5 #toostrongforyoukaren ; Racism against Aboriginal Australians in rural Victoria


Kylie Spresser, Liz Spencer, Gretchen Comnbrink, Carissa Andrews and Vanessa Barthelmes

  1. Introduction

1.1 Background

This report will delve into the concept of diversity, cultural intelligence, cultural acceptance, and how generational bias can influence someone’s ideology of an individual’s cultural self. In the viral video, #toostrongforyoukaren, the concept of generational bias is tinged with a warped perception of Indigenous Australian’ culture, broadcasted for the nation to see. The outrage questioned how cultural capability is still lacking toward the Native Australian population and how someone can “diminish, demean or disempower the cultural identity and well-being of an individual” (Nursing Council of New Zealand, 2002 as cited in Bin-Salik, 2003) on the basis of their skin colour. Research proposes that despite efforts in community and professional settings following strategies to promote inclusion and diversity, there is still a need to do better. Cultural capabilities are critical in the continuation of developing safe work and learning environments. “Its too strong for you, Karen” (Douglas, 2019), is an example of unsafe community space that displays racism and biased opinions between two feuding neighbours. It shows characteristics of cultural incapacity due to the bias beliefs and “paternal attitudes that they believe is not of mainstream culture” (VACCA Building Respectful Partnerships, 2010).

1.2 Aim

This report provides appropriate recommendations to improve safety in learning and employment environments using collaborative relations of power (Cummins, 2009). An analysis, description and summary will be carried out on safe and unsafe aspects of the interaction.

The analysis  highlights cultural capabilities endured by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It will provide the current issue of cultural incapacity “Its too strong for you, Karen” (Douglas, 2019), this relates to the display of the Aboriginal flag, his indigeneity, and the rights of Rob and his family to a safe space, the report will also include strategies for creating safe spaces. It will focus on the political rights to displaying and claiming one’s own indigeneity. This report’s recommendations provide for improved cultural inclusion, competence, and safety in the Australian Community to generate productive outcomes known as ‘ethical action’ (Bernstein, 2019). The ethical action strategies that are recommended aim to be applied amongst the educational, workplace and Australian community environments.

1.3 Scope

The scope of this report will focus on the shared history of Indigenous and Caucasian Australians through unpacking the absence of equitable interactions between these diverse cultures (Berstein et al, 2019). Focusing on a neighbouring dispute known to social media as #itstoostrongforyoukaren (Douglas, 2019), this report will identify and analyse the cultural diversity in communities to managing bias (Kandola, 2013) the unsafe spaces (Harless, 2018), and Diversity to inclusion to Equity (Bernstein, Bulger, Salipante & Weisinger, 2019) and Coercive power relations witnessed in this scenario (Cummins, 2009). concepts such as equitable relationships (Gorski, 2014), diversity and equity, based on theory of generative interactions (Bernstein et.al, 2019), and recognising and managing bias (Tajfel et al., 1979).


  1. Summary and Observations

2.1 Summary of interactions

The video displays Mildura couple Rob and Karen on Robby Wirramanda Knight’s property, verbally abusing him and trying to remove his Aboriginal flag while using explicit racial language leading to the viral hashtag #toostrongforyoukaren. Robby Wirramanda Knight is the Aboriginal man recording the bias attack whilst at his home when he was approached by his two neighbours. Karen and Rob questioned Robby’s Indigeneity with remarks of ‘which 1% of you is Aboriginal’ Mr. Vigors also made a discriminative stereotype assumption towards Robby with ‘it’s people like you’.  Ms Ridge in an attempt to pull down Robby’s Aboriginal flag had become quite irritated, as she was unsuccessful, she then placed her hands on her waist and hips before telling Robby to’ take this sh*t down, claiming it to be a disgrace. At all times, Robby remained calm and informed both Mr. Vigors and Ms Ridge that he was recording and stated’ this sh*t is going viral’.  The feud ends with Mr. Vigors and Ms Ridge moving on, but not before Ms Ridge tells Robby to ‘go live in that humpy down the river’.

