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Stefanou-Haag, Efrosini --- "Antiracism - From Legislation to Education" [1994] AUJlHRights 12; (1994) 1(1) Australian Journal of Human Rights 185

Antiracism - From Legislation to Education

Efrosini Stefanou-Haag

Role of legislation

The Equal Opportunity Act of South Australia (1984) makes specific provisions to prohibit racist discrimination within the public arena - including in education and employment. The South Australian Education Department antiracism policy (1990) was developed as the framework for eliminating racism from the working and learning environments for which it is responsible, thereby meeting its legislative obligations, as a major education service provider and employer. The Act was an important catalyst for change within the department. The fact that the policy had a legislative basis, gave it credibility among educators and community groups.

Sections 51, and 52 and 59 of the Act, formed the rationale for the development of the grievance procedures, which represent the means for resolving complaints of racist discrimination and harassment.

Discrimination on ground of race

Part IV Division I Section 51

For the purposes of this Act, a per son discriminates against another on the ground of race:

(a) if he or she treats another person unfavourably by reason of the other's race

(b) if he or she treats another person unfavourably because the other does not comply, or is not able to comply, with a particular requirement and:

(i) the nature of the requirement is such that a substantially higher proportion of persons of a different race complies, or is able to comply, with the requirement than those of the other's race and

(ii) the requirement it not reasonable in the circumstances of the case or

(c) if he or she treats another person unfavourably on the basis of a characteristic that pertains generally to persons of the other's race, or on the basis of a presumed characteristic that is generally imputed to persons of that race. "Race" of a person means the nationality, country of origin, colour or ancestry of the person or of any other person with whom he or she resides or associates.

Part IV Division II Section 52

(1) It is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a person on the ground of race:

(a) in determining, or in the course of determining, who should be offered employment or

(b) in the terms or conditions on which employment is offered.

(2) It is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee on the ground of race:

(a) in the terms or conditions of employment

(b) by denying or limiting access, to opportunities for promotion, transfer training, or to any other benefits connected with employment.

(c) by dismissing the employee

(d) by segregating the employee from persons of other races or

(e) by subjecting the employee to any other detriment.

Part IV Division IV Section 59

(1) It is unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a person on the ground of race

(a) by refusing or failing to accept an application for admission as a student or

(b) in the terms or conditions on which it offers to admit the person as a student.

(2) It is unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a student on the ground of race:

(a) in the terms of conditions on which it provides the student with education or training

(b) by denying or limiting access, to any benefit provided by the authority

(c) by expelling the student or

(d) by subjecting the student to any other detriment.

Where "detriment' includes humiliation or denigration" (section 5(1)) and where "educational authority' means the person or body administering any school, college, university or other institutions at which education or training is provided" (section 5(1)).

(3) In any proceedings brought under this Act against a person in respect of an act alleged to have been committed by his/her agent or employee acting in the course of his/her agency or employment, it shall be a defence for that person to prove that he/she exercised all reasonable diligence to ensure that his/her agent or employee would not act in contravention of this Act.

The existence of legislation is significant not only because legislation provides a direct means of seeking redress. The power of legislation, lies in the fact that it serves to affirm in public ways the core values of a nation. The Equal Opportunity Act, is an overt symbol that in this society, we recognise the harmful and damaging consequences of racist discrimination in all its forms. Further it is a clear statement that this society's disapproval is so strong that it has made racist behaviours unlawful. Legislation encourages value's clarification, and gives educators and employers the opportunity to examine their own practices against the values underpinning the Act. In the context of the education department this led to examining the impact of racism on learners and workers. It led to an analysis of the various ways in which students and employees experience racism, and its effects on victims, perpetrators and the whole education environment.

In addition to the Equal Opportunity Act, the South Australian Education Act (1972) and particularly Regulations 121 to 124, (which referred to the principals' responsibility to manage the welfare of all students, to foster respect for other persons, to consult with the parent community in school decision making, to establish appropriate school discipline which results in an orderly learning environment for all) were reviewed. It was found that any competent principal who is managing a culturally and linguistically complex school, would also need to be managing sound antiracist strategies.

