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Types of racisms

The word ‘racism’ is often interchanged with ‘prejudice’, however unlike prejudice, racism is organised and persistent. Let's find out more.
© Griffith University

The word ‘racism’ is often interchanged with ‘prejudice’, however unlike prejudice, racism is organised and persistent.

Watch this short, but powerful video produced as part of Beyondblue’s Invisible Discriminator campaign. It highlights the impact of racism on the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Peoples.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Racism is not only an individual ideology but an entire system of behaviours, ideas, practices, conditions, structures, policies and processes that maintain racial advantage.

Let’s take a look at racism from three interrelated levels: individual, institutional/systemic and everyday racism.

As you work through these definitions, reflect on practical examples you’ve witnessed in your own life – at work or in social settings.

1. Individual racism

Individual racism stems from personal prejudice. When it’s expressed consciously, the individual is aware of their prejudice and bias. In most instances though, individual racism is insidious and unconsciously shapes beliefs, attitudes and decisions

This is the most common, yet incomplete understanding of racism, because the focus is on whether individual people are either ‘racist’ or ‘not racist’. As much as individuals can be the agents of racism, it is not just an individual trait; it’s systemic and works to protect privileged relationships in our society.

Let’s explore the complexities of racism further.

2. Institutional (systemic) racism

Although we’ve come a long way, racist policies and processes are deeply ingrained at the institutional level of our society. In Australian hospitals, prisons, schools and throughout all levels of government, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are disadvantaged because of systemic racism.

For example, did you know:

Systemic racism perpetuates avoidable and unfair inequalities through policies, conditions and protocols that set up an unfair playing ground.

‘In the Australian context, the high rates of unemployment, lower average income, high rates of arrest and imprisonment, of poor health, low education and low life expectancy are, in part, indicators of the consequences of entrenched institutionalised racism (Dudgeon, Garvey & Pickett, 2000).’

3. Everyday racism

‘I’m not a racist! You’re just being too sensitive’…

Philomena Essed (1991) first coined the term ‘everyday racism’, challenging the idea of racism as an individual problem. In other words, the focus of everyday racism is not so much on racist ‘people’, but the taken-for-granted racist practices ingrained in our society.

It refers to the commonplace interactions with people, services or systems that leaves Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders feeling racially judged in a covert or deniable way. It can be intentional or unintentional. It recognises racism is systematic and is continually reinforced through familiar, everyday practices – such as racial microagressions.

What are racial microaggressions?

If you haven’t heard of the term before, ‘racial microagrressions’ refer to the damaging attitudes, behaviours, humiliations and jokes that people from minority groups face on a daily basis. Racial microaggressions have been described as ‘the new face of racism’ (Sue, et al, 2007).

Most non-Indigenous Australians are completely unaware of the persistent racism experienced by Australia’s First Peoples every day.

What is internalised racism?

Internalised racism is a disturbing concept. It occurs when the racial or ethnic group being discriminated against begins to accept society’s racist attitudes and beliefs. In other words, the so called ‘inferiority’ of one’s own ethnic or racial group is believed. For example, internalised racism occurs when an Indigenous person believes that Indigenous people are naturally less intelligent than non-Indigenous people (Paradies et al. 2008, p. 4).

Internalised racism is a consequence of colonisation. As you can imagine, it has damaging effects on the health and wellbeing of Australia’s First Peoples.

Racism is one manifestation of the wider phenomenon of oppression which includes sexism, ageism and classism and is linked to the concept of privilege (Paradies, 2006). It’s oppressive because it involves the systematic use of power or authority to treat others unjustly (Australian Psychological Society definition of racism, as cited in Ranzijn et al., 2009).

Your task

Read Cherisse Buzzacott’s article and reflect on everyday racism and its damage to First Peoples. What examples of it have you witnessed in your your life? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments link below.


Dudgeon, P., Garvey, D. &, Pickett, H. (2000). Violence turned inwards. In: Dudgeon, P., Garvey D., & Pickett, H., (eds). Working with Indigenous Australians: A handbook for psychologists. Perth: Gunada Press.

Essed, P. (1991). Understanding everyday racism: An interdisciplinary theory. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Paradies, Y., Harris, R., & Anderson, I. (2008) The impact of racism on Indigenous health in Australia and Aotearoa: towards a research agenda. Discussion paper No. 4, CRCAH Discussion Paper Series, Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Aboriginal Health, Darwin.

Ranzijn, R., McConnochie, K., & Nolan, W. (2009). Psychology and Indigenous Australians: foundations of cultural competence. ( ed.). South Yarra, Vic: Palgrave Macmillan.

Soutphommasane, T. (2017). Institutional Racism. Australian Human Rights Commission

Sue, D. W., Nadal, K.L., Capodilupo, C.M., Lin, A.I., Torino, G.C., & Rivera, D.P. (2007). Racial Microaggressions Against Black Americans: Implications for Counseling. Journal of Counseling & Development.

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