2.2 Observations

Scene description event Cultural Bias and Priming Cultural Equity and Privilege Cultural Border Crossing Coercive cultural relation of power/Lack of Empathy
Karen attempts to pull down an Aboriginal flag multiple times – Karen voices a presumption that Robby does not look Aboriginal; therefore, he should not display the Aboriginal flag – The pair presumes light-skinned aboriginals do not get to claim Aboriginality – Physical: Karen and Rob enter Robby’s property uninvited

– Cultural border crossing by attempting to pull down the flag

– Physical action and verbal language shows: Lack of empathy to the history of Aboriginals and the colonisation of Australia
Rob and Karen have defensive body language throughout the confrontation – Karen’s hands are on her hips, pulling at the flag

– Rob is pointing his finger at Robby, standing with his arms crossed

– Karen attempts to pull down the Aboriginal flag

– Defensive body language shows privilege

– Body language displays lack of recognition for their country’s colonisation/ border crossing history – Body language shows anger toward white-skinned Australians claiming Aboriginality (even with 1% in them)
Offensive and prejudice language spoken by both parties – Rob and Karen question Robby’s Aboriginality based on his skin colour – The pair both display their privilege by questioning Robby’s Aboriginality – Robby calls Karen “a racist pig”

– Rob and Karen says Robby is not a ‘true Aboriginal’ (ABC News, 2019)

– Karen, one example: “Take this sh*t down”,

– Rob, one example: “Which 1% of you is Aboriginal” (ABC News, 2019)


  1. Analysis

To bring context to the viral footage, Australian history of race and racism must be understood. The First Australian population were the Aboriginal people who consisted of many ‘countries’ and the Torres Strait Islander population who occupied Australia’s surrounding islands. They self-identify and are often referred to as “black, though skin colour does not always reveal Indigeneity in Australia” (Paradies, 2006, as cited Social Media + Society, 2017). The European invasion of Australia subsequently colonised it with white people of an Anglo heritage. Subsequently, offspring were created by the natives and the white colonisers. “Despite this multicultural history, the “Aussie” identity typically refers to those with white skin…” (Goggin, 2008; Heiss, 2012; Maddison, 2011 as cited in Social Media + Society, 2017, pg. 2). Taking these historical facts into consideration, it is clear Karen and Rob “were not primed for racial political correctness” (Lawson & Striley, 2014), and therefore, did not show cultural capability.

3.1 Recognising and Managing Bias

Bias is apparent in all cultures, but in Australian Aboriginal culture it can be strongly recognised (Durey, 2010). As seen in the #toostrongforyoukaren video, Robert, and Karen challenge Robby’s indigeneity because it does not suit the stereotypical profile of an Aboriginal man. Bias, whether it is unconscious or conscious bias, affects the way that we live every day in social and professional settings. As described by Kandola (2013), humans tend to form groups. This originates from social identity theory, the in-group (us) and out-group (them) concept (Tajfel et al., 1979) is powerfully seen in this interaction. Harasty (1997) conducted a study of 144 participants based on Tajfel’s social identity theory which demonstrated that in-groups are viewed as individuals, whereas out-groups are viewed as all the same. The three words ‘people like you’ are repeated many times over by Karen and Rob as they show that they see Mr. Knight as the out-group, and display a lack of understanding or reflecting on their unconscious and conscious bias. Karen and Rob demonstrate that they are unable to reflect upon their bias or think there is anything wrong as they continue to describe their friends that are ‘true Aboriginals’ and claim ‘people like you make a mockery of true Aboriginals’ (SBS News, 2019). The greatest way to be unbiased, is to recognise, reflect, and withhold acting upon it.

In the recording Ms. Ridge is attempting to rip down the aboriginal flag, this is a form of power to control Robby’s rights as an Aboriginal to display his identity, it is explained in Cummins (2009) pedagogies of choice and coercive relations of power that coercive power is the force used in order to get someone to do something, in this case, Ms. Ridge uses force to pull down the flag while stating to Robby to take it down as it is a disgrace. In the recording you can also hear Robby questioned by both Ms. Ridge and Mr. Vigors about his percentage of indigeneity, this is a form of the contest also known as ‘Ideological diversity’ (Cummins, 2019) that questions Robby’s indigenous values and beliefs. Although it is seen that Robby remains calm throughout the recording, he also uses coercive power when he calls Ms Ridge a ‘racist pig’ this is a form of coercive power being used to intimidate someone.

