By Professor Trang Thomas AM and Dr Rivka Witenberg, RMIT University – A report for the Australian Multicultural Foundation
Racial prejudice can lead to friction, disharmony and even physical violence. It is a major social problem in many societies and one from which Australia is not immune. However, evidence is accumulating that living in harmony may be better served by increasing understanding about tolerance and acceptance rather than focusing on decreasing prejudice.
The Australian Research Council and the Australian Multicultural Foundation funded this project, which aimed to study racial tolerance among young Australians. The value of the current study was its focus on the positive aspects of social perceptions and behaviours in contrast to the large body of research into the negative aspects of prejudice.
The study used three short dilemma-like stories to assess tolerance. Each story dealt with an event depicting a form of intolerance / tolerance relevant to the Australian context (Aboriginal, Asian and English people).
The outcomes of the project examine how age, gender and situational and behavioural contexts influence racial tolerant judgements. It also examines the kind of justifications young people used to support tolerance and intolerance. Participants were children (aged 11 to 12), young adolescents (aged 14 to 15) and young adults (aged 16 to 22). They were asked to make judgements and justify them on two aspects. First, to whom and under what circumstances were they willing to extend their tolerance. Second, whether they were tolerant of people’s beliefs, speech or actions within each story.