THE International Day for the Elimination of Racism was celebrated worldwide on Friday (March 21). Kamilla Singh, host and director for Asian Pulse TV, has taken the lead among others, through the organizing of anti-racism events in collaboration with Langara College and the BC Human Rights Coalition, to engage on the subject. Singh shared her views with me about the importance of remembering this day.
When I asked Singh what motivated her to get involved, she told me that she wanted to bring awareness about the reality of racism and to educate the youth. Through her work as a counselor with WAVAW (Women Against Violence Against Women) she was working with women on the front line who often disclosed their experiences of racism. She said: “People would tell me their stories which were about hidden racism, but nobody would call it racism. For that reason, women were vulnerable because their voices would not be heard. So I wanted to create a space to empower women and youth.”
Singh spoke about the experiences many new immigrants faced like looking for a job and the struggles with their accent and clothes. Indeed, these kinds of struggles in many ways force immigrants to assimilate, and give up their culture as a means of survival.
From my own research I have found that the issue of racism is not only institutional, but housed in attitudes which are the effects of colonialism at the level of the mind – a sense of entitlement and feeling superior to new immigrants of colour. In fact, some newcomers from Punjab told me that some of the Punjabis who have been in Canada for a long time discriminate against them and also treat them as inferior.
I asked Singh about her own experiences and she told me that she faced the same racism as a newcomer. She hoped that through the events she organized, other people would also speak out so that some of the women and youth, in particular, would realize that their experiences were not unique and they would find ways to overcome them.
Singh said: “From my own experience of racism, I wanted to make sure I got along with everyone. I wanted people to like me so I would try hard to fit in, so that I would not be discriminated against. At the time, like other women who shared their stories, I could not stand up for myself. So that was my survival tool, to get along with others and to get them to like you so you would not be outcast.”
The anti-racism events that Singh has organized over the years involved not only finding diverse and creative ways to convey the message of the racism, but also to empower the community through panels, song, dance and poetry. For example, when the controversy of Sikh youth wearing the patka in soccer games hit the news, empowerment and pride in Sikh identity was instilled though a performance by Saint Soldier which inspired Sikh Youth, or the presentation by Baltej Singh Dhillon, sharing his experience as the first RCMP officer allowed to wear a turban.
The damage and humiliation experienced through racial profiling which has impacted the Muslim population since 9/11, continues to be a lived reality as well. One Canadian student of mine from Langara, who was flying to Iran, was interrogated and ended up missing her connecting flights. She shared her story through a poem she wrote and read it out at one of the anti-racism events. Susan O’Donnell, Executive Director of the BC Human Rights Coalition, has often shared her knowledge about the rights of immigrants and how to file complaints of racism.
I conclude with the words of my mentor and retired Langara lecturer of racism and ethnic relations, Barbara Binns: “To be human is to have hopes, dreams and desires. Race and racism serves as a currency to dictate the limits of those hopes and dreams and human aspiration. Anti-racism discourse provides a platform for acknowledging and recognizing our shared humanity.”
PRIME Minister Stephen Harper on Friday in a statement said: “Today, on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, we reaffirm our commitment to rejecting racism in all its forms.
“Canadians are fortunate to live in a peaceful, pluralistic society. Regardless of race, ethnicity or religion, all Canadians can enjoy the opportunities offered by our free and open society, protected by the guarantee of equal treatment under the law.
“One of Canada’s great strengths has been our success in welcoming newcomers from around the world so we can build a stronger and more prosperous country.
“Our Government remains committed to promoting freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, which together are the best hope for the continued success of our model of unity in diversity. We will also continue to condemn acts of racial hatred at home and abroad.
“I encourage all Canadians to reflect upon and cherish the importance of these fundamental values, and to uphold them every day.”
TERESA Wat, Minister of International Trade and Minister Responsible for the Asia Pacific Strategy and Multiculturalism, said on Friday: “Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in B.C., and around the world. This special day remembers and commemorates those who were killed or wounded during a peaceful demonstration against apartheid on March 21, 1960, in Sharpeville, South Africa. Declared by the United Nations and officially proclaimed by British Columbia, this day is recognized around the world as an opportunity to raise awareness about racism and intolerance.
“As we all know, Canada is a country of immigrants, and British Columbia is a model society that embraces the cultures and traditions of its people with opportunities for all to live and grow. Even so, it is up to all of us to make sure we respect others, no matter where they come from or what their racial background may be. As the most ethnically diverse province in Canada, B.C. welcomes nearly 40,000 new immigrants every year – so embracing each and every culture is vital. Doing that makes for a better society.
“Racial discrimination comes in many forms, some very obvious and others more subtle. It really is up to each of us to counter racism through the actions we take both individually and collectively. By supporting opportunities to talk within and between communities we can promote multiculturalism and tackle racism.
“As British Columbians, we can be proud that the roots of multiculturalism run deep in our society. It is the responsibility of every one of us to ensure that it flourishes and grows for the benefit of everyone today, and for future generations.
“I encourage everyone to take some time today and think about what multiculturalism means to them and why racial discrimination in any form is something that should not occur in British Columbia in this day and age.”
BY INDIRA PRAHST
Chair, Department of Sociology and Anthropology,
& Race and Ethnic Relations Instructor,