In the beginning, it can be heard from Mr. Vigor’s questioning Robby about “this rubbish” referring to the inside of his garage where Robby presents his aboriginal artworks, further into the discussion you can also hear Mr. Vigor is stating that he respects the arts of aboriginal people that are from “true aboriginals”, this once again is a biased opinion made on the authentic belief that Robby is not an authentic aboriginal. Also in the scenario it can be observed that bias and racist remarks are made regarding that Aboriginals live in humpy’s down the river, this statement was made by Ms. Ridge before leaving the driveway at Robby’s home, this is not only a biased remark but also this shows a lack of cultural understanding when Ms. Ridge assumes all aboriginals live in humpy’s. Furthermore, In the scenario, Mr. Vigor’s state that Ms. Ridge is not a racist, however, according to Brice (2014) when a sentence is started with, I am, or she is not a racist this is a direct sign of casual racism.

3.2 Diversity, Equity, and Privilege

Stereotyping can be observed in several interactions throughout the recording, where Robby is stereotyped into what his neighbours believe are of their aboriginal subcultures. During the recording you can hear Mr. Vigors state that he has a lot of true aboriginal friends, Robby is not a true aboriginal. However, when Robby asks Mr. Vigors what an actual aboriginal is, he does not answer, this was an attempt on Robby’s behalf to include his neighbours into a discussion about their beliefs and understanding of aboriginal cultures. However, his attempt at inclusion was not accepted. Although an equitable relationship is evident between Mr. Vigors and Ms. Ridge as they continue to debate together about the percentage of the indigeneity of Robby, there is not one formed with Robby to include his cultural histories, the body language used at this point from Mr. Vigors is of a closed fist and arms folder making this a closed-off body communication, rather than an open and relaxed verbal communication attempt.

The ability to understand an individual’s privilege is the building block required to demonstrate equity and diversity. McIntosh (1988) outlines numerous ways in which she inadvertently enjoyed privilege simply for the fact that she has white skin. This list correlates to the interaction #toostrongfforyoukaren (SBS News, 2019). Point 4, “I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.” (McIntosh, 1988) perfectly describes this interaction. Rob and Karen demonstrate an inability to practice principles of equitable and generative social and cultural interactions by failure to overcome self-segregation, communication apprehension, stereotyping, and stigmatizing (Bernstein et.al, 2019). There is no attempt at practicing an equitable relationship within the interaction. It is hard to believe that Rob and Karen do not understand equity, as it is a prominent part of learning how to be a respectable being of society. The problem lies in individuals seeming to choose when and with whom to practice equity, instead of practicing equity within their everyday lives. Gorski (2014) discusses learning Equity-literacy, which he defines as “the skills and dispositions that enable us to recognize, respond to and redress (i.e., correct for) conditions that deny some students access to the educational opportunities enjoyed by their peers” (Gorski, 2014). This is proof that understanding the definition of diversity and equity in everyday life does not mean that diversity is all-encompassing. Individuals must practice equity to truly understand diversity.

Even though Australian society is headed in the right direction for equitable presence, more attempts are being made to compensate for people who have been discriminated against with ample evidence suggesting how far from this concept we are (Paradies, 2006). This is evident as Karen and Robert exclude Robby from his own heritage, making statements of “people like you make a mockery of true aboriginals”.  This statement does not allow for recognition of the culture and removes all historical ignorance that surrounds people of the Aboriginal legacy and the Stolen Generation (Paradies, 2006). Instead, this type of behaviour implies a lack of understanding and acceptance for diversity shown as Karen and Robert demand that the Aboriginal flag be pulled down. This creates an inequitable space and allows for assumption that Karen and Robert understand what aboriginal heritage looks like (Gorski, 2014). Although these experiences are few and far between, there is often assumption that aboriginals that subdue affirmative action will act as positive role models and promote equitable opportunities within the aboriginal community (Paradies, 2006).

3.3 Cultural Border Crossings

The border crossing (Aikenhead, 1996) occurred when the pair entered Robby’s property, uninvited. This created an unsafe space for Robby, where cultural capability was lacking, and defensive and invasive body language was projected. Robby’s question to the pair: “What makes an Aboriginal?” (ABC, 2019), further inflamed their perception of him which resulted in them missing the opportunity to create a generative interaction. They continued to enact privilege by pulling at the Aboriginal flag and uttered hateful language to intimidate Robby in a culturally insensitive manner, thus, displaying coercive relation of power (Cummins, 2009, 2013). From the onset, the “superficial interactions [were] insufficient to effect change – [as] only substantial and meaningful interactions [can] move [communities] from diversity to inclusion and [cultural] equity…” (Bernstein, 2019).

