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Pain of subtle racism can impact on mental health

TAKING A STAND: Bundjalung Elders Council public officer Debbie Rhodes would like people to realise subtle racism and insensitive statements can lead to depression in those targeted.
TAKING A STAND: Bundjalung Elders Council public officer Debbie Rhodes would like people to realise subtle racism and insensitive statements can lead to depression in those targeted. Marc Stapelberg

BEING segregated or unfairly stereotyped is hurtful for anyone.

When it's purely on the colour of your skin it's a particularly painful blow to self-esteem and mental health.

Lismore-based Bundjalung Elders Council spokeswoman Debbie Rhodes spoke about her experiences with "subtle racism" as BeyondBlue launches a new campaign against discrimination.

"Subtle racism absolutely exists. It's a feeling you get. It comes out in people's body language or they'll watch you more closely and they might not even know they're doing it," she said.

"If the Elders Council put out something like this you'd hear people say, 'Oh, it's just the black fellas whinging again.' "

But survey-based statistics from BeyondBlue show 27% of indigenous Australians regularly experience racism and 20% of Australians admit they would discriminate against indigenous Australians.

Additionally, 21% would move away if an indigenous Australian sat near them, 21% would watch them more closely in a retail environment, 12% tell racist jokes, 12% would avoid sitting next to an indigenous person on public transport and 9% would not hire an indigenous Australian.

Ms Rhodes experienced discrimination on a recent visit to a local supermarket.

"Some guy asked to check my bag," she said.

"I refused, told him I'd been going there for 20 years. He said he'd call the manager and police but didn't check anyone else's bag."

Another uncomfortable situation last year also stuck in Ms Rhodes' memory.

"I went to a local credit union to do some business for the Elders Council. A guy behind the counter saw me, didn't serve me, closed his register and made out he was doing something else. The line kept getting longer but as soon as I was called to another register he opened up again."

Ms Rhodes congratulated Beyond Blue, who launched the campaign to improve the mental health of indigenous Australians.

"If you're an Aboriginal person getting this sort of thing it could lead to depression," she said.

"Is it any wonder why some Aboriginal young people are so aggressive? It's about the stereotyping of them as thieves or untrustworthy that they get."

Topics:  racism



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