The link between the antirasist policy and the core responsibilities of principals was tremendously useful, and was made possible because the policy had legislative weight, and could not be dismissed by resistors as the result of behaviour of a handful of ideologies within the department.

In order to ensure that the antiracist policy was responsive to the groups that it was meant to protect, as well as acceptable to those responsible for its implementation, extensive research and consultation was conducted, which culminated in the Antiracism Consultation Report (Stefanou Haag 1989)[1] . The process of consultation encompassed discussions with students, parents teachers and community groups, and included Aboriginal, non English speaking and English speaking background people in metropolitan and country locations, and in school and community settings. The resulting knowledge and understandings informed the development of the policy, and the process of discussion created a climate of acceptance of the policy's intentions. One of the projects which contributed to the development of the policy, was the Antiracism Poster Project in which students from 26 schools ranging from junior primary to senior secondary levels participated. This project invited students to create artwork that depicted their views of racism and its effects as well as the messages that they believed should be projected to combat racism. The requisite classroom interactions that culminated in the production of high quality artwork, meant that students engaged with the issues in a detailed and in depth manner even before the policy was released in schools. The artwork was displayed at the Tandanya Aboriginal art centre for the official launch of the policy and was on exhibition for two months after this event.

It is true to say that although the policy took its power base as well as its inspiration from the legislative context, the seriousness and dedication with which the policy, grievance procedures and accompanying training and development package were developed, was mainly due to the commitment of key change agents within the department's equal opportunity, aboriginal education and multiculturalism in education units. Without this commitment and expertise, the necessary care and thoughtfulness which was applied to the task, could not have been guaranteed merely by the existence of legislation alone.

Racism in the education context

The Antiracism Policy of the Education Department of South Australia[2] , in reflecting the voices of all stakeholders in the field as well as the education system, describes racism in the following terms:

Racism impoverishes and undermines our society by demeaning and excluding individuals and groups and by limiting their participation. Racism feeds on prejudices and fears about cultural and physiological differences, prejudices and fears which are just as powerful whether these differences are real or assumed. (1990:2)

Whitney Young[3] describes racism as follows:

Racism is the assumption of superiority of one group over another, with all the gross arrogance that goes along with it. (1970)

Both of these definitions draw attention to the fact that racism is based on negative assumptions that sustain and perpetrate existing power relations within our society. Racism legitimates and provides a false but nevertheless powerful justification for discriminatory behaviours - behaviours at the individual, group and system levels, which will ensure that some groups in our society are treated more favourably than others.

The identity of groups most subjected to racism, depends on a number of factors which vary in time and according to community context. Economic circumstances, world events, historical factors, recency of arrival to a host community, all interact in complex ways to determine which groups will be targeted for racist attack. Tove Skutnabb Kangas in 1994[4] , on her visiting lecture to educationalists in South Australia, pointed out the discrimination against Finnish workers in Sweden. She drew attention to the similarities between the descriptions of Finns by the Swedes and those of Black Africans by the British. Racism therefore is not always a question of colour although this marker of difference has been used to support the worst aspects of the biological inferiority theory.

It is possible to trace consistent patterns of racism against specific groups over time, for example against the Jews in Europe. Within Australia, it is Aboriginal people as well as people from language backgrounds other than English who are most vulnerable to the effects of racism. This is not to deny that people from these groups are not themselves capable of racism against others. The fact remains however, that in terms of educational outcomes, career choices and life chances, it is they who are most disadvantaged by it, as is evident in a number of national and state research projects and reports.

Racism is the foundation stone for racist discrimination and harassment. Racist discrimination within the education context can take many forms - less attention in class, put- downs, playing down the successes and achievements of particular groups or individuals while highlighting any negative aspects of behaviour or performance, undermining some students' career aspirations by making discouraging remarks and refusing to recognise and respond appropriately to learning needs are but some examples. Other forms of discrimination may be to encourage certain groups of students to leave school or to enrol elsewhere. Exclusion of certain groups of parents from decisions that affect their children's education and welfare is yet another example of discrimination.

