Race matters: (Re)thinking the significance of race and racial inequalities in community development practice in Australia

Virginia Mapedzahama


In Australia, discussions of race, racism and racial inequalities remain contentious debates. The dominant discourses around these issues focus on and often seek to silence racism or diminish its occurrence in the society, in other words: deflections and denial of racism dominate. Such denials and deflections belie the lived experiences of racism among racial(ised) minorities. Perhaps not surprisingly therefore, within such a context, there is a paucity of research on how community development practice engages with issues of race, racialisation, racism and racial inequalities. Little is known about how community development practitioners work with/in racially diverse communities or the extent to which Australian community development practice employs a ‘race lense’ in its practice. The discussions in this paper therefore emanate from an understanding that ‘colour (race)-blind’ practice still dominates community development work in Australia. The main contention is that unexamined colour-blind practice has the potential to reproduce systemic racism or systems of racial inequalities. The question informing this paper therefore, is: what is the significance of race in community development practice in Australia? To address this question, the paper centres “the experienced reality of lived racism” (Essed, 1991, p. vii) by black African migrants in Australia - which highlight the pervasiveness of racism in their everyday lives - to argue the need for conversations and considerations about race and inclusion within the field of community development. In the end, the discussions in this paper will raise important questions about the significance of race in community development practice in Australia and the consequences of race-blind practice and colour-mutism when working with/in ethnic and racially diverse communities. Perhaps more importantly, the paper contributes to ‘courageous conversations’ about how community development practitioners can work effectively across ethnic and racial boundaries without (re)producing systemic structures of racial inequalities.

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