Racist language cuts across media, politicians and public

Mar 26, 2014 by David Ellis

Researchers at the University of Adelaide have analysed the language used by talkback radio hosts, callers and politicians to better understand how and why people construct racist comments about ethnic groups - even if they don't intend to be racist.

In the latest of a series of papers published by University of Adelaide social psychologists Dr Scott Hanson-Easey and Professor Martha Augoustinos, they use case studies from the recent past, examining public discussions about the Australian Sudanese community.

Dr Hanson-Easey analysed comments from the then Minister for Immigration and Citizenship (now Minister for Social Services), Kevin Andrews MP in 2007, and talkback calls to a popular evening radio program following the highly publicised stabbing murder of a Sudanese youth in Adelaide in 2008.

Published recently in the journal Discourse & Society, the paper shows instances of the Sudanese community being described as "tribal" and violent, and not fitting into Australian society - representing them as inherently troublesome.

"I was interested in the portrayal of the Sudanese community because they're humanitarian refugees who've been resettled in Australia as part of an official humanitarian refugee program. They experience a very different process to asylum seekers who've arrived here without a visa," says Dr Hanson-Easey, a research associate in the University's Discipline of Public Health who conducted this study as part of his PhD.

"Despite their government-sanctioned resettlement, Sudanese refugees have not been immune to racial comments, just like many other migrant groups before them. There is a common way in which the Sudanese community is portrayed or constructed as 'the other' - an outside group - in the language of politicians, the public and the media. Sometimes this is people trying to make sense of a new social group, and sometimes it serves more ideological aims."

Dr Hanson-Easy says the language being used often associates the collective culture of Sudanese refugees with the poor behaviour of some individuals. For example, a radio host would draw a link between Sudanese people and the massacred Tutsi people of Rwanda, saying: "they're all tribals"; and a talkback caller saying: "they fight amongst themselves... their fights are usually tribal".

Dr Hanson-Easey says: "In the case of the former Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews, his public comments to the media provided a kind of socio-historical narrative that pitted African culture against Western and Asian cultures. This enabled him to justify the controversial cutting of the humanitarian refugee quota from Sudan.

"The talkback callers wouldn't necessarily see themselves as being 'racist', and they may not be as strategic in their rhetoric in the same way that a politician would, but their depictions of Sudanese people can serve illiberal and racist ends.

"Of course, the night-time talkback radio demographic does not represent all Australians, but it is a very vocal audience and those racial comments are heard and felt within the refugee communities themselves," he says.

"These examples serve to highlight the need for rigorous public discussion about what does and does not constitute racism and how it affects communities, particularly in light of the proposed changes to Australia's racial vilification laws."

Explore further: Barriers to care for resettled refugees

More information: Scott Hanson-Easey, Martha Augoustinos, and Gail Moloney. "'They're all tribals': Essentialism, context and the discursive representation of Sudanese refugees."
Discourse & Society 0957926513519536, first published on February 26, 2014 DOI: 10.1177/0957926513519536

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Barriers to care for resettled refugees

Jan 13, 2014

Barriers to health care for refugees who have been resettled in the Australian community remains an issue that requires a health service overhaul, a Monash University-led report has found.

Sudan to vaccinate against yellow fever outbreak

Nov 19, 2012

(AP)—Sudan has launched a massive vaccination campaign to immunize 2.4 million people against an outbreak of yellow fever in the restive region of Darfur, the U.N. said Monday.

Khartoum allows polio vaccine in troubled states

Oct 24, 2013

The Sudanese government has agreed to let United Nations workers vaccinate tens of thousands of children against polio in the violence-wracked South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, the world body said Thursday.

Recommended for you

World population likely to peak by 2070

Oct 23, 2014

World population will likely peak at around 9.4 billion around 2070 and then decline to around 9 billion by 2100, according to new population projections from IIASA researchers, published in a new book, World Population and ...

Bullying in schools is still prevalent, national report says

Oct 23, 2014

Despite a dramatic increase in public awareness and anti-bullying legislation nationwide, the prevalence of bullying is still one of the most pressing issues facing our nation's youth, according to a report by researchers ...

Study examines effects of credentialing, personalization

Oct 23, 2014

Chris Gamrat, a doctoral student in learning, design and technology, recently had his study—completed alongside Heather Zimmerman, associate professor of education; Jaclyn Dudek, a doctoral student studying learning, design ...

User comments : 0