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Racism as a determinant of First Peoples’ health

Racism has a detrimental impact on the health and care of Australia’s First Peoples. Racism is real and it is making us sick. Find out how.

Racism is pervasive in Australia and has a detrimental impact on the health and care of Australia’s First Peoples. Watch Stan Grant as he speaks to the lived experiences of racism for Australia’s First Peoples.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Racism is real and so are the health implications associated with it. Experiences of racism contributes to lower levels of confidence and sense of self-worth. It is directly connected to poor physical, mental and emotional health.

Generations of First Peoples have and continue to be disadvantaged by racism. The consequences are compounded by past and present government policies, along with the traumatic legacy of colonisation. This is an ongoing cycle of historical disadvantage, which continues to pass down from one generation to the next. The damage is cumulative.

To better understand racism, we first need to understand the related concepts of prejudice, discrimination and stereotypes.

Let’s explore further.


Prejudice is often grounded in misinformed negative or hostile judgements. It refers to an individual’s attitudes, thoughts and feelings toward another person or group of people. It is usually characterised by inaccurate generalisations and preconceived judgements. Although these can be positive (eg. Aboriginal people excel in sports) they are often negative (eg. Aboriginal people are lazy and welfare dependent).

Most of us have prejudices of one kind of another. Take a moment to reflect on your own by answering the following questions.

  • Who are you prejudiced against?
  • Are your prejudices based on generalisations?
  • Are your prejudices serving your work in health and human services?
  • What can you do to let go of that prejudice and approach each individual with a more open mind or more positive regard?


Discrimination occurs as a result of acting on prejudice. It results in unjust or inequitable treatment of marginalised groups of people.

For example, not employing an Indigenous Australian, because of preconceived judgements that ‘those people are unreliable’. Another is failing to promote an Indigenous Australian employee because of assumptions they ‘wouldn’t fit in’ with their co-workers. This type of treatment reproduces the widespread racism already experienced by Indigenous Australians in the workplace.

Did you know?

A recent study undertaken by Diversity Council Australia found that First Peoples experience the greatest amount of discrimination in Australian workplaces.


Listen to Professor Gregory Phillips talk about stereotypes

Stereotypes are oversimplified ideas about groups of people. They are based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity, age, gender and sexual orientation. Stereotypes based on any characteristic can also be positive or negative. They are usually generalised and based on historical myths used to describe marginalised people or groups.

In Australia, few people have developed a relationship with an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person. Have you?

Most non-Indigenous Australians have come to ‘know’ about Australia’s First People through myths and stories passed down from earlier colonists. Mainstream media continues to perpetuate negative stereotypes about Indigenous Australian people and our communities as mentioned by Professor Gregory Phillips.

When was the last time you read or saw a positive story about First Peoples? For the large part, media consistently focuses on portraying examples of appalling health, alcohol-related behaviours, criminal activities, unemployment, family violence, housing crisis, dysfunction and wasted money (Sherwood & Geia, 2014, p.8). These stereotypes do not correlate with the lived experience of the majority of Australia’s First Peoples.

Media stereotyping has and continues to directly impact the way many non-Indigenous Australians view First Peoples. Ultimately, it also influences government policy development and implementation, which is a form of institutional racism. More on that shortly.

Your task

What is your knowledge of Indigenous Australians based on? Please share your stories about prejudice, discrimination and stereotyping in the comments link below.

© Griffith University & ABSTARR Consulting / Audio used with permission from Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI)
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Safer Healthcare for Australia's First Peoples

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