At the heart of discriminatory behaviour is the notion that certain groups are less entitled to succeed in our society than are others. It is the experience of many Aboriginal people and those from language backgrounds other than English, that discrimination intensifies after they have proved they have skills, talents and abilities which compare favourably with those of people from the dominant group. There is an assumption that people from these groups should know their place. That place is not in positions of leadership or influence. Individuals from these groups who achieve success are often viewed with suspicion; it is assumed and often stated that they 'got there' through special provisions or by foul means. These assumptions are evident in the use of the term 'over achieving immigrant'(over what?)and reference to 'marijuana mansions', 'ethnic Mafia' and the like.

Racist harassment is one form of discrimination. It is intimidating and humiliating behaviour which causes offence, hurt, anger and fear. Some of its common forms are name calling, put downs, belittling jokes and remarks, violence in both verbal and physical forms and pressure to respond with good humour to humiliating behaviour.

Racist harassment is a powerful weapon for maintaining existing power relations within a society, because harassment forces people to collude in their own oppression. For no individual or group can be oppressed for any sustained period of time, without first internalising the oppression imposed by outside forces.

The effects of racist discrimination and harassment are damaging and destructive for all. For those who experience it directly, it means anger, frustration, alienation and loneliness - it also means lowered education and career outcomes and less ability to determine one's career pathways. For those who perpetrate racism, it means the adoption of a set of values that is out of step with those embodied in the laws of this nation. It means complacency and an inability to mature, to be flexible and adaptable in the face of difference. It means to live in fear of certain people. It means insularity and insecurity. As George Orwell says in his short story "Shooting an Elephant" the tragedy of imposing oppression on others is not only that it dehumanises the oppressed, but that it also dehumanises the oppressor.

In terms of systems, racist discrimination excludes the skills, talents, abilities and potential of significant numbers of people. In an era in which we are urged to work smarter, to make the transition from the lucky country to the clever county, this exclusion has serious consequences. Racist harassment causes feelings of tension and hostility which undermine morale, diminish the safety of the environment and lower productivity. It contributes to the incident of absenteeism and stress.

Aboriginal education, multiculturalism and antiracist education

Since the publication of the Galbally Report (1978)[5] education institutions have responded to the multicultural nature of our society by challenging our perspectives of what it is to be an Australian, by encouraging a positive response to cultural diversity, within the cohesive framework of this nation's laws and democratic traditions. It drew attention to the need to respond more effectively to the English language needs of people from language backgrounds other than English as well as to their linguistic and cultural heritages.

During the last two decades, classroom teachers, curriculum writers and program developers have given much attention to the concept of a culture inclusive curriculum. A culturally inclusive curriculum is one in which the content of subjects presents positive and contemporary images of people from a diversity of cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The fact that this has not always been the case may explain why young people erroneously believe that most if not all technological innovations emanate from the United States. Popular images of overseas countries as projected by the media, are that they poor and therefore a potential drain on our charity, (for example images of African countries) or that they are rich and therefore potentially threatening in exerting power over us, (for example images of Japan) or that they are violent therefore a threat to our security (for example images of Middle Eastern and Baltic countries). Schools have a responsibility not only to avoid reinforcing these negative views, but to challenge them as well. One important strategy in challenging biased and culturally loaded printed and visual matter, is to teach students the critical literacy skills which will enable them to analyse whose opinions are being projected, whose are being excluded and whose interests are being served in this process.

As important as getting the content right, is to ensure that the teacher uses teaching and learning strategies which support the learning outcomes for all students. It is important that students from minority groups are provided with constructive information and advice on their work, that they are publicly praised for their achievements and that the activities which most interest them are publicly valued by the school. For example, significant numbers of students from language backgrounds other than English attend ethnic schools. Their attendance and achievement at these schools should be celebrated in their day schools. Many Aboriginal students play sport in community settings. Again, their successful participation in these contexts needs to be acknowledged by schools.

A critical aspect of an inclusive curriculum is the learning of languages other than English. For those students who speak a language other than English as a mother tongue, continuing to learn that language should be considered as a human right, because language is not merely the code for communication but the heartland of cultural expression, identification, family and community unity. The concept of core values and the special place which languages have in cultural development is outlined in detail in the work of Prof. J. J Smolicz[6] , of the University of Adelaide.

