From reaction to action: Founder of #MakeitAwkward determined not to see it 'fizzle out'
Edmonton’s anti-discrimination campaign captured the attention of Prime Minister
A few days ago the 'MakeitAwkward' hashtag was invented as a response to a racist incident in Edmonton.
In that short time, the message behind the hashtag has gone viral. Even the prime minister is on board.
But will the anti-discrimination campaign make a difference?
Rey Rosales, an associate professor of communications at MacEwan University in Edmonton, said movements that succeed tend to be the ones with which people can easily connect — and #MakeitAwkward has that power.
"It's so straightforward and simple and hits you right straight into your own heart," he said.
Jesse Lipscombe and Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson launched #MakeitAwkward on Friday, two days after Lipscombe was taunted by a group of men in a car chanting "the n----rs are coming."
The irony was that Lipscombe, an actor, was in between takes while filming a commercial on how great it is to live in downtown Edmonton.
- Edmonton man targeted by racial slurs captures 'disgusting' exchange on video
- #MakeitAwkward: Edmonton racial slurs inspire new campaign
After Lipscombe posted the video on Facebook, the story was picked up by the media.
Lipscombe, who calmly walked up to the car and confronted the men, posted the video on Facebook. The story spread across the country after it was picked up the media.
Lipscombe said the initial outpour of support was overwhelming, but how quickly #MakeitAwkward has spread is even more so.
"It's bigger than myself and this incident and it's really neat to watch it spiral with such positivity," he said.
The idea behind the campaign is for people to call out racism and homophobia when they hear it. In other words, to "make it awkward."
The campaign reminds Rosales of the #Occupy movements, with its social-justice focus. He said he hopes #MakeitAwkward sticks in the same way.
'That's one of my worries, it's just a fad, it's just a passing things. After a few weeks, people won't even remember that this happened.' - Rey Rosales, associate professor of communications at MacEwan University
"That's one of my worries [that] it's just a fad, it's just a passing thing. After a few weeks, people won't even remember that this happened," Rosales said.
Lipscombe has had that thought, too, but is focusing on what might come next: education in schools, and public-speaking engagements. He has a few meetings lined up with the mayor and city officials during which they will outline the campaign's objectives in more detail to keep momentum going.
'It'll take more than me just being active in my own city for this to not fizzle out.' - Jesse Lipscombe, founder of #MakeitAwkward
"It'll take more than me just being active in my own city for this to not fizzle out," Lipscombe said.
For that to happen, Rosales said #MakeitAwkward needs to transition from reactive to proactive — cultural sensitivity and understanding needs to be part of regular conversations.
That's why he thinks the fact that politicians of all stripes from across the country are on board is integral.
The role of social media in #MakeitAwkward is simply to sustain awareness, which is difficult since a lot of people tend to subscribe to others who share their political views, Rosales said.
"It's so hard to do cross fertilization and to have a really informed and respectful dialogue on social media because if you're of this political stripe, the tendency is to just do the echo chamber, to just look for information that supports your world view," he said.
Research show there tend to be certain elements beyond relatability present in the news stories that resonate with people.
A common one is surprise, which Rosales felt when he heard about Lipscombe's experience.
Rosales, who was born in the Philippines, spent 18 years living in the United States bfore moving to Edmonton.
"I felt like, 'This is a nice place. It's so relaxing. People are so delightfully colourblind.' It was kind of a shock for me when I read that story."
He said he's never had anything even close to what happened to Lipscombe happen to him while he's been in Edmonton, but said there have definitely been little things.
''When somebody talks to you, they don't look at you straight in the eye. Somebody else standing next to you is the person who gets the attention... People of colour feel it. They sense it. They know when they see it.' - Rey Rosales, associate professor of communications at MacEwan University
"When somebody talks to you, they don't look at you straight in the eye. Somebody else standing next to you is the person who gets the attention," Rosales said. People of colour feel it. They sense it. They know when they see it."
While prejudice isn't new, Lipscombe said the fact that more and more of it is being caught on camera could be helping people to think about it in a new way.
"It's not necessarily just stopping things when you see them, but also talking about them," Lipscombe said. "Now, people might put their foot in their mouth when they're about to say something they shouldn't have said."
Lipscombe sees #MakeitAwkward as all-encompassing and hopes it helps to break down other types of social barriers beyond race, including gender, sexaul orientation and disabilities.
"What we ended up coming up with was almost a description or a name for something that everybody knows should be happening and a lot of people are already doing," he said.
"I think it could become something that actually changes how we treat one another."
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