Calgary city council's Twitter shaming won't stop racism, says political scientist

Some Calgary city councillors took to Twitter on Monday to call out residents who submitted letters containing racist remarks toward immigrants, but U of C political scientist Melanee Thomas says public shaming does not work.

Anti-immigrant rhetoric over Southwood secondary suite issue surfaces at council and 'is not OK'

Political scientist Melanee Thomas says city council should publicize racist comments if they're on the record, but that in itself won't change the underlying attitudes. (CBC )

Some members of Calgary city council took to social media Monday to blast racist letters from residents opposed to secondary suite applications, but a political scientist says public shaming doesn't rid people of their racist attitudes.

In fact, it can often worsen the problem, says University of Calgary associate professor Melanee Thomas. 

"We don't have a whole lot of research on this, but the research we do have, especially from online forums, suggests that when people are publicly shamed they just kind of retrench and dig their heels in," said Thomas.

During Monday's city council meeting, some letters containing racist comments toward immigrants were submitted by residents in the community of Southwood opposed to two secondary suite applications.

The comments sparked a huge debate about whether city council should make those views, and their sources, public, which council is required to do on anything submitted for items on the agenda.

Social media shaming

Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra sent out a tweet blasting the person who wrote  "If I wanted to live in a community of savages I would move to a 3rd world [sic] country." 

Carra also tweeted out the author's name.

"I stand behind how I expressed my outrage and disgust of what was said," he said.

"If you are going to sign your name to some horrible things you should be acknowledged for being horrible in that regard. I don't know what our move-forward policy should be, whether we just reject and do not accept that, or whether we daylight it and specifically point it out that it is not acceptable and despicable."

Public record

But Thomas says policy is policy, regardless of the repugnant nature of the comments.

"What's important about seeing this in the public record is for people to know that this remains a problem, and if we think it's a problem, it still requires a lot of work on the part of everybody to move attitudes away from that racist direction."

She says calling people out lets the offender know that a certain behaviour is not acceptable, but if the goal is to change the behaviour then more needs to be done

"What's more effective is anti-racism campaigns and anti-sexism campaigns typically coming from the groups that are not the target of that particular behaviour, so this would be white people actually making a statement saying that kind of racist statement, that's not OK, this would be men, usually speaking to other men, saying that sexist statement that's not OK for these reasons," said Thomas

Carra agrees.

"I look forward to us discussing how to address this in a more permanent way. I'm glad that council gave direction to actually explore and develop a more permanent policy on how to deal with this."

Thomas also says city council should make sure that residents understand when their comments are going to be put on the public record. 


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