WHAT IS AVERSIVE RACISM AND HOW CAN I AVOID ENABLING IT?

So, you’ve been inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and want to be a better ally to BIPOC, great! And, you are conscious of the fact that, as a non-black or First Nations person, we live and profit off a society built on systemic racism against Indigenous Australians. You’ve marched, donated, signed petitions and are committed to the betterment of Black and Indigenous people’s lives. But, you might not be aware that you might still be, uh, racist. Well, aversively racist. 

What exactly is aversive racism, how do I recognise it and how do I prevent myself from continuing to enable it?

What is aversive racism?

According to sociologists John F. Dividio and Samuel L. Gaertner’s work Aversive Racism, (link: http://www.psych.purdue.edu/~willia55/392F-’06/Dovidio&Gaertner.pdf) aversive racism is a form of contemporary racism referring to someone who, despite being quite vocal against overt forms of racism, subconsciously holds negative attitudes about people from certain races, ethnicities or minority communities.

People who often display aversive racism are the kinds of people who’ll claim they’re against racism but could also discourage or delegitimatise BIPOC voices against prejudice, consider their actions “too loud” or “aggressive,” or believe stereotypical characteristics about a group of people without realising it. 

According to the video below by educational YouTuber Frank M. LoSchiavo, examples of aversive racism may include someone claiming they’re against racism but admitting they’re uncomfortable with the idea of their child marrying a black person or person of colour, teacher subconsciously skewing punishment to one student over another because the former has a more stereotypically black name, to, even, someone making a post on social media denouncing xenophobia towards Asian people but subconsciously thinking that a Chinese restaurant is “dirty.”

Essentially, someone who is an aversive racist may have strong opinions about fairness, justice and equality for all, but ultimately holds unconscious biases and negative attitudes about people from certain races or ethnicities. 

How does it differ from other types of racism?

Unlike other modes of racism, aversive racism is often upheld by people who don’t hold strong racist beliefs and openly disagree with them. Aversive racists don’t discriminate in situations with strong social norms because it would make their racial bias obvious to others and to themselves. This means that someone who exhibits aversive racism expresses their bias in subtle and hard to detect ways, often justifying or rationalising negative responses on the basis of factors other than race. And, they are more likely to be defensive if they get called out for their racial bias, other than overt racists, because, well, they don’t recognise that they have those views.

According to the author of White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Robin Diangelo, in a speech at Germany’s ZEIT campus, aversive racism “is the classic racism of a white progressive.” It originated from white academics in the U.S. after the Black Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, who disagreed with ideas of segregation and racism against black Americans but harboured stereotypical language about African Americans.

Additionally, while aversive racism is unlike overt racism in that it is more subtle and hard to detect, the consequences of it can parallel the effects of traditional racism. This may include, but isn’t limited to, restricting someone from an economic opportunity or education and giving someone an unfair punishment or judgment because they have an ethnically black name.

How can I recognise it?

It can be hard to recognise aversive racism because of how subtle and deeply rooted in society it and our racial bias and conditioning is. And, in fact, it’s easier to recognise others’ own racial conditioning and examples of aversive racism over your own.

Educating and informing yourself is a good start. We recommend following BIPOC voices and organisations like in our Instagram post below.

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FYI, racism is not just an “American problem,” nor are we “lucky” to be in Australia right now. Our nation has a bloody and horrific history of the treatment of the First Nations people of this country, that continues to the present.⁣⁠⠀ ⁣⁠⠀ The death of George Floyd in the U.S. has a chilling parallel to the death in custody of David Dungay Jr. Our support of oppressed black Americans should be equally matched with efforts to dismantle the systemic racism towards Indigenous people here in Australia.⁣⁠⠀ ⁣⁠⠀ If this makes you angry (and it should), know that there’s a couple of things you can do to help fight for Indigenous people and their rights. From educating yourself, listening to Indigenous voices, donating and more, here’s what you need to know to support First Nations people now and always.⁣⁠⠀ ⁣⁠⠀ #AboriginalLivesMatter #InThisTogether2020 #NRW2020

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Listening to BIPOC voices helps you consciously recognise and confront your own negative attitudes about a community and change your views. From there, according to Dividio and Gaertner, you should consider the way you use language, specifically in regards to people from minority groups or ethnicities, and, how you respond to someone addressing your own aversive racism. As DiAngelo said, people who are aversively racist are “more likely to be defensive if called out,” so try to listen to what people are saying and admit that you hold some form of racial bias. You may not realise you have that view about a group of people but, when it’s played back to you, it’s easy to recognise it and address it. 

How can I actively prevent myself from enabling aversive racism?

The first step in actively preventing yourself from enabling aversive racism is to recognise that you’re likely to withhold racial biases and attitudes about groups of people without realising it. We live in a society that profits off systemic racism against Indigenous Australians. Even if we’re people of colour ourselves, we’re all on some level complicit in this unjust system and must work to be anti-racist.

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In an essay for the New York Times, acclaimed professor, award-winning author, and director of the Antiracist Research & Policy Center, @ibramxk dove into the topic of how to combat racism: ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ “No one becomes “not racist,” despite a tendency by Americans to identify themselves that way. We can only strive to be “anti-racist” on a daily basis, to continually rededicate ourselves to the lifelong task of overcoming our country’s racist heritage. We learn early the racist notion that white people have more because they are more; that people of color have less because they are less. I had internalized this worldview by my high school graduation, seeing myself and my race as less than other people and blaming other blacks for racial inequities. To build a nation of equal opportunity for everyone, we need to dismantle this spurious legacy of our common upbringing.” ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ In order to do this, we have to educate ourselves. We can learn about covert white supremacy, follow organizations leading the way for racial equity and justice, watch films, listen to podcasts, and read books. This doesn’t need to be seen as a chore, but can instead be seen as an opportunity — an opportunity to better understand ourselves, love our neighbors, and become the change we wish to see. #AntiRacism #BecomeGoodNews @goodgoodgoodco ⠀⠀ — Link to resources in @goodgoodgoodco bio

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From there, you should examine whether you are actively enabling aversive racism within your own friend group. Confront yourself and your friends and family as to why you don’t have any BIPOC (Black and/or Indigenous People of Colour) friends. Consider how that may influence your racial conditioning and attitudes towards that community and how your group may use certain language to describe them, and learn to hold yourself and your friends accountable when one of you uses racially biased language. 

What should I do if I experience aversive racism?

If you are a BIPOC, know that it is not your responsibility to educate someone on their racial bias, especially if you don’t feel safe or comfortable to do so. Assess the situation and the people around you before you do and ensure that you have a supportive network around you.

If you experience an act of aversive racism, and feel comfortable enough to confront it, inform the person that what they’ve said is a part of their racial bias. Often, people who are aversive racists are completely unaware that they share a negative attitude about a group of people. If they refuse to acknowledge their own racial conditioning and disagree, know that it is not on you to change them. It is perfectly normal to remove them from your life if they refuse to try to change their ways and ignore you telling them that what they’re saying is racist.

Julian Rizzo-Smith is a writer and producer. He also claims to be a vine historian, avid connoisseur of low-fi beats, indie hip hop and Kermit memes. In a perfect world, he’d be married to Tyler the Creator, own an Arcanine and a Lapras, and don his own Sailor Scouts uniform. He tweets @GayWeebDisaster, which is also, coincidentally, how one might describe him.

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