Bystander anti-racism

22 June 2021

To ensure that we create a welcoming and supportive environment for all members of our community, we need to ensure that our values are upheld by everyone at ANU.

So what do you do if you witness, or are involved in, a conversation or situation that makes us uncomfortable? We are all human, we all make mistakes. Sometimes this may also stem from fear of unknown circumstances. Let's help to teach each other what our values are as a community. Whether it's staff or students involved, these conversations can be hard but hopefully these tips will help.

Redirect the conversation

Racism is often born of stereotypes and ignorance that's often shaped by factors outside of an individual's control including exaggerated media narratives, immediate family views or blatant misinformation. However angry we may be, shifting someone else's perspective requires constructive conversations and gentle temperament. 

Combative or aggressive language can lead to the offender shutting off completely and not taking in a word of what you say. No one wants to be called a racist regardless of their actions so a good first step is to explain the impact it can have. 

  • "this conversation is making me uncomfortable, could we talk about something else?"
  • "I think if someone else overheard this conversation it may make them uncomfortable, I don't want to have a negative impact on someone that way"
  • "I just heard your comments about the Coronavirus and they made me uncomfortable, I feel that we should support all members of our community"
  • "It seems like you are really concerned about the Coronavirus situation, let me send you some information" (Send )

Ask the person to clarify their comments or reaction

Trying to delve into the reasoning behind a comment is another way to get an offender thinking about what they just said or did. However abhorrent you may think someone's views are, let them have some space to share their perspective. There's nothing to be achieved in a one-sided argument where one person feels that they are not being heard.

  • "I feel like you were making a comment that targets a particular group of people, can you please clarify what you meant?"
  • "Did you really mean to imply that you would treat someone differently based on their race or circumstances?"
  • "I noticed that you just did something and I'm not sure if you are aware that it may have come across upsetting to some people. Did you mean to XXX?"

Check in with the person you think may be affected, or tell someone who can

Regardless of whether you or someone else intervened in the incident, checking in with the person or people affected by racism or discrimination is a powerful step in showing they are valued despite what happened. 

Or ask someone with different skills and experience to check in if you are uncomfortable to do so.

  • "That situation made me feel uncomfortable and I wanted to check and see how it made you feel?"
  • "I just witnessed a situation with XXX and I think they may be upset. I'm not sure what to say but could you check on them?"

Assert your requirements for health and safety (this is ok too!)

  • Wear a mask; but do so in every situation that you are in contact with staff or students
  • Use hand sanitizer; discretely and between interactions
  • Clean your work surfaces; discretely and use the opportunity between appointments or interactions to do this

Put yourself in their shoes. The most simple but sometimes the most overlooked. Before you do or say something, think about how it would feel if the same was done to you

Only those people who meet health authority criteria for isolation will be isolated. So, if a student or staff member is not isolated, regardless of their ethnicity, it is because they do not need to be.  

Reference: This information was put together with the assistance of the article "Coronavirus or Racism: which is spreading faster?" by Asanga Seneviratne published online:

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