#MakeItAwkward, urges anti-racism campaign coming to Toronto

The campaign began in Edmonton after someone yelled racial slurs at one of the co-founders, Jesse Lipscombe. He and his wife are encouraging people to start the awkward conversation and question racist comments.

Toronto will be the 2nd city to have an official chapter of the group

Jesse, left, and Julia Lipscombe will officially launch the Toronto chapter Friday night. (Meaghan Baxter)

In August of 2016, actor Jesse Lipscombe was out shooting a public service announcement for the city of Edmonton when someone in a car began yelling racial slurs, including the N-word, at him.

Lipscombe was shocked, but instead of letting it go, he walked over to the stranger, opened their car door and suggested they talk about what the man had just said.

"He ignored it," Lipscombe said, even though the entire incident was captured on camera

"He said he didn't say it, sped away, threw it at me again and then we were just kind of left there dumbfounded for a while."

In a way, Lipscombe said he's grateful this incident happened to him because it inspired the #MakeItAwkward campaign — a project he launched along with his wife, Julia Lipscombe, and Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson.

Meet the couple bringing the #MakeItAwkward campaign to Toronto

CBC News Toronto

4 years ago
Jesse Lipscombe and his wife Julia launched the #MakeItAwkward campaign in Toronto, a project that encourages people to respectfully confront those who say racist or hateful things in order to show them that discrimination won't be tolerated. 1:43

The initiative encourages people to respectfully confront those who say racist or hateful things in order to show them that discrimination won't be tolerated. Participants can show their support by taking the pledge or sharing the hashtag on social media.

Now the couple is bringing their movement to Toronto, officially opening a chapter in this city on Friday afternoon.

The couple also speaks at schools to raise awareness of their campaign and their goal of speaking up about racism. (Julia Lipscombe)

Starting the conversation

Lipscombe said he believes people who use racist language feel like they won't be questioned, allowing them to continue their ways. Taking a step to confront the person, he said, forces the "attacker" to explain themselves.

If you witness racism, sexism or homophobia, speak up and make it awkward for that person,- Julia Lipscombe, #Makeitawkward co-founder

Julia Lipscombe said the #makeitawkward campaign encourages people to ask tough, sometimes awkward questions, of anyone trying to marginalize others.

"It means if you witness racism, sexism or homophobia, speak up and make it awkward for that person," she said. 

Lipscombe said confrontations may not result in the person immediately changing their ways, but they may walk away and reconsider their actions later. 

"More often than not I find that people may say racist things, but they're not necessarily racist people," he said.

"Racism is deep, like deep, deep when you actually believe that you are superior to another person and wish harm on the other people or have no care for them. I don't believe that's the vast majority of people."

The couple encourages people to start within their own circle of friends and family. If it's safe, they also hope bystanders will step into situations where no one else is taking a stand.

When it's too dangerous, they said it's the responsibility of leaders in the community, such as employers, institutions and governments, to take the pledge and step-up.

New chapter

Toronto will be the second city to have an official #MakeItAwkward chapter.

"The speed of it was surprising," Julia Lipscombe said.  "It's been amazing."

Even so, they still regularly face the discrimination they're trying to stop. When they started the campaign, they received many discriminatory comments online.

Jesse and Julia Lipscombe pose with their two oldest children. The couple also celebrated the birth of a baby boy in October. (Meaghan Baxter)

Julia Lipscombe includes photos of her, Jesse and their children in her weekly parenting column for the Edmonton Journal. Just last month, she received a hateful, handwritten letter objecting to the 'advertisement' of mixed-race marriages.

But with every negative action comes a flood of positivity.

After hearing about the incident, a class of elementary school children in Edmonton wrote responses to the anonymous letter writer.

This is one of the letters written by a Grade 6 student in Edmonton in response to the letter Julia received. The students posted their responses to a blog. (Ivan/Seesaw blog)

"Every time there's been something hateful ... the response has been overwhelmingly loving," she said.

Friday's launch will be held at Karmaxwave at 1230 St. Clair Avenue West at 6 p.m.

With files from Metro Morning