Black Lives Matter: a Victoria Conversation
In the last month, following the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police, hundreds of thousands have come out to rally for change. This has lead to a worldwide response. As we navigate these times and with the Black Lives Matter movement taking centre stage across the world, Leadership Victoria chatted with three of our city’s influential leaders with unique perspectives on the movement:
Sharmake Dubow came to Canada as a refugee from Somalia and is now a councillor for the city. He discusses his role in creating public policy that benefits all Canadians and the privilege of being able to do that. Sharmake is a previous winner of the Victoria Community Leadership Award.
Ruth Mojeed, CEO of The Inclusion Project and an ardent participant in civil society, is working towards creating a more equitable and diverse representation of Canada across different sectors. She hails from Nigeria and has now made Canada her home. She is a 2019 Victoria Community Leadership Award winner and talks about the intersectionality of different perspectives.
Devi Mucina, celebrated scholar and academician is an Indigenous Ubuntu from the Ngoni and Shona people of southern Africa. He has successfully nominated four winners for the Victoria Community Leadership Awards through the years and is the Program Director for Indigenous Governance at the University of Victoria. Devi highlights the systemic racism that is prevalent in Canadian society and talks about how we can distinguish it from prejudice and take action.
On Monday June 22 all three local leaders spoke with Mark Crocker, Executive Director of Leadership Victoria.
The context for the conversation
As US citizens wrestle with their history. We have watched tens of thousands of protesters gather. In Canada we also gathered. Many people saw this as a reaction to American racism and our responsibility to speak up for injustices to our friends and neighbours across our boarder.
The problem is that this cause is not distant from us, in the past week we have seen:
A senior official at UBC was asked to resign after liking anti black lives matter posts.
The leader of the NDP Jagmeet Singh was expelled from parliament for suggesting a Bloc Québécois Alain Therrien was racist for refusing to support a motion to address systemic racism in the RCMP.
CBC News reported Canadians as among the most active online right extremists. Canadians were found to be "highly active," even more, on average, than users in the U.S. and Britain.
In short this is a local problem. As community leaders what is our responsibility to working on this issue right here in Greater Victoria and the Southern Gulf Islands?
The Globalization of the System
Councillor Dubow reflects on his journey fleeing his country during civil war and living in refugee camps without papers to enacting policies in city hall and the intense sense of privilege that has given him. Looking back at his own journey, he is always mindful when making decisions about the kind of communities that we can build here in Victoria. He emphasizes the importance of making equitable policies with access for everyone.
While helping to address the systemic inequalities present in Canadian society, Sharmake emphasizes the importance of going out into the community to understand the needs of the people and then using that as an input for creating societal change through equitable policies and budgets that reflect the needs of all people.
“if you are not hungry for justice, then maybe you’re too full of privilege.”
The current COVID crisis has taught Sharmarke to reimagine what public safety means for everyone, especially how societal injustices have impacted the socio-economic conditions of struggling communities at this time. He makes special note of housing insecurity and the role of generational wealth transfer and systemic racism in the creation of this socio-economic crisis. He urges everyone to do their part regardless of how small they think their role is and reflect on what action can be taken –
“if you are a neighbor be a good neighbor; If you are a friend, be a good friend.”
Finally, Sharmake urges us to question the status quo and society around us by asking who do governmental policies benefit and who do they leave behind which will create awareness about what is being done for society at the policy level.
Overt and Covert Racism
Ruth speaks about overt vs. covert racism that the BIPOC (Black, Indiginous, People of Colour) population in Canada are facing. Being an immigrant, she has the vantage point of looking through the lens as someone who has come from outside and experiences things first-hand. While People of Colour face overt racism that can even lead to violence in the US, she feels that in Canada, racism is more covert.
Ruth reflects on the pressure faced by the BIPOC population to fit in, to assimilate, to convince people around them that they belong amongst the rest of the people. She talks about making it to Canada on the premise that she is thought of an being able to contribute positively to society but at the same time, being discriminated against when searching for jobs because of not having the right accent or looking different or not having Canadian experience. These serve to erase the histories and experiences of the people who come to Canada to make it their home and make them feel as if they are less than others.
Being a woman of colour, she recognizes the many faces of injustice whether it be discrimination through gender, race or culture. She is especially weary of hearing from people who claim to ‘not see colour’ and she urges them to do so.
"See my colour!"
When people claim not to ‘see’ colour, they do not acknowledge the histories and struggles of the BIPOC population and those that came before the current generation to pave the way. Ruth urges everyone to participate in critical self-reflection in the quest to create a more equitable society and keep our eyes open for those who are not at the table. To make ways to create space
Being grateful doesn't mean you can't question the system
Devi talks about the systemic racism that the indigenous population faces every day and how people resort to ‘whataboutism’ when their biases are pointed out.
He reflects on his immigrant experience as Black person and talks about how BIPOC people are made to feel that they should be grateful for being given the opportunity to be in Canada and not encouraged to question the status quo.
Asking uncomfortable questions about racial privilege often leads to the BIPOC person being ‘shown’ their place and continue the narrative of an equal Canada. His experience with racism in Halifax showed him how socio-economic factors perpetrate this systemic racism. This led Devi to question whose names adorn roads, monuments and statues which in turn points out to who history deems as being important. This revealed systemic and covert racism by simply showing people that those who are named are the ones that are important. Those names are the ones that count and matter.
This is racism through omission and silent complicity.
Devi urges people to examine their own biases and question the policies that adversely affect the BIPOC population and perpetrate systemic racism. He urges people to question the media representation of BIPOC people, to question their standard of beauty and stand up against prejudice.
He acknowledges that the struggle of equity and equality is an ongoing project and wants everyone to look beyond just one perspective, to ask questions and to make space for other voices.
We are thankful for strong local leaders such as SHARMARKE DUBOW, RUTH MOJEED, DEVI MUCINA for sharing this conversation from their unique perspective. If you enjoyed the conversation please connect with them and let them know.
This conversation is also available as a podcast check it out here.
By Chandrima Mazumdar, I write on topics related to leadership, diversity, media and gender equality.