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Bystander Anti-Racism: A Review of the Literature


  • This article is based on a report commissioned by the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation. The first author is supported by an Australian Research Council scholarship. The third author is supported by a University of Melbourne McKenzie Fellowship.

Jacqueline Nelson, School of Social Sciences, University of Western Sydney, Locked Bag 1797, Penrith South DC NSW 1797, Australia. [e-mail:].


This review of literature on anti-racist prosocial action points to the strong and largely untapped policy potential of bystander anti-racism. Bystander anti-racism is conceptualized as action taken by “ordinary” people in response to incidents of interpersonal or systemic racism. The utility of bystander anti-racism is also demonstrated, with evidence suggesting productive effects for targets and bystanders, as well as perpetrators. The relative merits of confrontational or diplomatic action are reviewed, as is the delicate balance between communicating disapproval and maintaining interpersonal relations. The potential of bystander anti-racism will be enhanced where there are social norms that are intolerant of racism. The literature has paid little attention to the influence of context or to affective drivers of bystander anti-racism. We recommend changes to Ashburn-Nardo's five-stage Confronting Prejudice Model, to better facilitate anti-racism policy and practice. The additions adapt the model to organizational settings, and more strongly acknowledge the importance of social norms and contexts, as well as the specific functions of racism. Through these changes, there is a scope to increase the prominence of bystander anti-racism as a vital element of anti-racism policy.