The linguistic accessibility of content has also been given attention as is reflected in the development within the education department, of projects such as the 'English as a Second Language in the Mainstream'. This is a training and development program which seeks to provide classroom teachers with the skills to cater for the English language and cultural needs of students for whom English is a second language. Teachers and other educators have carried out classroom based action research, in order to develop a deeper understanding of the learning processes which are most effective with particular groups of students.

Aboriginal educators have developed significant policy statements, and coordinated plans for the implementation of a curriculum which is inclusive of Aboriginal issues, current and historical. Aboriginal Studies are quietly revolutionising the ways in which young people, Aboriginal and non Aboriginal alike, view this nation, Aboriginal cultures, Aboriginal people and community relations at large. The recording, learning and teaching of languages other than English (including the revival of Aboriginal languages and mother-tongue development programs) have been given tremendous impetus through the initiatives which flowed from the National Policy on Languages (1987)[7] .

The Australia in which our children are now being educated is not the same as it was twenty-five years ago. These developments, along with our growing understanding of the issues of gender discrimination in schools, have meant a greater understanding, a more mature and much more informed approach to the educational needs and abilities of all groups of students within our schools.

And yet, racism is still the lived reality for many students and employees within education systems. This is borne out by the findings of such documents as the Education Department of South Australia's Antiracism Project Consultations Report (1989)[8] , the findings of the Report of the National Inquiry into Racist Violence in Australia (1991)[9] and the research reports written by Elizabeth Sloniec[10] in South Australia. Racist discrimination and harassment often go unchallenged in classrooms, playgrounds and staff rooms, despite the significant achievements of reformist policies. This has sometimes been described as a shortcoming of such policies. Criticism levelled at multicultural programs particularly, has drawn attention to the fact that they have not been effective in addressing racism within schools.

I would contend that this view fails to acknowledge that our ability to identify the issues of racism and to take action to eliminate racism within the education context, is precisely the result of the effectiveness of Aboriginal Education and Multiculturalism in Education initiatives. These policy initiatives and programs have had a significant impact on our understanding of how racism in schools and workplace serves to maintain the power relations within our society. As a result of engaging on the issues of an inclusive curriculum, we have developed a sophisticated understanding of the forces of exclusion that affect the education outcomes of particular groups of students. Indeed the very unacceptability of racism within education contexts is due to a large measure to the fact that our tolerance of discriminatory behaviour has been lowered.

Training and development-educating the educators

The reformist approaches described have formed a powerful and sound framework within which to implement more direct and interventionist strategies in the elimination of racism. It is our expectation as educators in the 1990s as it was not in the 1960s, that all students will learn in environments that are free from racist intimidation, denigration and humiliation.

In 1990, the Education Department of South Australia launched its Antiracism Policy. This policy challenges racism directly, making racism incompatible with good education. It states clearly that racism is unacceptable in places of work and learning. It outlines the rights and responsibilities of all those involved in the education enterprise in eliminating racism in places of work and learning. In order to ensure protection from racist discrimination and harassment, grievance procedures will be put into place at all schools and worksites.

Training and development programs developed to ensure the effective implementation of the policy and grievance procedures.

During 1991, 500 principals and 500 contact people as well as 150 trainers were trained over a 2 day period. In subsequent years, these trainers have been called upon to assist principals in training their staff in the relevant issues. The program began by outlining the concept of racism.

Participants then broke into groups and listed examples of racism in the education context, as experienced and witnessed by both students and employees. This session gave principals and teachers the opportunity to reflect on their experiences and enabled them to demonstrate the knowledge they already brought to address this complex and emotionally demanding issue. Another workshop followed, which invited participants to consider what action could be taken to combat racism, under the four broad headings which describe a principal's key responsibilities : curriculum management, personnel management, school community relations management, and resource management. Again, this session was empowering for principals and teachers who initially came to the training feeling they had little knowledge in this area. In the plenary sessions principals and teachers outlined many strategies already in place in their schools which served to diminish racism, many of which were the result of the multicultural and Aboriginal programs mentioned above.

