#MakeitAwkward: Edmonton racial slurs inspire new campaign

In less than a day, supporters of an Edmonton campaign from across the country have committed to make it awkward for people who express racism or discrimination.

'It's going to get a little bit awkward - that's how we're going to make change,' Mayor Don Iveson says

In response to a racial slur being shouted at Edmonton's Jesse Lipscombe earlier this week, a campaign to 'make it awkward' began in Edmonton. 1:25

In less than a day, people from across the country have thrown their support behind an Edmonton campaign to "make it awkward" for those who express racism or discrimination.

#MakeItAwkward encourages Edmontonians to confront racism wherever they see or hear it.

It's a collaboration launched Friday morning between Mayor Don Iveson and Jesse Lipscombe, an actor and producer targeted by racist slurs earlier this week.

"I assumed that Edmonton would rally behind this," Lipscombe said. "I didn't see the support across the country coming the way it did, and that feels very, very, very good."

Since the campaign was launched, support has come in droves from the public on social media.  It also came from politicians, including Premier Rachel Notley.

Lipscombe was downtown Wednesday evening, filming a public service announcement about how Edmonton is a great place to live, when a group of strangers in a car pulled up at a nearby intersection.

The men yelled "The n----rs are coming, the n-----rs are coming," over and over again.

Rather than walk away, Lipscombe, a former high jumper who also owns a fitness studio, walked over to the car and calmly confronted the men inside.

The Facebook video Lipscombe posted of the incident has been viewed thousands of times. He said it's no longer just about the man in the car.

"It's become bigger than myself, bigger than him and a movement that we can rally together behind," he said.

He and Iveson hope their new campaign will inspire others to take a firm stand against racism.

While recording a commercial, Jesse Lipscombe heard a man in a car shouting, 'the n----rs are coming, the n----rs are coming.' 0:51
 "We have a new campaign about what bystanders can do, what can you do, when you see something like this on the street or at home," Lipscombe said in a video he and Iveson posted to Facebook on Friday.

"Make it awkward. The racial slurs or the sexist jokes or jokes about the LGBTQ community, that's not OK. And when you hear it, instead of being quiet, make it awkward."

Don't let things go from awkward to dangerous, warn police

While Edmonton police encourage people to start conversations about race and discrimination, Sgt. Steve Sharpe said each situation should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

"Anything that's going to escalate to the point of physical violence or a heated exchange, certainly we can't promote that level of interaction, because you just never know where it's going to go," Sharpe said. 

Iveson,who condemned the slurs against Lipscombe, also suggested approaching people peacefully and non-aggressively.

He said the campaign is a way to empower people to speak up about everyday injustices.

"It's time to start the conversation," he said. "It's going to get a little bit awkward. That's how we're going to make change.

"As Canadians, we'd like to think that those values don't exist in our community. But in the hearts of some people, they do, and they need to be challenged. It's time to have an awkward conversation about that. And I'm so proud of Jesse for starting it."

The mayor said Edmonton is not a racist city, and Canada is not a racist country, but some activists disagree.

Reakash Walters, an organiser with Black Lives Matter Edmonton, says Edmonton and Canada shouldn't deny it has a problem with racism. (CBC)
Reakash Walters, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Edmonton, was the first person to let the mayor know about Lipscombe's video.

She said the #MakeItAwkward campaign is important, but so is admitting that a serious problem exists here.

"I don't think you have time to hear all the examples that I have of people who've experienced systemic, as well as just incidental, racism," Walters said.

"It's not something that is new, but it is something that we need to start realising collectively is an issue so that we can move forward on dealing with it."