CALGARY — Viral videos like one posted this week of a woman spewing hate at fellow diners at an Alberta restaurant make it harder to deny how big an issue racism remains in Canada, says a man behind a social media campaign aimed at confronting bigotry head-on.
“It puts it in people’s face a little bit more, which is an important thing,” Jesse Lipscombe, an actor and producer, said Thursday.
Lipscombe founded the #makeitawkward campaign in 2016 after a man in a car hurled a racial slur at him while he was filming a public service announcement in downtown Edmonton. Lipscombe posted a video to social media of him confronting the people in the car and urged others not to be bystanders when they witness discrimination.
He said he was disappointed and frustrated — but not surprised —when he saw a video posted Tuesday by Monir Omerzai, one of four friends originally from Afghanistan who were the target of a profanity-laden rant while waiting for their food last month at a Denny’s in Lethbridge, Alta.
The video shows a woman turning to the booth next to hers and yelling at the men to go back to their country. She accuses them of not paying taxes and threatens physical violence several times.
Kelly Pocha of Cranbrook, B.C., confirmed Wednesday that she is the woman in the video, which had more than a million Facebook views less than two days after it was posted.
“I’m trying really hard to not be desensitized to seeing these things on a daily basis,” Lipscombe said. “They do happen so frequently, which is a touch disturbing.”
Video of such interactions helps counter those who deny that racism is alive and well in Canada, he said.
But Lipscombe noted that even with video of what happened at Denny’s, there have been comments questioning whether Omerzai and his friends did something to trigger the verbal attack before the camera started to roll.
Calling out racism on social media helps shed light on the problem, but it’s not the best way to bring about lasting change, he suggested. He encourages people to tackle such thorny issues one on one with those they know.
“Nothing is better than somebody in your immediate circle having just a chat with you about your behaviour and what you’re saying.”
Alfred Hermida, director of the University of British Columbia’s School of Journalism, said the social media landscape is driven by emotions rather than nuanced thought about complicated topics.
The most powerful emotions tend to be anger and disgust. Both are prevalent among the thousands of comments on the Denny’s video.
“We need to, in some ways, catch up with the technology because social media makes it very easy for us to make a snap judgment and to … comment straight away,” said Hermida, author of “Tell Everyone: Why We Share and Why it Matters.”
“We’ve never had this ability to broadcast to the world in an instant and to rush to judgment in an instant.”
Pocha has been publicly shamed and lost her job at a car dealership, but Hermida questioned whether the broader context is being lost.
“Because we react on an emotional level, we don’t stop and think in terms of a more rational level,” he said.
“What does this tell us about Canadian society? Are there larger issues at play here? And are there small, subtle acts of racism or sexism that happen every day that we don’t tackle because we focus on this one incident and blame it on one person?”
Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press