During the recording it is observed that Mr. Vigors and Ms. Ridge create a barrier between themselves, Robby and the community due to their lack of cultural knowledge and cultural privileges, their assumptions are also based on their own “worldview, skills, attitudes, values and beliefs” (Aikenhead, 1996). This scenario is based on a lot of uneducated bias opinions without the willingness to learn or include another person’s opinion, without the proper facts of what happened before the recording we can only judge one-side of the story which carries its own problems. The negative communication used in the feud has led to the dismissal of both Mr. Vigors and Ms. Ridge from their professional lives, according to the Douglas, (2019) news reporter the dismissal was based on the company protocols for cultural Diversity, and could not positively engage and adopt to border crossings of the different cultures in which they live. To create a positive border crossing, both neighbours could have included discussions on their own cultures and privileges rather than making assumptions.

For these borders to be successful, individuals must be able to move between groups and initiate respect from a cultural perspective to allow acceptance within society (Aikenhead, 1996).

3.4 Power Relations at play

What seems to be at surface level an individual act of racism there are deeper roots that have ingrained the psyches of Australians due to the lack of acceptance and bias by the Australian government. Karen and Robert’s mindset of undermining Aboriginal heritage and their prior claims to the land through the removal of the flag, is a prime example of terra nullius pro-assimilation policy. Which deemed Australia to be legally uninhabited at the time of British settlement.

This mindset is heavily ingrained in Australia due to the lack of acknowledgement of aboriginal rights from the Australian government. This is reflected in Roberts statement of “This is the problem with this country.” Referring to the recent changes of the abolishment of the legal status of Terra Nullius and establishing a legal framework for native title claims by Indigenous Australians.   Reflected in verbal comments such as “What part of you is aboriginal?” and “What 1% of you is Aboriginal?”  This reflects the cohesive power assimilation by the Australian government to destroy aboriginal identity. This assimilation was implemented by “mixed bloods were to interbreed only with white people”, “after a few generations, their descendants would bear no trace of their ancestry (Australian Government, 2010).”

Throughout, Karen and Rob “exercise power [through displaying closed body language toward Robby …]” (Cummins, 2009, 2013) which resulted in an unsafe and coercive interaction. Rob crosses his arms, and continuously points his finger, then turns his back on Robby intermittently, as if to say he does not care about Robby’s response. Karen’s hands were placed on her hips between attempts to pull down the flag, and she often crossed her arms as a form of disapproval. Robby created a personal safe space for himself by raising his cell phone between him, Karen, and Rob. Both parties displayed a form of physical coercive body language, thus, declining to generate a collaborative interaction using cultural capabilities. The pair neglected to show cultural capability in which they could have “taken perspective, stayed out of judgement, recognised emotion in [Robby] and communicated it” (Brown, 2013) effectively, using a collaborative and empathetic relation of power approach. This would have created a generative interaction of “cultural safety [which] extends beyond cultural awareness and cultural sensitivity” (Bin-Salik, 2003).

Coercive power relations (Cummins, 2009) are displayed throughout the interaction #toostrongforyoukaren (SBS News, 2019). This is portrayed by Rob and Karen as they show through verbal and body language that they deem themselves as superior (dominant) and view Mr. Knight as the subordinate. They display this by belittling Mr. Knight and showing behaviours that they would be unlikely to exhibit to those that they view as equals. By attempting to remove the Aboriginal flag from Mr. Knight’s property and questioning his indigeneity, they are attempting to suppress Mr. Knight’s culture. To attempt to practice collaborative power relations (Cummins, 2009) instead, the individual must be able to understand and demonstrate generative interactions (Bernstein et.al, 2019).

