Yellowknife filmmaker Pablo Saravanja says he was inspired by a Tumblr called Getting Racists Fired, which notifies employers about their employees’ online racist comments.
"I normally don’t engage with this type of stuff but this time I had to," says Saravanja. "I just couldn’t hold it in anymore."
The Facebook thread had started when Eugene Boulanger, a Shúhtagot'inę Dene hunter, artist, and community organizer, posted a news story to his page called "The Myth of the Crooked Indian."
Shortly after that, a man who had attended the same high school as Boulanger commented that aboriginal people are treated better than other Canadians and that they should move to cities and "modernize."
The conversation devolved into racism, with the man saying aboriginal people were "suffering due to stupidity" and that "aboriginals are parasites to (sic) our economy."
Saravanja was one of several people who tried to persuade the commenter to take his words back. After the attempts failed, Saravanja posted the man’s name, photo, and comments on his own Facebook site and invited people, including whoever the man’s employer might be, to condemn the racism.
He admits it might not be a great solution for ending racism online, but he believes it’s one tool to embarrass racists and perhaps make them think twice about sharing their views in public.
"I have been struggling with the possibility that this person might be so embarrassed by what they did that it puts them in an awful place and they might consider harming themselves," he says.
"But I weighed it against the hurt that this individual had caused the people I know and care about, and I weighed it against the hundreds of awful comments I read online every week that I know sting people deeply, and I thought, what I'm doing is not nearly as hurtful as that."
Personal impacts of racism
Boulanger says after seeing the racist comments, the impact of the words hit him when he was out at the grocery store. He says he started to wonder about the non-indigenous people around him.
"I’m looking around at people thinking, 'Are you a racist? What do you think about me? Are you judging me because of my skin colour?'"
Other northerners are also speaking up about their experiences with racism online.
Inuvik musician Leanne Goose says she sees a lot of racist and sexist comments online and un-friends or blocks offenders. Goose says she would like to see more people calling out racists online, but says she wouldn’t do it herself because she worries she might become a target for violence or more racism.
Lawrence Nayally, an aboriginal activist in Yellowknife, says he usually tries to reach out to start a dialogue with people making racist comments online, but he worries how his children might be affected by racist comments on the internet.
“When your kids have the ability to comprehend what’s being written online and they understand some of the harsh words that are thrown out there, that’s when you have to consider that action needs to happen,” he said.
Saravanja says he is bothered that more people don’t confront racists online, and says alerting employers about their employees’ online activities is simply a new way of dealing with racism.
Boulanger says he has mixed feelings about putting a person’s job in jeopardy, but that he supports Saravanja.
He adds that, if people want to keep their jobs, perhaps they should consider not being racist.