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Documentary provides insights into Australian attitudes towards race

The man swears at Rahila and wants to know why she doesn't show her face. Photo / SBS

This is the shocking moment a Muslim woman is racially abused in an expletive-filled rant simply because of what she’s wearing.

Walking through a crowded Perth shopping mall she is approached by a man who confronts her and begins questioning her on why she doesn’t show her face.

The video shows the man saying Australia helped save her from a country she was persecuted in and asks why she then wears “things like that”, referring to her niqab.

When she asks what she should do and how Australians should dress, he becomes more agitated and lets loose with a series of expletives.

“Well, why don’t you dress like other Australians. They dress with a f*** face! Where’s your f***ing face?”

“What are you hiding from? F**** Allah?”

The shocked woman tells him she isn’t hiding from anything and dresses how she feels comfortable.

He angrily storms off but not before telling her to “f*** off”. Another woman is then heard calling him a ****head and tells him to “f*** off”.

The undercover footage was filmed as part of a social experiment for confronting SBS show Is Australia Racist, hosted by veteran TV journalist Ray Martin, which airs in Australia this Sunday.

The woman, 22-year-old Rahila, who normally wears a hijab, agreed to be filmed by the documentary makers in a niqab.

Rahila was shaken after the experiment and shocked at some of the reactions she received. Photo / SBS

She admits she was nervous about the experiment but hadn’t expected quite the reaction she received.

The law student, who moved to Australia from Afghanistan six years ago, said she had never worn a niqab before.

“At that moment I was so shocked I didn’t know how to react,” she tells the programme.
“I did feel traumatised. I didn’t imagine that level of hate.”

Later during the programme, Rahila attends a Reclaim Australia rally with surprising results after two women in attendance stand up for her when police tell her to leave.
The one-hour documentary puts some revealing survey findings from Western Sydney University into action through a series of hidden camera social experiments.

The survey was done for the documentary as a part of Face Up To Racism week in which SBS explores, expands and challenges Australia’s understanding of racism and prejudice.
Among the survey’s key findings was the alarming statistic that 77 per cent of Muslim women had experienced racism on public transport or on the street.

It also found almost a third of those surveyed had suffered racism within their workplace, while 35 per cent experienced it on public transport or on the street.

Almost a third said they have experienced racism within an educational facility and nearly half of indigenous respondents said they experienced racism at sporting events.

However, most people said it was a positive thing that Australia was culturally diverse and that they would face up to discrimination if they saw or encountered it.

Professor Kevin Dunn from Western Sydney University, who conducted the survey on race and prejudice – the biggest of its kind in Australia – said the results weren’t that surprising but some of the findings were “exceptionally disappointing”.

Veteran journalist Ray Martins hosts Is Australia Racist?

Speaking to news.com.au, Dunn said the survey, which spanned a mixture of ages and ethnicities, quizzed 6000 people on their attitudes and experiences about racism.
He said the rise of Islamophobia was evident and represented a real issue for race relations.

Dunn said this was fuelled by geopolitics, the media, fear of terrorism and even mainstream politicians.

“But there were certainly some positive results, including that 80 per cent of those surveyed support cultural diversity,” he said.

“And 77 per cent believe that something should be done to fight racism in Australia.”

But he said although 76 per cent said they would stand up for someone who was being discriminated against because of their culture, ethnicity or religion, the reality was only between a third to half actually would when push came to shove.

Dunn said he hoped the show and survey would simply get people talking about racism in Australia.

Documentary host Ray Martin, who has had decades of experience covering race relations, told news.com.au he believed most Australians were accepting towards other cultures.

Some were ignorant in our attitudes towards other cultures, and even Australia’s first people, he didn’t think most Australians were actually racist.

“I was pleasantly surprised by the support and attitudes shown towards minorities generally, and that most people would take action if someone was being abused,” he said.
Martin said he believed those who didn’t stand up to racist abuse but wanted to were often scared of a violent reaction.

He said the rise of Islamophobia and racist abuse directed towards some African members of the community was also very disappointing.

“Women are also generally more likely to stand up against racist behaviour and this was shown during the Reclaim Australia rally where two women stand up for Rahila,” he said.

Although indigenous people were subjected to racism and discrimination, Martin said Muslims were often more obvious and were unjustly seen as violent, which could make
them bigger targets for racist abuse.

“I believed the issues our indigenous people face is more about neglect rather than deliberate racism,” he said.

“I think Australians are ignorant, not racist, and if this programme shines a light into that dark corner then that’s a good thing.”

Martin also believed Australia has grown up a lot since he was a kid and attitudes towards indigenous people and immigrants had changed dramatically. But there was room for improvement.

“This documentary is entertaining but it’s done in such a way that it should generate discussion and get people talking,” he said.