Billboards and bus stop signs saying ‘am I racist?’ have popped up in communities across the province including Campbell River, prompting people to examine the impact of their possibly-racist behaviours.
“It starts from a premise that all of us hold stereotypes and racist beliefs and we need to move past our guilt, shame or discomfort about that and do something about it,” said B.C.’s commissioner for Human Rights Kasari Govender.
The new signs are the second part of a campaign, which started with the simple question “am I racist?” The new portion actually looks at some common sentiments that people may not consider to be racist, but actually are. The campaign also includes online resources to help people examine their beliefs like ‘not seeing colour,’ asking people where they’re from and wanting to move on past historical acts of racism all fall under this category.
“Part two of the campaign points out the kinds of questions that we engage in that actually reveal racist beliefs and contribute to racism in ways that we might not be aware of,” Govender said. “For many people, saying ‘I don’t see colour’ is a way of indicating that they don’t feel they are racist. Now they’re being told that it might be racist, so why is that?”
Govender said that since her office has a province-wide mandate, she wanted to ensure this campaign reached all corners of the province. Campbell River is one of 23 cities in B.C. that have the new signage.
“We wanted to have the broadest reach that we possibly could. We wanted representation across communities of different sizes and experiences,” she said. “Honestly, looking at the rise of racism and the extreme forms that manifest in hate and violence was a priority when we started this office. The office is new as of just over a year ago. It was one of my priorities coming into the role because we’ve seen racism rise around the world, but particularly here in B.C. The numbers are worse here than other places in the country.”
Govender started as B.C.’s human rights commissioner in September, 2019 on a five-year term and is working to ensure human rights in the province are protected and advanced. Govender said that racism in B.C. has been a significant problem that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There was a survey done of 500 Canadians across the country of Chinese origin, and 43 per cent of folks surveyed talked about the racist threats or intimidation that they had experienced because of their ethnicity,” she said. “This is a significant problem always, but now more than ever.”
However, there have been signs of improvement in recent months as well. The Black Lives Matter protests across the province, including the demonstration in Campbell River in June, 2020 are examples of that.
“There’s signs of hope in that there’s signs in communities all over the world and in B.C. that people are really looking to engage in these conversations,” Govender said. “I think people are really ready to have these conversations in a way that we haven’t seen as often in the past. People want to know ‘what is racism, how is it affecting me and what can I do about it?’ For people who are experiencing it, they want to have the conversations to say this has happened to them and their communities and want to see action.”
The ad campaign will be running for two weeks, and online resources available at https://bchumanrights.ca will remain available for education purposes after the campaign finishes.
“If you go onto the website you get the opportunity to explore this further, to go through the questions that we’ve asked and read more about why certain things are racist,” Govender said.
For those who have experienced racism and need or want support, call the Mental Health Crisis Line at 310-6789.