The UBC Division of Aboriginal People’s Health is pleased to invite you to a special presentation by Professor Dennis McDermott, Director of the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health and Well-Being, Adelaide, at Flinders University for an interactive discussion on “Racism, Health Services and Health Outcomes: An Aboriginal Australian Perspective.”
Date: Monday June 10, 2013
Time: 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM
Location: The UBC School of Population and Public Health – Room B151, 2206 East Mall, Vancouver
Please note: This presentation is not available via videoconference or Adobe Connect.
View the poster for the event.
For the last few months, intensifying over recent weeks, Australia has found itself in an unusually energetic debate on whether prominent examples of ‘casual’ racism tarnish our egalitarian, tolerant self-image – and bring harm to those on the receiving end – or whether those taking offence just need to ‘harden up’. Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians share a country that has changed markedly since the official abandonment of policies of assimilation, yet racism has not only persisted, but resists attempts at satisfactory public discourse.
The literature provides solid evidence that racism is a noteworthy determinant and driver of inequities in health. Several meta-analyses have shown specific effects on self-reported mental health. Over 100 studies from the past 15 years also address the increasingly recognised physiological consequences for the person targeted with racism, including cortisol dysregulation. Racism is not only an everyday occurrence for many Indigenous Australians, but also one that gets under the skin, and “makes us sick”.
The present moment is an exception, though. Usually, in the nation at large, racism bypasses consciousness. Although living in the same country, many non-Indigenous Australians would have difficulty recognising the world of corrosive attitudes that many Indigenous Australians report. If you’re neither target, nor witness, you miss racist events. The more invisible the racism, the harder it is to comprehend its pervasiveness and potency as a social determinant of health. The evidence may be “in”, but relying on the power of evidence alone may not be enough. The Australian self-image of a tolerant, multicultural success story leaves little room for a counter-discourse of a more complex reality, grounded in a historical, de facto apartheid.
Analysing racism in health professional and public health education is not an optional extra, given that there is a nationally mandated objective of training the health workforce to work effectively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. A genuine engagement with Indigenous health issues, of itself, challenges many students. When those students analyse racism as a social determinant of health the challenge deepens. The experience can range from disquieting to profoundly disturbing. For educators, the experience can be stressful, even daunting.
Becoming a thinking, culturally safe practitioner is also the prerequisite for emerging as a clinically safe one – or one with an effective prevention / health promotion approach. Good cultural-safety education generates disquiet, but makes the uncomfortable comfortable enough, through sensitive classroom facilitation in a mutually respectful environment. When an Indigenous health curriculum includes analyses of the health consequences of racism – as it needs to – it struggles against non-recognition of racist acts and systemic discrimination. The challenge, then, is twofold: to make the invisible visible, and to facilitate a “manageable” disquiet.
Dennis McDermott is the Associate Head of Faculty, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, within the Faculty of Health Sciences at Flinders University. He is also the Director of the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health and Well-Being, Adelaide. A Koori man, his mother’s family are from Gadigal land (inner Sydney) with connections to Gamilaroi country (north-west NSW). Dennis has worked in such diverse fields as alcohol and other drug education and counselling, private therapeutic practice, community health and men’s health research. He has trained Aboriginal foster carers, supervised counsellors to the ‘stolen generations’ and worked with families dealing with a death in custody.
Dennis’s teaching and research interests encompass early childhood, social determinants of Indigenous health, racism, incarceration, Indigenous social, spiritual and emotional well-being, workforce development, Indigenous health pedagogy, and the nexus of culture and context in service delivery.