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Bystanders ‘should stand up’ to racist attacks

on 14/04/2019

Those who witness racist attacks in public places could be doing more to stop them happening, an anti-racism expert has told SBS.

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The comments follow another incident of racial abuse on public transport in Sydney yesterday, where a man was captured on film swearing at two middle-aged tourists of Asian appearance.

A 30-year-old office worker of Chinese descent who wished only to be named as Heidi told the Sydney Morning Herald only two people, including herself, spoke up against the incident.

“We didn’t receive any support from the other passengers,” she said.

Professor Kevin Dunn from the University of Western Sydney said bystanders should offer vocal support to victims of racism when it occurs in public.

“Those people who are prone to particularly racist views, we know are more likely to feel their view is the majority view if nobody speaks out or says anything against what they do or say,” he said.

“What’s more is, the more that happens, the more that they’re unchallenged, the more they’re likely to be more brazen and bold in the actions and statements that they make.”

Research conducted at the University of Western Sydney found racist insults and disrespectful treatment were among the most common forms of racism.

About 19 per cent of Australians – or one in five – have been a victim of “race hate talk”, says Professor Dunn.

Dr Fiona Kate Barlow, a social psychologist with the University of Queensland, said it was “quite common” for a group of people to remain inactive when confronted with the tragedy of others.

“Despite how it might appear, it’s typically not due to cruelty, or indifference or lack of distress but rather a set of really predictable feelings that we go through when we see someone in trouble.”

The fear of being mocked or attacked is a common reaction, she said. “[Bystanders] also feel a sense of diffusion of responsibility. If there are many people around, they don’t feel that they personally have to do anything.”

It is possible to overcome such fears. “Just being aware of the bystander effect can actually reduce it,” Dr Barlow said.

“It’s perfectly acceptable to speak out against racism when you see it, and as a country and as a people we need to do more of it.

“Having said that, at all times we should be tempered by pragmatism. There are very real safety concerns.”

Professor Dunn acknowledged many people stay silent for fear of retribution or violence.

“That’s a real fear”, he said. “[But] that all points to the importance of people speaking up, and supporting anybody else who has spoken up. Don’t just sit quietly. Make it clear that that person is in the minority.”

Recording the event in order to report it, showing support to the victim after the perpetrator leaves or moving to create a physical barrier to protect the victim were also ways of helping, said Professor Dunn.

ABC News presenter Jeremy Fernandez became the victim of a racist attack on a Sydney bus earlier this year, while recent incidents have also been reported in Melbourne and Perth.


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