The news coming out of the United States over the past week, as people loudly protest the death of George Floyd at the hand of police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is life-changing.
Watching the unrest as it quickly spread across nearly every state and into some Canadian provinces was uncomfortable. We have to question ourselves why? Was it because the lens could just as easily have been focused on our country?
Make no mistake, racism exists in Canada.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said on more than one occasion that it’s time Canadians acknowledge racism and unconscious bias against black people exists in this country.
“Anti-black racism, racism, is real; it’s in the United States, but it’s also in Canada,” Trudeau said May 29. He urged Canadians to stand together against discrimination and anti-black racism and to “understand we have work to do as well in Canada.”
The black population of Vancouver Island might be relatively small, but we are not exempt from racism. Our Indigenous population faces it every day.
The level of white rage from people reacting to the protests in the United States is disproportionate compared to the apathy that is evident toward Indigenous issues here on the west coast.
Canadians’ reaction to the civil unrest south of our border is disproportionate to protests between the Wet’suwet’en Nation, Coastal Gaslink and the federal and provincial governments. People now are affronted at the racial divide demonstrated in just about every American state. Where were those same people when the Wet’suwet’en Nation needed their support?
A well-respected First Nations advocate who died earlier this year once said Indigenous people have to choose whether to speak out or speak up — and if they do, what their words will cost them and whether speaking up is worth the price to be paid. Yet non-Indigenous people don’t have to think about what they say.
Racism doesn’t have to be blatant, or intentionally mean-spirited: it can be as simple as a poor choice of words, or an assumption made.
The best thing people can do is check their privilege at the door, endeavour to learn more about and understand their neighbours, and to be respectful and thoughtful in their words and actions.
We hear you. We see you. We stand with you.
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