Imitating foreign accents has long been a part of mainstream comedy and wider society. But is it racist to do so?
New research from data analytics group YouGov has found that 23 per cent of Australians do believe it is racist to imitate a foreign accent.
The recent Black Lives Matter movement has caused many to reconsider what is and is not acceptable when it comes to racism.
In light of this, the YouGov study asked a nationally representative sample of Australians – including a significant proportion of Australians who are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander – to explain what behaviours they do and don’t find racist.
The research revealed that the idea of impersonating an accent is one of the most divisive issues when it comes to racism in the modern day.
Half (50 per cent) of the wider population of Australia perceive such behaviour to be always/ usually racist, compared to almost six in ten (59 per cent) of Australians from an ethnic or religious minority background who express the same view.
More specifically, 23 per cent said imitating an accent would always be racist, while 27 per cent believed there could be some exceptions.
It also found that most people agree that direct racial slurs are a key sign of someone exhibiting racism, with 83 per cent of respondents confirming a racial slur would always or usually be racist.
The study also asked people about their attitudes towards languages other than English being spoken in public.
When asked if is racist to dislike people who speak languages other than English in public, nearly two thirds (65 per cent) of Australians believe it is always or usually racist, while 13 per cent say this would never be racist.
A similar proportion to Australians from an ethnic or minority background believe this to be usually or always racist (66 per cent), many of whom speak a language other than English at home – however, worryingly, four in ten (41 per cent) Australians from an ethnic or religious minority background say that they have experienced someone criticising their choice to speak a language other than English in public.
YouGov general manager in Australia Laura Robbie said the research reveals that racism is not always plainly apparent.
“The research indicates that whilst most Aussies are clear on what behaviours constitute racism, there are also some behaviours that are considered racist that they may not be aware of,” Robbie said.
“As the conversations sparked by the BLM protests in Australia continue, so do we continue to listen, research and learn.”
The behaviour which Australians seem most relaxed about include being less sexually attracted to people from some racial or ethnic backgrounds than others (i.e. sexual racism) – 26 per cent believe this to be always or usually racist. In contrast, a third (33 per cent) of Australians with an ethnic or religious minority background consider this to be racist.
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