Racism is alive and well in the Cowichan Valley, laments the minister at a local church where an outdoor sign supporting Black Lives Matter was vandalized.
At the request of the congregation, Sylvan United Church in Mill Bay had posted the words “Black Lives Matter” to the sign boards visible from Shawnigan Lake-Mill Bay Road. Some time overnight between Tuesday, June 23 and Wednesday, June 24, about two weeks after the words went up, someone broke into the sign, removed the letters spelling “Black Lives Matter,” and spray painted the word “Smile” on one side of the sign and “God was here!” on the other side.
Rev. Katherine Brittain said it was disappointing but not surprising to see backlash against the Black Lives Matter movement, even in Mill Bay.
“I think racism is alive and well and very overt,” she said. “But sometimes it’s more subtle and comes out in sneakier ways.”
Brittain doesn’t take issue with the sentiment that “God was here,” she said, but in using them to replace “Black Lives Matter” the graffiti was an affront to the beliefs of the United Church of Canada.
“It made me really upset because the way the United Church understands God is that you don’t erase someone’s suffering in order to put God’s name down,” she said. “It’s everything we stand against.”
Brittain grew up on Vancouver Island, and returned two years ago after nearly 20 years away, including time in Toronto, where she says racism is typically directed at the Black community. Here, the victims are more often First Nations.
“Racism against Indigenous people is overt and endemic,” she said.
Racism, both overt and otherwise, needs to be addressed, Brittain continued.
“There is overt racism, but there is also the need for those of us who have so much privilege to acknowledge that we have privilege,” she said.
The Christian church has been complicit in racism, Brittain acknowledged, and it needs to stand up and apologize publicly for that. The United Church of Canada holds itself to a set of standards it calls PIE: Public, Intentional and Explicit, in being inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community, and she feels that policy should apply to anti-racism as well.
Personally, Brittain would like to speak face-to-face with whoever vandalized the sign at her church.
“I’d like to have a conversation with the person and find out what’s going on in their heart,” she said. “What are they feeling? Is there something deeper going on? What is happening in your soul that you thought that was something you had to do?”
She encourages that person to contact the church, and she will arrange an appropriate, socially distanced meeting.
“If we sit in our camps and in our own silos and talk to our own people, there will never be change,” Brittain said. “There will always be entrenchment. I want to sit down and have a respectful conversation. Even if we don’t agree with each other, at least we can understand where the other is coming from.”