Witnessing racism can be uncomfortable, but when bystanders stay silent, it sends the message that racism is acceptable.
Bystanders sometimes don’t respond because they feel awkward, or don’t want to become a target of abuse themselves.
Your first priority should always be ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the person being targeted. Ask them if they are ok, and if they need any immediate support. Where someone has been the target of a racist attack, it can be a good idea to record the details of the incident and, where relevant, report it to the police or relevant authority, such as stadium officials at a sporting match. However, this may not always be possible or practical. At other times, police, or figures of authority, may be the ones perpetrating racism, and you may have to seek support elsewhere.
When responding, always assess the situation to ensure you are not putting yourself, or others, at risk.
Anyone who experiences racial discrimination can also make a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission. You can phone the Commission for advice on 1300 656 419 04 or (02) 9284 9600. See our ‘Reporting Racism’ page for more information on how to report.’
Below are some tips to help you overcome those barriers by providing useful strategies for taking action and standing up to racism.
Responding to racism online
Racism often occurs online, particularly on social media. Perpetrators sometimes feel more emboldened than they would in real-world settings, but the impacts of online racism can be just as real.
If you witness racism on social media or elsewhere online:
- In some situations, you may feel it is productive to comment. If someone is personally targeted online, offering support can be a powerful statement of solidarity. Sometimes, if the perpetrator happens to be a friend, let them know you disagree with what they’ve said. Calling out racist abuse can send an important message to perpetrators.
- Sometimes, it may be better not to engage with them, as they often want you to react in order to start an argument. Instead, you may want to consider some of the options below.
- If the post is on a page you moderate, consider hiding or deleting the comment.
- Collect evidence. Take a screenshot of the comments or record the URL. More information on this is available here.
- Most social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram and YouTube have systems for handling complaints about offensive content. Consider alerting the platform, because they can remove the content.
- You can also report the content to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner. They may be able to investigate the matter and follow up with the perpetrator or order content to be taken down.
Responding to racism in social situations
Hearing racist comments in social situations can be awkward – especially if they come from family or friends.
Speaking up to the people closest to you, whether in response to a single incident or an ongoing pattern, can be a challenge. Social dynamics, and the nature of peoples’ relationships come into play, and these can affect how comfortable we feel about speaking up. However, it’s important to remember that we often have the most power to change the perspectives of those who are closest to us. The Southern Poverty Law Centre has some ideas about how you can engage with people who have said or done something racist.
Responding to racism at school or university
Many schools and universities also run dedicated anti-racism campaigns, led by students or teachers. Initiating a campaign within your learning environment, or talking to others about creating this kind of campaign, can be a powerful way to tackle racism on a larger scale. The Australian High School Anti-Racism Kit is designed by Australian high school students, for Australian high school students, to take down racism brick by brick.
There are some excellent resources for students and teachers on the Racism. No Way website, and there’s information about taking the anti-racism pledge.