3.5   Cultural Capability

There are five well recognised cross-cultural capabilities in Australia. Self-Reflection, Cultural Understanding, Context, Communication, and Collaboration (QLD Government, 2013). Lack of cultural capability and is displayed from start to finish in this short interaction due to Rob and Karen’s failure to avoid cultural judgement and the inability to encompass cultural awareness. Mr. Knight is subject to discrimination and racial slurs from the couple as they call the flag a disgrace and question Mr. Knights indigeneity, to the parting statement of ‘Go and live in your f**king humpy down the river’ (SBS News, 2019), a statement which was completely out of context to the rest of the interaction. The couple show little understanding of Mr. Knight’s culture, by repeatedly questioning his indigeneity due to the colour of his skin. In one interaction, Rob fails to show all domains of cultural capability as he describes having respect for the nice paintings that the Aboriginal culture creates, ultimately refusing to recognise Aboriginal culture as a whole, and demonstrating inability to see past his own bias of what he believes an Aboriginal person should be.

Their coercive language disproves “Australians’ claim to value multiculturalism, [as] white privilege is omnipresent” (Lawson & Striley, 2014, pg. 171). In this scenario, generative interaction could have “[generated] social connection and the deeper understanding needed to facilitate equity at [a collaborative and cultural capability] level” (Bernstein, 2019). Robby’s reaction to the offensive claims saw him fail to create a generative interaction by using inflammatory language and calling Karen a “racist pig” (News ABC, 2019). His reaction shows that “colonization continues to affect indigenous Australian’s daily experiences, as neocolonial attitudes permeate everyday communication” (Lawson & Striley, 2014, pg. 171). “Thus, racism against indigenous Australians occurs as normalized and mundane shared social experiences among white Australians” (Lawson & Striley, 2014, pg. 171).

The aftermath of the interaction that transpired, was outrage. Subsequently, creating an unsafe space for people who supported Rob and Karen and a safe space for those who supported Robby. Social media enables “voices [to] exist alongside each other” (Bali, 2016), however, it can also create “dangerous, threatening, or hurtful [interactions, in which] a breach of emotional safety” (Harless, 2018, pg. 332) is often created. This proves that by using the internet’s power of social media, coercive interactions of cultural incapability “is publicness as a mode of living…” (Harless, 2018, pg. 330). The local franchise owner’s business was ceased after the video went viral, subsequently, they remained tight-lipped about the interaction, claiming death threats were received. Both parties admitted to a prior interaction that led to this event, moreover, proving that they could have collaboratively taken the time to create a generative interaction to resolve the initial issue, therefore, creating a safe space for cultural capability for their future interactions.


  1. Recommendations

4.1 Recognising and Managing Bias

Building collaborative relations of power together is needed to create cultural understanding, interpersonal space and the sense of belonging, allowing everyone to learn each other’s identities and understanding the different languages surrounding the community. When collaboration is formed, and stories shared, then trust and respect can start to form with each other and the community.

Recognising and managing individuals’ own bias beliefs, and self-conscious racism is something that requires individuals to learn and reflect on personal and contributory, in order to put differences aside and give a culturally safe community in which they reside together. For the benefit of a generative interaction, these diverse individuals should have agreed to “enter into [a difficult engagement and discussion with each other]” (Harless, 2018, pg. 330). Thus, the initial dispute could have been resolved through effective communication, moreover, gaining cultural intelligence from each other.

Non-indigenous Australian culture needs to dissociate Indigeneity from disadvantage and moral dichotomies (Paradies, 2006). Bias is often influenced by what we see on social media and contributes to the way we treat each other in society.

The way towards unbiased inclusivity is ensuring the minority are given a voice that will be heard and understood as equally as the majority. The greatest way to be unbiased, is to recognise bias, and simply take no action on it. Kandola (2013) describes three simple ways to diminish bias. Reflect on behaviour and increase self-awareness, challenge bias in an individual’s close relationships and lastly, consciously decide to not display bias in decision making.

4.2 Promote Diversity, Equity, and understand Privilege

Although Robby attempts to include his neighbours into a conversation about his aboriginal culture, it is evident that a corporate body meeting should address concerns and legislative rights. Thus, the residents’ rights to safe spaces, the rights to display one’s identity, in this case, a whole-body corporate would require “inclusive decision-making and organisational action” (Bernstein et al.).

To successfully practice inclusivity and promote diversity, individuals in the majority must first understand equity. Following Bernstein’s (2019) Theory of Generative Interactions will lead society to sustained generative diversity interactions, leading to inclusion and equity. To understand one’s privilege, individuals must first recognise their privilege and work on ways to lessen this (McIntosh, 1988).

