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Reflections from the Lab

30 Oct, 2019

Prototype Post: The De-escalator Guide

Q: How is racism like an earthquake?

A: You never know where or when it’s going to happen, but you can still be prepared!

That’s the idea behind “The De-Escalator Guide”, a new brochure designed to tackle “eruptions” of racism in public places.  This guide was produced by 4 Shift Lab 2.0 Core Team members: Alex, Darryl, Helen and Johnny, plus Shift Lab Steward, Sam.

Together, this team looked at what could be an effective way to intervene when there is an outburst of racial harassment in a public place, i.e. at a train station, on the bus or in a shopping mall. Usually, we hear about these incidents after the fact, when a shaky video from someone’s phone captures a stranger yelling, shoving, threatening or otherwise harassing another stranger, seemingly over nothing.  Once these videos invariably become public, they can lead to consequences: for the aggressor, the aggrieved and even the impromptu filmmaker.

But what about the bystanders—what should they do? Well, the De-Escalators Guide (which includes a handy flowchart!) can help assess the situation. The Guide is a four-page insert that briefly outlines what racism is, its historical roots in concepts such as the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ and stories of everyday people who have been racially discriminated against. It’s partially inspired by the work of Maeril, a French illustrator, who created a widely-distributed cartoon illustrating how to fight Islamophobic harassment in public.  The De-Escalator Team “field tested” the guide at City Centre Mall and the main branch of the Edmonton Public Library, and received a wide variety of feedback on it, which will help revise and refine the content.

Like an earthquake, determining when or where an episode of racial harassment will happen is almost impossible to do. However, the De-Escalator’s Guide can help build up some anti-racist “muscle memory” to help bystanders take action in a positive (and safe!) way.

Watch the video of the team testing this prototype in action


Would you like to learn more about this prototype, or help support it? Please email

By |2019-11-17T22:39:48-07:00October 30th, 2019|Categories: Reflections from the Lab, Stories from the Field, What We're Learning, What's Going On|1 Comment

About the Author:

Sam(eer) Singh is a social innovator with a background in journalism, business and documentary film-making. He has worked for EndPovertyEdmonton as a strategic planner, the World Indigenous Nations Games as the International Coordinator as well as the Government of Alberta and Strathcona County as a systemic designer. He is a Shift Lab Steward, the co-founder of the Rotman Design Challenge, a former member of Media Architecture Design Edmonton and an alumnus of the Finland Foreign Correspondent Program. Sam is also an avid D&D player, a Batman-fanatic and an intrepid traveller.

One Comment

  1. Dana Sharp-McLean January 3, 2020 at 7:35 am

    Such an innovative approach! Well done!

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