Video of racist incident goes viral

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St. Albert's Jesse Lipscombe said racism is all too common

Jesse Lipscombe experiences casual racism on a daily basis, and has since he was a kid growing up in St. Albert – and several times a year, he said he experiences something much worse.

It’s not usually caught on camera, but earlier this week while filming a promotional video in downtown Edmonton, a man yelled a racial slur from his car and Lipscombe confronted him.

The video of that incident, which depicts the slur, the confrontation, a denial and another slur as the car speeds away, has gone viral on social media and caught the attention of nearly every major news outlet in the region.

He explained his goal in confronting the man was to return the feeling of discomfort.

“I’m not a big fan of the privilege of thinking you can say something to make somebody feel uncomfortable, and not have that feeling reciprocated to yourself,” he explained.

Unfortunately, being made to feel uncomfortable because of the colour of his skin is nothing new for Lipscombe. Growing up in St. Albert, he often faced discrimination and had to figure out how he would deal with it.

“When incidents like this occurred, and they happened throughout elementary and junior high and high school, I had different stands at all times,” he said. “There were times when I wanted to react by being violent, even though I’m not a violent dude, but I would posture that way as if that’s what you’re supposed to do.”

These days he said he prefers to have conversations with people about their racism, whether it’s explicit or implicit, and noted the implicit or casual racism is something he sees on a daily basis.

It could be something as simple as putting on a “flesh-tone” adhesive bandage, having people at a party want to talk to him about stereotypically “black” topics, or having people telling him stories about what some “black” or “native” guy did even when the label has nothing to do with the story. Those stories, incidentally, are always about something bad this person has done. It’s never something like a kind black man helping carry someone’s groceries.

Lipscombe said he feels these kinds of incidents are becoming more visible in part because these days there’s a video camera in every pocket, but also because the world is getting smaller and we’re more often exposed to those of different cultures and those clinging to old-fashioned values can feel they’re being pushed up against a wall.

“It’s like we’re lifting up the carpet right now and cleaning up all the garbage under it, but it’s gross under the carpet, and we have not vacuumed for a while,” he said.

Lipscombe said fixing the problem may be easier said than done, and requires some hard work and uncomfortable conversations – but it starts with recognizing that we all have prejudices and addressing them.

“For me to say that I have zero prejudices, that means I have some serious work to do,” he said.

Ultimately, Lipscombe said making progress on this front comes down to creating more multicultural communities for ourselves, and empowering our children to learn about and explore other cultures. Until we can look at all the different people in the world and see ourselves in them, the problem will persist.

“The more we collectively call ourselves we, I think it stops being an issue and we actually collectively start fixing things on a really major level,” Lipscombe said.

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Doug Neuman