Would you tell someone their racist jokes are offensive? Ask someone to stop sending you texts that demean an Indigenous person or a migrant? Would you call the police if you saw a serious situation of racist hate?
Even if you answered yes to all these questions, I’d still encourage you to do a Bystander Anti-Racism Training session. Late last year, I took part in a session with a diverse group that included childcare workers, an equitable housing advocate, an LGBTQI+ inclusion officer, a volunteer for a Chinese charity and other community members – and I’m really glad I did.
Bystander intervention is an approach that can be used to improve situations where it looks like a person could use some help. It’s about being an active, positive contributor – someone who challenges problematic behaviour effectively and respectfully.
A Deakin University study estimates that racism costs the Australian economy almost $38 billion per year due to its health impacts, which include anxiety, depression, stress and poor quality of life.
I was shocked to hear from our trainer that people with Chinese names and Middle Eastern names in Australia have to make from 64 to 68 per cent more applications for jobs to get an interview than candidates who have Anglo-European names.
Recent anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, the surge of anti-Asian hate during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the rise of far-right extremism are cited as key reasons the Australian Race Discrimination Commissioner, Chin Tan, relaunched the Racism. It Stops with Me initiative in 2022 (originally launched in 2012).
“Racism is a longstanding problem in Australia,” he said.
‘It denies people the opportunity to access justice and equality, whether we are in the arena of employment, health, or the legal justice system.
“By standing together against racism, we can then build a more just, fair, equal, and safe society for us all.”
The Bystander Anti-Racism Training session I took part in was run by Zarlasht Sarwari, Social Researcher and Educator at Western Sydney University, and organised as part of Georges River Council’s Better Together four-year anti-racism campaign. One key thing I learned was that being an ally to victims can often profoundly influence the feelings they and other witnesses take away from damaging situations.
Western Sydney University Pro Vice-Chancellor Research, Professor Kevin Dunn, said the three major issues that hold people back from speaking out against the racism they witness are not knowing what action to take, whether they will be safe, and whether the incident was racism.
“Training in bystander action addresses all three obstacles, thus releasing the most powerful anti-racism resource that we have in society – everyday people looking after each other in their local settings,” he said.
The new Racism. It Stops with Me website also offers educational resources to help businesses and individuals advance racial equity.
Being an active bystander isn’t always easy – but First Nations peoples and others with lived experience of racism have been leading anti-racism efforts in Australia for centuries, and standing with them in this longstanding battle matters.
We’re all shaped by the racism embedded in our society and systems but our actions can change individuals, institutions and society.
Tackling racism will help build a world in which people are treated equally regardless of their race.
Anyone who experiences racial discrimination can also make a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission. Phone the Commission for advice on 1300 656 419 04 or (02) 9284 9600.