The Challenging Racism Project

The Challenging Racism Project

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School of Social Sciences and Psychology--Western Sydney University

Professor Kevin Dunn is leading a team of researchers to explore the outcomes, enablers and constraints of bystander anti-racism. The project is support by Australian Research Council, The Australian Human Rights Commission, Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission and VicHealth. The research team includes Professor Yin Paradies (Deakin University), Dr Anne Pedersen (Murdoch University), Dr Scott Sharpe (UNSW), Dr Maria Hynes (ANU) and Dr Jacqueline Nelson (UTS).

Did you know that almost 40% of racist incidents occur in public spaces, including on public transport?

The Project

Bystander anti-racism is action taken by 'ordinary' people in response to incidents of interpersonal or systemic racism. This project produced a strong empirical understanding of bystander anti-racism (its nature, potential, merits, benefits and constraints) as a means of countering racism in Australia. This was achieved through four specific aims:

1. Identify outcomes, including personal and social cost/benefits, of bystander anti-racism in response to racism for targets, perpetrators, other bystanders, organisations and wider society.
2. Identify the enablers and obstacles to bystander anti-racism
3. Identify how the setting and function of racism both influence the form and outcomes of bystander anti-racism
4. Develop and disseminate the resulting evidence-based in order to inform policy and practice aimed at increasing effective bystander anti-racism among ordinary Australians.

This project (LP110200495) "An exploration of the outcomes, enablers and constraints of bystander anti-racism" was funded by the Australian Research Council. The Australian Human Rights Commission, Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission and VicHealth were also sponsors of this project.


In March 2014, 3,920 individuals who were members of an online panel were invited to participate in a study about bystander anti-racism. The survey included a screening question asking whether recipients had witnessed an incident that they believed involved racism in the past 12 months. 1,068 (27 per cent) of the participants indicated they had. These participants then went on to complete an 'incident report form' about the real life event or racist incident they had witnessed. Participants were asked to describe the incident, providing details about where it took place, who was involved, their considered and actual response to the incident and any negative and positive outcomes from their response. 860 of these responses were found to be bystander incidents; that is, they were incidents perceived to involve racism that the participants had witnessed as a third party not otherwise involved in the event.

What type of action do people take?

Confronting or disagreeing with the perpetrator

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

What helps people to intervene when they witness racism?

● Knowledge of what constitutes racism
● Awareness of harm caused by racism
● Perception of responsibility to intervene
● Perceived ability to intervene
● Desire to educate a perpetrator
● Emotional responses to racism: empathy, expressing anger, disapproval etc.
● Self-affirmation
● Anti-racist social norms

What stops people from intervening when they witness racism?

"There's two reasons why people don't speak up or speak out, our research shows. One is afraid of becoming a target themselves the second is because they say they didn't know what to say or do..."

● Seeing the target of racism as belonging to a different group that you are not responsible for
(exclusive group identity)
● Fear of violence or vilification, being targeted by perpetrator
● Perception that action would be ineffective
● Lack of knowledge about how to intervene
● Concern that confrontation would be seen as aggressive or not 'feminine' (gender role
● Impression management
● A desire to preserve positive interpersonal relations
● A desire to avoid conflict
● Freedom of speech/anti-political correctness
● Social norms that are tolerant of racism

Obstacles to bystander anti-racism include fear of becoming a target themselves and a lack of knowledge about what to do and how to do it. People lack a sense of what tactics, rhetoric and tenor are likely to be effective. Research in this area is underdeveloped, particularly on the enablers and barriers to organisational readiness of bystander anti-racism. This project will advance the theory of pro-social action by producing knowledge of the contextual variables affecting the likelihood of bystander action against racism.

The resilience and ordinariness of Australian Muslim

A new Western Sydney University report: The resilience and ordinariness of Australian Muslims (opens in new window) [PDF, 3607.6 KB ] has found Muslims in Sydney face high rates of racism, but the vast majority list relations with non-Muslims as positive, and believe education and employment are more important than international affairs.

Source: Western Sydney University:

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