In terms of curriculum, initiatives included the review of printed and viewing material to ensure that the role models presented, affirmed the identities of all the students represented in the school community, the addition of English as a second language to the school's program, as well as the introduction of a language other than English program. Teachers mentioned classroom based research projects which enabled them to analyse their interactions with students from minority groups. For example to what extent were those students with difficult to pronounce names addressed by name by teachers as opposed to those with easier to pronounce names? To what degree did teachers praise, ignore or chastise students of different backgrounds?

In terms of personnel management, principals talked about ensuring teachers of minority groups were included in a school's professional development program, of prohibiting the use of racist language directed against teachers as well as students, supporting the aspirations of students from minority groups for promotion. To each group's collective wisdom, was added the knowledge of the trainer, so that a comprehensive list of strategies for implementing an antiracist education grew naturally from the groups' discussion and plenary. This process was psychologically important, because it demonstrated value for what people already knew, and provided new information and advice within an additive framework. In this way, it was hoped to cushion the effects of dealing with an emotionally charged issue in which very few participants felt they had any expertise.

There were sessions which outlined how the grievance procedures should be managed in instances of complaints. These provided the principals and contact people with the required information to fulfil their responsibilities in providing a safe environment. In these sessions, the fact that many participants were already trained in the management of complaints of sexual harassment, was very useful.

It was therefore possible to consider the similarities and differences between the experience of racism and sexism, as well as to consider the implications of these differences in dealing with complaints of racism. For females from minority groups the combination of sexism and racism to which they are subjected creates additional and more complex barriers to full and equal access to eduction and employment.

One of the major differences outlined was the difficulty that arises when the complainant, typically from a minority group has to lay a complaint of racism with a person from the dominant majority group. This was found to be a potential problem in the course of the consultations.

Apart from the compounding disadvantage faced by females, the cultural aspect of conflict resolution was given much attention in the course of the training. In particular, there was a focus on the management of the different cultural forms of verbal and non verbal communication. In the process of dealing with a complaint the person in charge of the process is likely to judge as most credible those people most similar to them in communication strategies, if there is no awareness that there are various legitimate ways of communicating. Trainers were themselves representative of a variety of cultural and linguistic groups.

The training was in the main well received by principals . It was also mandated, because of the legislative requirement which was interpreted by the policy as a responsibility for principals to provide a learning and working environment which was free from racist discrimination and harassment. Without the legislative imperative it is unlikely that compulsory attendance to the training would have eventuated, because principals would have delegated the training to another person on the staff. Principals were the most appropriate people to attend, because it is they who are legally responsible for schools. Just as importantly, principals drive and determine their schools' priorities-if the principal thinks something is important, it will be acted upon.

Given that the policy emphasises prevention rather than cure, the training program provided advice on how to monitor the safety of the learning and working environment, so that more proactive approaches could be taken in implementing the antiracism policy. The extract below was included in the final version of the Training Handbook for the Implementation for the Racist Discrimination and Harassment Grievance Procedures (1991)[11] .

Monitoring the learning environment

1) Physical space

2) Which students get the rewards

3) Which students/groups of students get most negative reinforcement?

4) Contact people's feedback

5) Curriculum issues to be addressed:

Antiracism and equal employment opportunity

In addition to implementing an antiracism policy within the context of an inclusive curriculum, there is yet another step that must be taken by education institutions if they are to adopt a coordinated approach to the elimination of racism. This is the development and implementation of equal employment opportunity policies and practices.

There needs to be consistency between the values promoted in the school curriculum and the personnel practices of education institutions. Students are capable of drawing their own conclusions about what the school publicly advocates and what it actually values. If employees who are Aboriginal or from non English speaking backgrounds are not represented in leadership positions, if their contribution is confined to contract employment, ancillary work and ethno specific work, students will and do see this as an indication of who has the power in the school and who has not, what is valued and what is not. The use of role models is an essential antiracist strategy not necessarily because role models enhance students' confidence in themselves, but because they enhance students' confidence in the system, to respond appropriately to their needs, rights and contributions. Under the Equal Opportunity Act there is an enabling clause which has been used to employ Aboriginal people for certain positions and in specific circumstances, Section 65.

