Bystander Anti-Racism Project

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).

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?

  • Two men. One with arms folded the other pointingConfronting 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?

  • Two women standing at a shop counter being served. One lady is shocked.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 prescriptions)
  • 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.

Bystander Anti-Racism Campaign Videos

film crew in a train and shop

The real-life incidents described in the incident report forms (see Methodology above) became the basis for the production of bystander anti-racism campaign materials. Based on the survey responses, four scripts were developed reflecting prominent cases of racism and anti-racism (based on the survey findings). These scripts were tested with cultural experts and community representatives (African-Australian's, Middle Eastern, Indian and Aboriginal) to ensure the content was not offensive. The scripts were also tested, in both script and storyboard forms, with three focus groups (The Country Woman's Association and Western Sydney University student groups). Four bystander anti-racism campaign videos have been produced (see below). It is hoped that these videos will educate the public on action they can take as witnesses of racism.

Bystander Campaign Video – Train Scenario

Almost 40 per cent of all racist incidents occur in public spaces, including on public transport. This video aims to teach bystanders what they can do when they witness racism in a public space.

Video - Play button over picture of train passengers being racist towards a Muslim women.

Bystander Campaign Video – Shopping Scenario

Racism generates mental and physical health consequences and social alienation for those who experience it. This video aims to teach bystanders about what they can do when they witness racism.

Video - Play button over picture of two women experiencing racism from a shop assistant.

Bystander Campaign Video – Sporting Scenario

One of the most common forms of racism is being called an 'offensive slang name'. This video aims to teach bystanders what they can do when they witness racism.

Video - Play button over picture of sports fans sitting in stadium seats

Bystander Campaign Video – Online Scenario

Two out of three people witness racism online. This video aims to teach bystanders what they can do when they witness racism online.

Video - Play button over picture of mobile phone message


Nelson, J. K., Dunn, K. M., & Paradies, Y. (2011). Bystander anti-racism: A review of the literature. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 11(1), 263-284.

Pedersen A, McWhae L, Paradies Y. 2015. Bystander antiprejudice on behalf of Muslim Australians:  The role of ethnocentrism and conformity, Australian Community Psychologist, 27:6-20.

Pedersen A, Paradies Y, Barndon, A. 2015. The consequences of intergroup ideologies and prejudice control for discrimination and harmony, Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 45: 684-696.

Perry R, Paradies Y, Pedersen A. 2015. Religious ambivalence: Suppression of pro-social attitudes toward asylum seekers by right-wing authoritarianism, International Journal of Psychology and Religion, 25(3): 230-246.

Pedersen A, Redmond J, Paradies Y. 2014. Psychosocial predictors of anti-racist bystander action towards Indigenous Australians, Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology. 20(4): 474-490.

Stewart K, Pedersen A, Paradies Y. 2014. It's always good to help when possible BUT...": Obstacles to bystander anti-prejudice. The International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities, and Nations. 13(3): 39-53.

Pedersen A, Paradies Y, Hartley L, Dunn K. 2011. Bystander anti-prejudice: Cross-cultural education, links with positivity towards cultural "outgroups" and preparedness to speak out. Journal of Pacific Rim Psychology 5(1): 19-30.

Thomas, E., & Pedersen, A. (2015). What psychology says about how to respond to racist behaviour. The Conversation, 5th August 2015.

Hynes, M. (2016) "Indifferent by Nature: a posthumanist reframing of the problem of indifference", Environment and Planning A, 48 (1), 24-39.

Sharpe, S. and Hynes, M. (2016) "Black-faced, Red Faces: the potentials of humour for anti-racist action" Ethnic and Racial Studies, 39 (1), 87-104.