RACISM: Is it awkward yet?
To the woman who demanded to see a white doctor in Toronto, to the men who brandished Confederate flags in a Muslim neighbourhood in Edmonton, to the people who hurl N-bombs on the streets, the #MakeItAwkward campaign doesn’t want to hate you. They just want to talk. Meeting hate with hate isn’t getting us anywhere. Meeting people is the answer.
Jesse Lipscombe was the target of an N-bombing last September. The incident shook him up enough to launch the #MakeItAwkward campaign last year, with the full support of the City of Edmonton. The local actor has since talked to community groups and media from coast to coast and is gearing up for the first #MakeItAwkward Inclusivity Summit, Feb 1-3, 2018 at the Westin Hotel. He recently appeared in Toronto to discuss, among other issues, that incident in the hospital. Everyone agrees that woman is a horrible human being.
“I can’t even say I agree that she’s a horrible human being,” Lipscombe says. “The behaviour is horrible. But she’s a product of who taught her, her upbringing. It’s a shame, is what it is. But as soon as we go around saying ‘you’re a bad guy,’ there’s never chance for her to sit down and discuss it with us.”
The same goes for those redneck flag wavers. Or the guy in the car who shouted at Lipscombe last year. “Condemning” racism, as if there is no hope of redemption for racists at all, doesn’t seem to be doing a lot of good.
“For me, it’s always about a discussion where everyone has a place at the table,” Lipscombe says. “If someone’s being racist, whether they think it’s right or wrong, it comes from a real place where they have that feeling. Maybe if we can deconstruct why, they can change their minds.” And thanks to your “everyday activists,” racist incidents are become more public – taped and posted on YouTube for the world to see. People are doing something “instead of watching quietly, hoping it goes away, or pretending it’s not your business.”
Which brings us to the Elephant in the Room – the title of a free panel discussion taking place at the Urban Tavern on Tuesday, June 27, with speakers including MLA David Shepherd, aboriginal community leader Lewis Cardinal, and transgender aboriginal artist Chevi Rabbit. The topic, as Lipscombe puts it, is “how to celebrate Canada 150 without being a jerk.” It’s no secret a lot of First Nations people are mad about the impending July 1 celebration, pointing out their people had been here long before Canada became a country 150 years ago, and detailing how their people suffered at the hands of the meddling colonial government.
On the other hand, should the rest of us boycott Canada Day?
Lipscombe says, “We need to be paying attention to the colonialism that Canada was built on, and the half a billion dollars we’re spending to celebrate Canada 150, when many in the aboriginal community are still struggling.
“As a black Canadian in a country I identify as my own, I’m proud of celebrating Canada 150, but I also don’t want to be ignorant of what it is and what we need to do in order to make the next 150 a little better, so we can be a bit more proud of it instead of pretending everything is great in Canada.”
The goal is to respectfully have it both ways – in short, to all get along.
“Make it Awkward has never been closing the doors or putting up fences,” Lipscombe says. “Canada is the place we live in right now, and it’s trying to be better on a daily basis. It’s all about education and understanding and empathy.”