Combatting racism within a multicultural society is the focus of new Griffith University research.

The large-scale project is led by Dr Fiona Kate Barlow from the Menzies Health Institute Queensland, following the award of a Future Fellowship from the Australian Research Council valued at just over $800,000.

One of only 50 Future Fellowships awarded to scientists nationally, the research will see Dr Barlow drawing on established social psychological theories of prejudice, aiming to combat racism by ascertaining how it is maintained and how its damaging consequences can be diminished.

A pervasive problem

“Racism is a pervasive problem worldwide, and its harmful effects on the health of those facing it are estimated to cost Australia billions of dollars a year,” says Dr Barlow.

The project plans to investigate how small negative interracial interactions can perpetuate racial hostility and segregation; how negative interracial interactions might lead to extremist identification and sympathies; and how prejudice and discrimination develops between different minority groups.

It also plans to investigate how small positive intergroup interactions might reduce racism, as well as promoting wellbeing and health.

“There has no doubt been an incredible process of positive steps taken in challenging racism over the past few decades, however it still remains a huge problem in society,” says Dr Barlow.

“For example, there is still much evidence to suggest that racism affects people in terms of access to education, employment and even housing.

“This is to say nothing of the physical and emotional toll that exposure to racism takes.

“The aim is that the study’s outcomes may lead to solutions that promote social cohesion in Australia.”