Now Or Never·Personal Essay

People can change their mind, even on the internet

How Edmonton activist and actor Jesse Lipscombe finds hope in online forums and comment sections.

Edmonton activist and actor Jesse Lipscombe finds hope in online forums

Jesse Lipscombe speaks to a group of students at MacEwan University in Edmonton about his social media campaign #MakeItAwkward. In the last year, most of his activist work has moved online. (Jesse Lipscombe)

Contributed by Jesse Lipscombe

Don't read the comments, they say. No one wants to learn there. They just want to be right. That's what people tell me. 

You can't change anyone's mind online. 

Staying hopeful, in what seems like a hopeless space, can prove difficult. But it's in these social spaces where I've found a great deal of hope.

I have seen heated discussions turn empathetic when parties find a way to relate before they focus on trying to prove their point. So-called "online enemies" have become friends in real life — I've even made a few this past year.

As an activist and an artist, I am constantly putting myself, my ideas and my feelings out there. And I consistently face pushback. 

When people use online personas and anonymous accounts to spread negativity and share downright disgusting comments, I choose to distance myself.

However, when I engage with a vast majority of people who truly want to change this world for the better, I dig deeper. When I do that, I take myself out of it, I find we all have something in common.

Everyone wants to be heard, everyone wants to belong, and everyone wants to contribute (even if those contributions derail, upset and incite arguments). Realizing that has pushed me to listen and show care before responding in defence or judgment. 

No one cares until they know you care. It's a strategy that proves as effective online as it does in real life. That approach allows people to remove their armour and engage in open conversation. 

Everyone can change, myself included

As a result of those conversations, many people, including myself, have the opportunity to look at things differently. I used to say words and phrases like "tone-deaf" or "colour-blind" until someone informed me that my ableist language is harmful to a group of people who are too often overlooked by many activists. Being deaf has nothing to do with being insensitive, being blind has nothing to do with your understanding of race. 

If I have learned anything about people's capacity to change, it is that the more we can see how it helps us, the more we can (and will) change. When we realize that uplifting others and creating safe spaces everywhere will actually benefit us, the more we are willing to move. 

Jesse asked his friend Jody Carrington to tell people publicly why she changed her mind about racism in her own life. She spoke at a Make It Awkward Summit in December. (Jesse Lipscombe)

This year we have seen people who normally did not jump into the ring, shout, "Black Lives Matter."

They finally saw a world they couldn't believe in or a world they chose to ignore in the past — and it changed them.

The needle moves at the speed of empathy. In order to accelerate it, we have to have hope that each and every conversation, no matter how small, might matter a great deal.

A place to call home

I often ask myself. Why am I doing this work? For me, it always comes back to justice, fairness and equity.

I want to live in a place where everyone understands that I belong — in a place where people don't ask, "Where are you from?"

I am fighting for a home. 

As a descendant of people who were enslaved, I am not afforded the knowledge of "where I came from." Where I am, where I was born, is where I call home. If not here, then where? 

My fight is to be at home in this place, whether you call it Edmonton or Amiskwacîwâskahikan, Canada or Turtle Island.

I see it as my duty to help fortify an environment where people who look like me can feel as much a part of this collective as anyone else. If I can contribute anything that makes more people feel their opinions and lives matter — that they belong to something important and that their contributions matter — sign me up.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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