Bystander action

Everyone can make a difference by standing up to racism

What is a bystander?

A bystander as it relates to racism, is someone who sees or knows about an incident of racism but is not the victim or directly involved. Doing nothing when incidents of racism occur supports this behaviour, and it is important to take action. Before taking action, it is important to ensure that you are doing so in a safe and considered way.

What is bystander action?

Bystander action refers to the intervention and support that bystanders can give to victims of racism. Western Sydney University’s Bystander Anti-Racism Project lists the following actions as forms of bystander action:

  • Confronting or disagreeing with the perpetrator (if it is safe to do so)
  • Calling it “racism” or “discrimination” (if it is productive to do so)
  • Interrupting or distracting the perpetrator (if it is safe to do so)
  • Comforting the person(s) targeted
  • Expressing upset feelings
  • Seeking assistance from friend, teacher, manager, coach etc
  • Reporting the incident to authorities.

    What are the barriers to bystander action?

    According to the research findings of The Bystander Anti-Racism Project conducted by UWS, there are two main reasons why people don’t speak up or speak out against racism:

    • People are afraid of becoming a target themselves
    • People don’t know what to say or do

    It is extremely important to take action against racism, but only if it is safe to do so. When we intervene in a considered and safe manner, we can actively oppose racism in society, support individuals who are on the receiving end of this discriminatory behaviour and promote positive behaviour in our society.

    Activity: Choose your own adventure - Bystander action

    This interactive Choose your own adventure activity can be used to help students learn more about bystander actions and outcomes.

    Further information

    Here are some links to sites that provide some strategies to deal with racism as a bystander: