Tim Soutphommasane: vilification of Adam Goodes damages everyone

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Adam Goodes has been a public figure not afraid of challenging prejudice; not afraid of asking questions about Australian history and society. He has done it in ways that have made some people feel uncomfortable, writes race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane.

Racism comes in many forms: overt and covert, crude and subtle. The harms of racism also come in many forms. We know from a large body of research that racism can lead to stress, negative emotions, psychological damage, even physiological effects.

We don’t always focus, however, on racism’s impact on our civic health. What I mean by this is the impact racism can have on the civility and cohesion of our society. Because when someone is subjected to racism, it can have the effect of undermining their standing as a fellow member of our community, and can have a fundamental impact on their freedom.

Racism can make people feel that they are not able to speak out in a way that they otherwise might. It can inhibit their ability to go out, or feel safe in public places.

In other words, the experience of racism undermines the assurance of security to which every member of a good society is entitled; the sense of confidence that everyone will be treated fairly and justly; that everyone can walk down the street and conduct their business without fear of abuse or assault, or without feeling that they have to keep their heads down.

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