Article by Nathan Pachal, a city councillor in Langley, BC, Canada. Posted June 2,2020. Reproduced in full with permission.
Racism in my life growing up. What we can do as a community to address racism.
Reading the news about protests in Canadian and American cities due to the systemic police violence against black people in both countries has really got me thinking about my past.
My mom is black, and while she was born in New Zealand, her family relocated to Liberia which is on the west coast of Africa. My mom started nursing school in England and finished school in Montreal. She later moved to New Westminster before moving to Kelowna where she met my dad.
My dad’s family is from Yorkton, Saskatchewan, and originally from England, France and Germany.
As a kid growing up, I did not think much about racism. In school, we were taught about the importance of multiculturism and celebrating our differences. I remember in elementary school having a day where we wore clothes and shared food from our cultural backgrounds.
As I became older, I became more aware of racism against black people, though it was mostly in the context of the United States. I had this idea that racism against black people did not exist in Canada.
I know today that this is not the case.
Racism has always existed in Metro Vancouver, BC, and Canada. The government forced Indigenous people from their homes onto reserves, and destroyed families due to the horrors of residential schools.
Chinese Canadians were forced to pay a head tax to stay in Canada, and were not allowed to vote.
Sikhs were barred entry into Vancouver in what is now known as the Komagata Maru incident.
My high school in Vernon was built on the site of a Japanese internment camp.
Generations of black Canadian have lived in Halifax and Toronto where they have been subjected to racism. Our 10-dollar bill highlights the story of Viola Desmond who was a “successful black businesswoman who was jailed, convicted and fined for defiantly refusing to leave a whites-only area of a New Glasgow (Nova Scotia) movie theatre in 1946.”
The City of Vancouver leveled Hogan’s Alley to the ground to make way for the Georgia Viaduct. Hogan’s Alley was the home of the black community going back to the mid-1800s.
Growing up in the Okanagan, I can only remember a few occasions where I was subjected to direct racism. I remember a kid in school calling me the n-word for example, but the kind of racism that exists in BC is more subtle.
My mom and dad got looks and whispers from some people because the were an interracial couple.
My uncle immigrated to the Okanagan in the 1990s. He worked as a civil engineer in Liberia, after obtaining his degree from a university in the Netherlands. I remember him telling me that people were interest in hiring him until they saw him in person. After trying without success to get work in BC as a civil engineer, he moved back to Liberia.
Living in Langley for 17 years, I know that racism exists in our community. I also know that 95% of people that live in Langley are good people, wanting to do right by others.
Dealing with systemic racism can feel overwhelming, but there are things we as individuals can do.
We must acknowledge that racism excites in our community today, think about the biases that we might have about other people, and where those biases came from.
For me, working with people from different backgrounds has helped me to address my own biases about others.
In my day job, I am responsible for hiring people. My first goal is to find someone with the right qualifications. My second goal is to find people who are different than me. Diversity creates stronger teams.
If you are close with some who says something racist, even in the form of a joke, it can be a good opportunity to talk to them about racism.
As someone who is elected to Langley City council, I have an important role to play. I must advocate to ensure that our City’s policies and actions support creating an inclusive and welcoming community.
If you want to learn more about the history of Metro Vancouver, I suggest you read “The Chuck Davis History of Metropolitan Vancouver.”
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