Young African students call out racial stereotypes in TikTok first

By Annabel Mansfield

A new video uses a TikTok inspired format to challenge stereotypes of African diaspora students in Australia.

Assumptions, misconceptions and stereotypes – no one wants to be judged by how they look or where they’re from. But for many Black African students, that’s their reality and it’s taking a serious toll on their wellbeing and sense of belonging.

In a new set of TikTok videos developed by Black African youth co-researchers in partnership with UniSA, the prevalence of racial stereotypes is revealed, with striking examples of discrimination and typecasts from teachers and Australian students alike.

TikTok videos developed by Black African youth co-researchers in partnership with UniSAThe TikToks challenge stereotypes that African diaspora students have experienced in Australia.

From extremes such as being called a ‘slave’, to insensitive asks of ‘can I touch your hair’, Black African students are now calling out racial experiences in schools in a move to better educate Australians.

This video uses a TikTok inspired format to challenge stereotypes of African diaspora students in Australia that were experienced by participants in our study.The video features African diaspora students in Australia, drawing from their own experiences of racism.

UniSA project lead Dr Melanie Baak says it’s an uncomfortable truth and that Australia needs to address belonging in schools to curb racial discrimination.

“Australia is known as a vibrant, multicultural country with one in four Australians born overseas. But despite this we still see blatant cases of racism and discrimination,” Dr Baak says.

“In this project, we’re collaborating with Black African diaspora young people who are greatly contributing to what we’re learning about belonging and inclusivity in Australian schools.

“As the number of Black African diaspora youth increases in Australia, their sense of belonging becomes an increasingly urgent social issue.

“On the one hand, many Black African students struggle to belong in hegemonically white Australian schools and society. But because ‘belonging’ reflects the norms of an Australian national identity, inclusivity is not so simple.

“Assumptions that a Black African student is automatically ‘good at sports’, or ‘a refugee’, or simply ‘lucky to be in Australia’ all contribute to unbelonging, yet it’s this ignorance that is compounding racial issues.

“Skin colour has no place in influencing perceptions of truth, ability, attitude or capability, and in Australian schools the research shows that this is happening more often than we expect.”

Racism is still a significant issue in Australia with surveys showing that 44% of Australians hold an anti-African sentiment. The 2023 Scanlon Mapping Social Cohesion report identified that only 51% of Australians have positive feelings towards immigrants from Sudan, in contrast with over 90% for immigrants from countries such as the UK, the US and Italy. This is exacerbated by political and media discourses which marginalise African diaspora youth, often associating them with criminality and an inability to integrate.

The videos are a key resource developed by the team as part of a broader Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA)-funded project to counteract racial stereotypes and build belonging among African teens and children in Australian schools.

“Negative projections significantly inhibit young people’s senses of belonging, which limits their social, educational and economic experiences, as well as longer-term pathways and outcomes,” Dr Baak says.

“Changing this during the formative adolescent years must be a priority.

“Authentic collaboration with the people most affected by racism is the key to changing public perceptions and understandings of African diaspora young people.”

The research team will continue to work with the youth co-researchers for at least the next two years to influence what happens in schools and how this shapes the experiences of belonging for African diaspora youth in schools.

UniSA project lead Dr Melanie Baak and her co-researchers talk about the types and experiences of racism for African diaspora students in Australia.