LARGE black signs with bold, white writing have popped up in municipalities across British Columbia. From billboards, transit shelters and the backs of buses, they pose a seemingly simple question with complex implications: “Am I racist?”
The messages are part of the first major campaign of BC’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner (BCOHRC). The Office began its work in September 2019 with a strong mandate to educate the province on issues of systemic racism, following the 17-year absence of a provincial human rights commission.
BCOHRC’s “Am I racist?” public awareness campaign takes British Columbians through the first steps toward a more anti-racist B.C. by asking them to examine their inner biases.
Today, the campaign was updated to ask more specific questions about what constitutes racism. One sign asks: “If I say I don’t see skin colour, am I racist?” Another questions: “If I want to forget our province’s history, am I racist?”
Starting Monday, November 30, these signs will direct viewers to an interactive educational experience on BCOHRC’s website at bchumanrights.ca/BeAntiRacist, designed to help British Columbians look deeper at the issues that divide us.
“Systemic racism is a difficult and urgent problem in B.C.,” said Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender. “Statistics show a rise in hate crimes in B.C., both gradually over the last decade and rapidly since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the province. We need to name the problem before we can solve it, and that starts when we confront our own, often subconscious, racial biases.”
Reported hate crimes in B.C. rose by over one third (34%) between 2015 and 2018. In the first nine months of 2020, the Vancouver Police Department reported a 116 per cent rise in hate crimes in Metro Vancouver compared to the same period in 2019, with Asian communities bearing the brunt of the increase. Anti-Asian hate crime incidents increased from just nine reported last year to 88 reported in the 2020 period, an 878 per cent increase
The campaign also comes amid concerns of structural racism in health care and other institutions, including concerns that COVID-19 is having a disproportionate impact on health outcomes for racialized communities in B.C. A Statistics Canada report found COVID-19 mortality rates between March and July 2020 were higher in B.C. communities where more than 25 per cent of residents are visible minorities.
“Canada has a reputation of being a safe place with minimal racism, but this does not truly reflect the history and present-day experiences of Indigenous and racialized people in this province and country,” Govender said. “I know it’s uncomfortable to recognize this racism and to start to work on it, but it’s crucial that we do so—because uprooting systemic racism starts when we change ourselves.”
BCOHRC’s “Am I racist?” campaign launched on November 16 and will run in communities across B.C. until December 11. To learn more, visit bchumanrights.ca/BeAntiRacist or follow the hashtag #BeAntiRacistBC on Twitter or Instagram.