Understanding casual racism and how international students should respond to it

INTERNATIONAL students are often on the receiving end of racism but not all forms of racism result in violence. Trinity College Foundation Studies students Aishah Hamzah, Jacky Zhen and Mingyi Sun look at casual racism experienced by students in Australia and offer tips on how to deal with it. 

Melbourne, Australia - Jul 25, 2015: Protester holding a stop racism now placard in the crowd outside Flinders Street Station in Melbourne, Australia

Protester holding a stop racism now placard in the crowd outside Flinders Street Station in Melbourne, Australia. Image via Bigstock.

“Wow, your English is really good for an Asian!”

“Such a bad driver… Must be Asian…”

“You’re Asian, you’re good at maths right?”

“Can you even see me through those tiny eyes?”

If you’ve ever encountered any phrases like these, unfortunately you aren’t alone. While Australian humour is notoriously self deprecating, for many international students who’ve been on the receiving end of remarks such as these, they’re often often left to wonder why these have to be made at their expense.

In the multicultural landscape of modern Australia, racism still lurks. The common misconception about racism however is that those who exhibit such prejudice are often physically violent.

This is not always the case.

Racism can also come in the form of passing comments or seemingly harmless self-belittling jokes in everyday situations. This is known as casual racism, which involves behaviour related to negative stereotypes or prejudices about people on the basis of ethnicity.

Casual racism is not about the superiority of one race over another, but rather, the perpetuation of negative stereotypes. With regards to Asian students in particular, these stereotypes can include being math nerds, bad drivers, prudes, bad at English or assuming they all look the same.

Casual racism can make a person feel extremely isolated, humiliated and unwelcome in the society. The person on the receiving end will feel as though the unique, multifaceted and talented individual they are is reduced to a single stereotype by these racial slurs. This can have a severe harmful effect on mental health and may even lead to depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.

As worldly, young members of society, we are all accountable for what we say and do, and also what we don’t. If we don’t respond in some way when we encounter casual racism, we are actively participating in fuelling these negative prejudices.

So how can students properly respond to such incidents of casual racism in their everyday lives?


Recognise the stereotypes

Realise when it is happening: When you are aware of the different words and phrases that have racist connotations, you are well-equipped to respond.

Control yourself

Know that casually racist jokes are a form of bullying, of which the main intention is to provoke negative emotions such as anger or sadness. When you control these negative emotions, you are not giving in to what the perpetrator wants and are capable of delivering a strong response.

Assess the situation

If there is a chance that the perpetrator could physically harm you, leave the situation as quickly as possible. Never resort to inciting physical violence regardless of the situation.

Choose your reaction

There are a few reactions to choose from based on the situation:

  • Report the incident to a teacher, police officer or anyone else in close proximity
  • Ignore the person completely
  • Escape the situation by walking away quickly, or
  • Speak up with phrases such as, “Why did you say that to upset me?” or “How would you feel if someone did that to you?”

Talk about it

Be a role model to others by actively encouraging open discussion about the topic of casual racism no matter how uncomfortable it may seem. Do not tolerate hatred and be aware of the support systems that are available such as counselling sessions and support groups.

This story was produced by Media and Communication students at Trinity College Foundation Studies as part of Meld’s community newsroom collaboration. Education institutions, student clubs/societies and community groups interested in being involved can get in touch with us via

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Meld Magazine was incorporated as an independent not-for-profit media outlet in September 2008 to reach out to international students in Melbourne, and provide students the opportunity to gain real work experience.

Many international students live in or around the city because of the proximity to their colleges and universities, and that was where we decided to focus our efforts first. Many of us live, work and study locally too. Our editorial team is made of both local and international students, and it has worked to our advantage in providing local content in every sense of the word.

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