism), outline your position and examine a rationale for reconciliation to be embedded in educational settings.


Essay focus A: Educational practices

Questions to consider:
  1. AssessmentHow are your educational processes/practices linked to structural power relations along axes of socioeconomic, gender, racial and ethnic differences?
  2. How are your educational processes/practices influenced in regard to social, cultural, political and historical factors?
  3. How do the concepts of oppression and privilege assist in our understanding of diverse student experiences?
  4. What are negotiated curriculum and anti-racism pedagogies that embrace students' funds of knowledge and cultural background they bring to school?
  5. How do such pedagogies attempt to traverse the gap between pedagogical discourse and practice by challenging the notions of power, capital, and the relevance of the lifeworld knowledge that students bring with them to the classroom?

Essay focus B: Reflecting on personal experiences

Questions to consider:
  1. Look around and be aware of possible situations or instances of racism in any field familiar to you (for example, school, community, group, organisation, etc.).
  2. Provide reasons (theoretical concepts to account for what is happening and outline the principles stating why such situations are possibly racist (for example, belief in intellectual or physical superiority/inferiority and the principle of exclusion /inclusion).
  3. In providing reasons consider the guiding questions provided in the assessment. In this manner construct in your own words and based on your own experiences, a critical understanding of concepts and action oriented principles framed in terms of social justice, equity, role of education in countering racism, etc.
  4. Propose multiple, do-able, and specific action plans to counter racism in your respective school, family or community.

Topic review

Countering racism

To construct an inclusive curriculum teachers are asked to commit to education as a process of critical transformation of individuals, schools and society. To achieve this, this topic invited an exploration of our own understandings of social justice, racism, privilege and power. Reflecting on our own ideologies can be challenging, however such an open inquiry is good preparation for a values-driven practice required to implement anti-racism pedagogies in schools.

Questions for review:

  • Can educators be agents of change without committing to education as a process of critical transformation of individuals, schools and society?
  • Were you challenged by the notions of social justice, racism, privilege and power presented? Reflect on why/why not.
  • What challenges and opportunities do you see in implementing anti-racism pedagogies in schools?

Choose one Focus Area of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers where you could apply the knowledge and skills you have gained from Topic 3, such as:
Professional knowledgeFocus Area 2.4: Understand and respect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to promote reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians Demonstrate broad knowledge of, understanding of and respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and languages.  Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (Graduate teachers)
Congratulations! You have now completed all topics in Module 1.

Proceed to Module 2 »

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