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Researchers say racist, angry outbursts part of a bigger problem as hate crime in Calgary increases


Anxiety, fear and frustration about COVID-19 are likely behind most of the recent viral videos showing angry — and sometimes racist — anti-mask rants directed at Calgary business owners and employees, local scientists say.

As the Calgary police hate crimes unit investigates an incident at a northwest liquor store over the weekend , University of Calgary professors say the lack of control over the current state of the world can be triggering for some people.

Pallavi Banerjee, associate professor of sociology at the U of C, said the stress of COVID-19 has brought some of the underlying inequalities that already existed in society to the forefront.

“Racist ideologies and emotions actually may be spurring these outbursts, which of course is sort of a reaction to the pandemic and its stresses, but it’s coming out, unfortunately and not surprisingly to me, in really racist forms,” she said.

Banerjee said in white-dominant societies, though no formal research has been done on the topic, “there is more resistance to masking from conservatives.”

“Social conservatives also align with majorities . .  align with certain ideals of white superiority, so I think these are really correlated. These outbursts are more and more demographically from white people who may be mentally misbalanced or may be going over the edge because of the stress and frustration,” she said. “It could come out through other kinds of outbursts, particularly on small businesses that are owned by people of colour, so there is an underlying entitlement issue where they may see that you have a job and I don’t, or my job is at risk but your business is open.”

Calgary police senior Const. Craig Collins said there has been an increase in the number of hate crimes in the city, something he said isn’t unique to Calgary.

“We’re seeing this pandemic across the world, so it doesn’t matter where you look or where you research, you will see an increase in calls for service from our Asian community because of COVID-19 and perceived offences,” he said, in reference to the fact the pandemic’s origin has been linked to China. “We’re affected by world trends, by world situations so, yes, there has been an increase.”

Collins encouraged people to report any and all perceived hate crimes or hate bias to ensure a proper investigation can be carried out.

“We know that there is underreporting from segments of the community, whether that’s because of trust in the police or just trust in the system,” he said. “We are working hard to try and educate and advise people that if they feel they are a victim of something they should come forward even if they don’t think there’s a criminal offence involved, because as a service we do track the incidents.”

Collins said the hate crimes unit targets any criminal offence “that is motivated in whole or part through somebody’s bias through sex, creed, colour, race, sexual orientation. As a police service, our first role is to investigate the criminal offence that occurred. During that investigation if the victim or the witness or the officer feels there’s some hate bias there, then it triggers a secondary investigation where we look specifically at the motivation behind the offence.”

He said the unit has identified the man involved in the liquor store incident and officers are in the process of collecting video evidence and statements.

Cara McInnis, associate professor of psychology at the U of C, whose research focuses primarily on prejudice, said outbursts like that seen in video clips from the liquor store and Fabricland earlier in the month are likely symptoms of bigger issues.

“When we’re angry about something, we can’t do anything else. We’re focused on that anger, we can’t process information well, so even people who are really motivated not to think about groups in stereotypical terms . . . when they are feeling strong emotions like anger, they are distracted and they go back to that primitive way of thinking,” McInnis said. “Sometimes anger, frustration in general, even if they’re not associated at all with a group, can be associated with more stereotyping and more prejudice because they’re a distraction.”

McInnis said though racism as a whole hasn’t necessarily been exacerbated by COVID-19, specific racism, such as that directed at Chinese people, has been amplified as people look for someone to blame.

“(The liquor store incident) is an extreme example because I think what’s going to happen with most people is, yes, their anger might lead them to be thinking about people in groups in more stereotypical terms, but probably not going to have an outburst like that,” she said.

“Overall, our social norms suggest that we should not be prejudiced but in different pockets of people, depending on who you’re hanging out with, if within your social circle it’s totally fine and normal to be prejudiced or be racist, you’re more likely to be expressing those kinds of beliefs and attitudes.”

It’s not shocking that the racism that’s been bubbling under the surface of society has reared its head, Banerjee said, adding he expectes it will get worse before it gets better.

“It will continue to reveal all of the divisions and the inequities . . . These underlying prejudices and, really, ideas of superiority — whether it be race-related, gender-related — have come to the forefront,” she said. “The silent pandemic is creating these distances, which then makes our effort to fight the pandemic together and get to a place where we can actually come together as humanity to overcome this situation harder.”

She said it’s important to get over total individualism in our society to take collective action and think beyond ourselves.

“I think it’s all of our responsibility to get us to a society where we think of us and our.”

ocondon@postmedia.com

Twitter: @oliviacondon

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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