Black History Month is typically a time to honour, celebrate and reflect upon the stories, experiences and accomplishments of Black Canadians here in British Columbia and across the country.
In thinking about what that means in 2021, I’m struck by how Black communities are balancing the grief and outrage over the many injustices we’ve witnessed over the last year, while mobilizing, organizing and leading us to do better – and be better – at addressing individual and systemic racism.
As a woman of colour, the feeling of hurt and loss that comes from experiencing racism is something I understand well. It is what drives me to fight for change and tackle the unique issues B.C.’s Black British Columbians live with on a daily basis.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought new challenges over the last 12 months, systemic discrimination and hatred have been in B.C. much longer. The most recent wave of marches for Black Lives Matter have increased awareness of these issues, but there’s so much more to do if we’re to stamp out racism, including anti-Black racism, in our province.
Education is a powerful tool in the fight for equity and equality. By learning to identify the language of racism and oppression, we can better respond to discrimination in our communities.
But this isn’t only about language. It is also using education as a way to understand all the complexities of our histories and to break down barriers that exist today. B.C.’s curriculum supports the teaching of Black history topics, such as the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the Underground Railroad, and we’re working with representatives of the BC Black History Awareness Society to identify additional resources on local Black history for teachers and students.
Teaching Black history in our schools is an important milestone for young British Columbians. It helps them to better understand that history, and for Black youth, to see themselves reflected in the culture of this province. We will continue to listen and work collaboratively to ensure we can effectively strengthen the curriculum, further support diversity and add to the global effort to end systemic racism.
We must also do more to support and celebrate the successes of Black individuals and businesses, like the recent acquisition of Vancouver-based startup, GameSeta, or Breathing Space Creative Literary Studio, which works with authors and publishing professionals to help them have more sustainable careers. It’s examples like these, and the ones set by many other Black entrepreneurs and business owners, that are an inspiration to Black youth, showing them that anything’s possible.
We’re taking steps to address other issues disproportionately affecting Black and minority communities across British Columbia. We’ve heard that many individuals are facing barriers when it comes to accessing government services. That’s why we’ll be introducing a new approach to data collection, to help us gather race-based data to better inform policy and dismantle systemic racism.
The introduction of B.C.’s first anti-racism act will further reinforce our goal to combat discrimination throughout the province. We’ll be consulting broadly with the community as we work to update B.C.’s 25-year-old Multiculturalism Act to ensure we’re supporting all British Columbians in a way that is fair and equitable.
In addition, we’re working to modernize the Police Act to better reflect today’s challenges and needs – particularly when it comes to mental health, harm reduction and systemic racism – so everyone is treated fairly by the police, regardless of their race or skin colour.
Yet we can’t do this alone. I am grateful for the leadership so many Black Canadians and community organizations are taking to advocate for social justice and equity for all, and to commemorate key initiatives such as the International Decade for People of African Descent (IDPAD). We’re working closely with partners, such as the B.C. IDPAD Advisory Committee, to understand how we can recognize this important decade in a way that is respectful and appropriate.
This month, I encourage you to learn about the significant contributions Black Canadians have made, and continue to make, to this province, while reflecting on what you can do to tackle discrimination in your own community.
To anyone who faces ongoing discrimination, I want you to know that I see you and I hear you. We need everyone to stand together in this fight, to call out individual acts of racism when we see them and to commit to doing the more complex work of addressing systemic and institutional racism.
It is only by acknowledging that anti-Black racism exists that we can start having those courageous conversations that will help us stamp it out in this province. We are all in this together.