New Project for Flinders University - focusing on how Aborigines and Torres Straight Islanders adapt to foreign society, including the effects on their general wellbeing.
What motivates racism? Effects of racism? Possible solutions?
(If members of the Aboriginal community find this public, study topic offensive, please request that it be removed.)
The goal of closing the gap in health status and life expectancy between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians is unlikely to be met unless racism is tackled, according to new Flinders University research.
The finding, from a major new report on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who live in urban areas, confirms a direct link between racism and poor health outcomes.
In Our Own Backyard: Urban health inequities and Aboriginal experiences of neighbourhood life, social capital and racism is the result of a three-year study conducted by researchers at Flinders University’s Southgate Institute with the support of the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health.
One of the project’s chief investigators, Dr Anna Ziersch said 93 per cent of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who took part in the study reported experiencing racism, particularly within the justice and education systems.
“We found that experiencing regular racism was associated with poor health,” Dr Ziersch said.
“Racism is also a problem for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are often discriminated against when trying to meet basic needs such as renting a house or going to the supermarket,” she said.
Addressing racism in the context of the social and physical environments in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live is likely to have better health outcomes than a single-minded focus on lifestyle behaviours.
“We found that Aboriginal people do not primarily have a higher rate of illness because they lack knowledge of what behaviours are good for their health,” Dr Ziersch said.
“Compared to the general population, twice as many Aboriginal people did not drink and most exercised regularly – and yet they had worse physical and mental health.”
The report concludes that closing the gap in a generation will require significant changes to the way Australian society is currently organised.
“Racism needs to be tackled throughout Australian society so that it becomes unacceptable and Australians in all walks of life are aware that it is unacceptable,” Dr Ziersch said.
“The Federal Government’s aspiration to close the gap will not be achieved unless racism is tackled.”
The Flinders University researchers have identified the following as other key policy issues:
• Indigenous cultures should be promoted and celebrated as a way of moving Aboriginal ideas and presence to a more mainstream position
• Changing behaviours is only likely to be successful when people live in environments that are supportive of healthy lifestyles and lifestyle choices – for example, encouraging participation in sport; and making health services friendly and welcoming
• If Aboriginal health is to improve relative to other Australians then so must the way in which Aboriginal people compare on the social determinants of health. Representative governance, housing, transport, education, employment, income support, neighbourhood quality, supportive networks and access to health services need to be addressed
• A holistic approach to improving mental health, which embraces the Aboriginal cultural view of the whole human being (including the physical, spiritual, mental, cultural, emotional and social dimensions), is essential