By acknowledging individual cultures, values, and beliefs, it does not necessarily create equitable relationships. Instead, when the concept of culture is eliminated from the discussion of diversity and is replaced by ideas of equity, a deeper understanding for an individual is developed (Gorski, 2014). Thus, this allows for acceptance and growth within society to allow equitable relationships to be established.

4.3 Cultural Border Crossings

To create a positive border crossing there needs to be an inclusion of commitment for cultural Diversity, all people involved need to engage and learn from each other’s stories, to create safe spaces and positive cultural relationships within the riverside community. The positive border crossing will build trust and a sense of belonging. The lesson to be learned is to adapt the “Aussie way” of valuing multiculturalism, therefore, creating a safe space and abstaining from defamatory language to describe someone’s cultural self. Robby could have created a safe space for generative interaction by deflecting Karen’s lack of cultural intelligence, with Indigenous cultural knowledge.   Brené Brown’s 4 principles of Empathy (Brown, 2013), is ideal for encouraging the creation of a safe space for opposing parties to communicate their concerns effectively. This can enable collaborative relations of power, cultural intelligence, and generative interaction.

One way of bridging cultural borders is through education. By implementing all of Australia’s history being indigenous and non-indigenous history into the national school curriculum will allow the younger populations to have a greater holistic view of this country compared to latter day generations where only white history is taught. Further reinforcing the false ownership by the British and precluding indigenous history and heritage as irrelevant.

4.4  Alter Power Relations

Giving indigenous members equal standing in decision making processes by creating indigenous in the Federal government, and increasing the number of seats in the house of representatives and the senate (Bernstein, 2019) will increase the power relations between indigenous Australian and non-indigenous Australians. Thus, giving a more accurate representation for the Australian polity and people.

An effort must be made to reduce Coercive power relations and promote Collaborative power relations (Cummins, 2009). This can be established by empowering those that are culturally diverse by ensuring that their voice is heard and respected, which in turn creates generative interactions (Bernstein et al., 2019).

The twitter handle by @Selintifada stated: “It’s not about black or white – #whiteproverbs” (Collin & Petray, 2017), thereby creating a generative debate for cultural capability amongst races. Racism and reverse racism are often a topic on social media. However, by creating a civil debating forum and applying filters to promote generative interaction, the community can be encouraged to grow their cultural intelligence.

4.5  Build Cultural Capability.

In order to successfully build cultural capability, intervention by education is necessary, however as outlined by Bin-Sallik (2003) a ‘check-list’ type training should be avoided and instead facilitate alliances “to mount a well-structured and supported effort to deal with these problems” (Bin-Sallik, 2003). By doing so, it creates the ability to garner the power of hearing ideas from other cultures, and can create an inclusive society.


  1. Summary and conclusion


This report outlines the unsafe cultural interactions that arise from lack of cultural capability in society. There is a clear need to do better in promoting and understanding equitable diversity, and educating society in reducing bias and raising cultural intelligence. By encouraging society to do better and partake in self-reflection, bias will reduce and unsafe spaces will become less tolerated. This can be achieved by following Collaborative relations of power (Cummins, 2009) and promoting Generative Interactions (Bernstein et al., 2019).

We need to see culturally safe spaces being led at the highest-level being parliament, for balance to come to Australia as a whole. Equalising the number of indigenous and non-indigenous voices in parliament will show a country led by equality in voice and decision. Educational programs need to be provided by the Australian government to bridge cultural borders and bias by assimilating indigenous culture into Australian culture. With equal power and a greater understanding of the indigenous culture should erode barriers and create culturally safer spaces.

Learning and becoming more culturally aware of each other’s stories, and from those in the community may help build healthier cultural relationships and make a more welcoming community in which they live.

Racism and reverse racism are current issues; however, people often mask their true feelings behind political correctness. Although Robby, Karen and Rob are all naturalised Australians, the colour of their skin bring about a primed coercive ideology of race. To enable cultural capability and generative interaction, a collaborative approach to race and culture should be adapted. This can be achieved through Indigenous education and resources for knowledge of Australian history and Indigenous experiences, thereby, promoting growth in cultural self and cultural intelligence.


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