‘Not racist,’ not good enough
There have been numerous points in history that have been heralded as turning points in the fight for equality for all people.
Many today feel we are at such a crossroads. The past year alone has seen the adoption by B.C. of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the murder conviction of a white police officer for the killing of George Floyd, and the founding of the Resilience BC Anti-racism Network.
Unfortunately, milestones, however promising, more frequently bring incremental improvement rather than fundamental change.
This week is Anti-Racism Awareness Week and while its focus is race-based discrimination, we’re really talking about discrimination based on difference, whether it be race (which, by the way, is an invention of segregation), ethnicity, gender, physical ability, sexuality etc.
Canadians tend to view our society as not merely tolerant of others, but accepting. Few among us consider ourselves to be racist or even complicit in perpetuating a discriminatory system.
In short, we feel like we live in a pretty egalitarian society.
Furthermore, we feel like it’s been that way for a long time.
The historical record tells a different story.
It wasn’t until 1960 that Indigenous people were granted citizenship and the right to vote.
In 1977, gay people were still excluded from citizenship under Canada’s Immigration Act.
It was 1985 before Indigenous women regained full status, rights and identity.
The last residential school in the country did not close until 1996.
Just two weeks ago, Vancouver police arrested and handcuffed former B.C. Supreme Court Justice Selwyn Romily saying they thought the 82-year-old Black man fit the description of a suspect allegedly acting violently along the seawall near English Bay.
In this week’s paper, we have a story about a study that concluded Indigenous patients are a third more likely to die following surgery than other Canadians.
We may not be personally racist as individuals, but Canada, we have a racism problem.
What can we do about it individually?
It starts with checking our privilege at the door and recognizing that ‘not racist’ is not good enough.