April 6, 2018 10:09 am
Updated: April 6, 2018 7:43 pm

Sparking a conversation: social media users react to #FirstTimeIWasCalled

After launching a social media campaign on #FirstTimeIWasCalled, Farah Nasser and Erica Vella look at the reactions on Twitter and discuss the stories that have been shared using the hashtag.

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Warning: the following contains graphic language

The conversation has begun.

At times, it is heated, and other times, poignant.

There’s no denying that it’s been an active conversation, with many voices. Since the #FirstTimeIWasCalled project started, there have been thousands of tweets using the hashtag. On Facebook and YouTube, the stories and videos have been read and watched thousands of times.

While not all the reaction can be called positive, Farah Nasser and Erica Vella, the project’s leaders, have received scores of heartfelt messages from Canadians sharing their own first experiences with discrimination.

Watch below to hear them describe the response so far:

On TV and radio shows across the country this week, the conversation has continued.

Experiencing racism day after day can have a profound impact on a person’s mental health, experts say. And some audience members such as Cecile Pauline Grenier say that early experiences had a profoundly negative ripple effect on their lives. As a result of a brush with racism in childhood, “I spent the majority of my life pretending I was anything but Native,” she writes.

But in talking about it, the organizers of this project hope that something beneficial can come from these everyday negative experiences. The project has a three-fold purpose:

  1. To provide closure to those who have carried hurt and anger around for so many years.
  2. To create an opportunity for people to empathize and learn from each other.
  3. To counteract the “bystander effect” in which people stand by while someone else becomes a victim of discrimination.

The conversation has included the pivotal role that bystanders play.

We’ve seen evidence that the first goal — closure — is happening for some. Canadian entertainer Jully Black said it was a cathartic experience and “the most telling 10 minutes of my career.” And she thinks others will benefit from talking about a touchy subject.

“Some people may feel uncomfortable, that’s perfectly okay,” she wrote on Facebook. “That’s your opportunity to ask yourself ‘Why do I feel this way?’ It’s the first step to a happier you.”

There are signs that with education comes empathy, as Catherine MacAskill’s Facebook comment indicates. The tormenting by bullies she received now makes her “feel protective of anyone being harassed because of race, color, religion and ethnicity,” she writes. “We Canadians are better than that. At the very least, we could try to understand what others are feeling.”

Although not everyone agrees that past experiences need to be dredged up.



And some echo Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh in saying that those hurtful youthful experiences actually inspired them as adults.

Watch below as Farah Nasser details the negative reaction the project has received: 

While much of the conversation has centred around race and religion, audience members were quick to point out that any sort of “difference” can create a target.

And there have been reminders that discrimination isn’t always accompanied by name-calling.

You can add to the conversation too — by using the hashtag, by commenting on any of the stories in the series, or by filling in the contact form below.

If you choose to contact us via the above form, we may be in touch for more information. We may also use your submission in future coverage, but we’ll never share your email address or other contact info.

Watch: Voices from the #FirstTimeIWasCalled series

The conversation has begun. But it’s not over.

Explore: Highlights from the #FirstTimeIWasCalled conversation on Twitter

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