Most young people in Victoria from multicultural backgrounds are experiencing the effects of a “racism pandemic” and are worried about returning to public life for fear of racial discrimination, according to people surveyed in a new study.

The report from The Australian National University (ANU) and Centre for Multicultural Youth (CMY) is the first-of-its-kind to examine experiences of racism during the COVID‐19 pandemic and impacts on the lives of Australian young people aged 16‐25.

“Young people in Victoria are impacted both by COVID-19 as well as by the ongoing pandemic and public health emergency of racism,” lead ANU researcher, Associate Professor Naomi Priest, said.

“This study found most Victorian multicultural youth surveyed are experiencing direct racial discrimination and racism online.

“Strikingly, the survey found that while racism is profoundly common, very few young people are reporting their experiences or even confiding in friends and family.

“Young people are also making major changes to their everyday lives in order to avoid experiencing racism.”

In a survey of 376 young people, 85 per cent of Victoria’s multicultural respondents reported at least one direct experience of racial discrimination, with 32 per cent having more than six experiences.

The direct experiences included name calling, hitting, being excluded from activities, being threatened, experiencing poor service and unfair treatment.  

When online racism was considered, 93 per cent of multicultural participants had least one experience, and 79 per cent had three to four experiences.

The majority of multicultural participants, 93 per cent, reported consciously adjusting their behaviour in public to reduce their exposure to racism.

CMY’s Chief Executive Officer, Carmel Guerra, said the report provided important insights to help drive tailored policy and service responses, as well as highlighted where further exploration was needed. 

“We’re deeply concerned by the lack of both formal and informal reporting of racism and help seeking, despite the high number of young people experiencing racism during COVID-19.

“We need to look further into the factors preventing young multicultural Victorians from reporting racism, or even sharing their experiences with family and friends – and how this is impacting their mental health and wellbeing during an already stressful time.”

The survey also found most young multicultural Victorians, 87 per cent, reported being worried to return to public spaces – including school – after lockdown, for fear of experiencing racial discrimination.

“What’s very concerning is most young multicultural Victorians reported having to watch what they have to say and how they say it, and even avoiding situations and places,” Associate Professor Priest said.

“They have concerns about returning to public life such as school, sport and work for fear of experiencing racism.

“This study shows racism is a major issue for young people and the majority of Victorian multicultural youth surveyed are worried about this as life emerges out of lockdown.”

The joint report is published at at 3pm AEDT Thursday, 8 October.

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