Section 65:

Act does not apply to projects for benefit of persons of a particular race.

This Part does not render unlawful an act done for the purpose of carrying out a scheme or undertaking for the benefit of persons of a particular race.

No such special measures yet exist for improving the employment profile of people from language backgrounds other than English.

A planned approach to the achievement of equal employment opportunity is a key factor in implementing an antiracist curriculum because it enables the effective use of the skills, talents, perspectives and abilities of those groups currently underepresented in positions of leadership and management.


Through its laws and public policies, Australia as a nation has made a commitment to the pursuit of democratic ideals that seek to eliminate racism from employment and education contexts and which provide a means of redress for those who are nevertheless subjected to racist discrimination and harassment. In 1993, the South Australian Education Department was an exhibitor at the Thessaloniki, Greece International Trade Fair and featured among other education materials the department's policies and curriculum materials in antiracism, multiculturalism and languages. The fair was attended by over a million people. Subsequent requests for information indicate that there is a great deal of interest in our multicultural and antiracist policies and programs from educators in Europe and the United States. Australia is considered by academics in other countries as having a more enlightened and proactive approach to these issues at least at the policy level. Australia therefore has the potential to provide leadership to the world community in the successful management of cultural pluralism.

This is important not only because antiracism is ideologically sound, but also because social cohesion and economic prosperity cannot be achieved and maintained in a society that is besieged from within by racist divisions, resentments and violence. In addition there is an international export market for Australia in this area of expertise.

To date, Australia has developed antiracist policies within the framework of a legislative base, thereby providing these policies with the power and legitimacy to get things done. The test will be whether they will provide the impetus for long term and planned social change.

For this to be achieved, education departments need to continue to work on the implementation of inclusive curriculum practices, such as those initiated through multicultural and Aboriginal education programs. This is a critical time for this to occur, given the inception of national approaches to curriculum development as signalled by the development of the Curriculum Statements and Profiles for Australian Schools(1994)[12].

In addition, monitoring and evaluation processes need to be put into place to ascertain the effectiveness of racist discrimination and harassment grievance procedures, in providing safety, redress, and impetus for change in places of work and learning.

Finally, equal employment opportunity policies and practices need to be systematically implemented, monitored and reviewed so that the future employment profiles of all our major institutions reflect the demography of this nation.


Efrosini Stefanou-Haag 1994

[1] E Stefanou-Haag Antiracism Project Consultation Report, 1989 Education Department of South Australia

[2] Education Department of SA Antiracism Policy 1990, State Print

[3] J H Katz 1978, White Awareness: A Handbook for Antiracism Training, University of Oklahoma Press 1978

[4] T Skuttnabb Kangas, Visiting Lecturer in Australia 1994, University of Roschilde, Denmark

[5] Migrant Services and Programs, Report of the Review of Post-arrival Programs and Services for Migrants, May 1978, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra 1978

[6] JJ Smolicz Language, Culture and the School in a Plural Society: An Australian Perspective, Australia / OELD International Conference, March 1991. (Available from the University of Adelaide Centre for Intercultural Studies and Multicultural Education)

[7] J Lo Bianco National Policy on Languages 1987, Australian Government Printing Service

[8] E Stefanou-Haag Antiracism Project Consultation Report, 1989, Education Department of South Australia

[9] Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Report of the National Inquiry into Racist Violence, Australian Government Printer, 1991

[10] E Sloniec Schooling Outcomes of Students from Non English Speaking Backgrounds - An Overview of Current Issues and Research, Education Department of South Australia - Languages and Multicultural Centre, 1991

[11] Education Department of South Australia Training Handbook, Racist Discrimination and Harassment Grievance Procedures 1991, State Print

[12] A Statement on English for Australian Schools, a joint project of the States, Territories and the Commonwealth of Australia initiated by the Australian Eduacation Council, Curriculum Corporation 1994

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