VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — BC NDP Leader John Horgan’s comments about racism and personal bias during Tuesday’s debate were inappropriate and assumptions around colourblindness ignore the realities of systemic racism, according to an advocacy group.
“We don’t fight systemic racism by pretending racism doesn’t exist. We do so by actually naming it and confronting it,” said Harsha Walia, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.
She also said to pretend that racism doesn’t exist ignores the fact that everything from life expectancy to policing affects people of colour differently.
“Everything, absolutely everything in racialized people’s lives is impacted by systemic racism. So responses to that require a rigorous understanding of the ways in which racism is a reality.”
Horgan continued Wednesday to answer for his response about racism.
“I profoundly regret that I alienated and hurt people last night. That was certainly not my intention,” he said.
Horgan, Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau, and Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson were asked by debate moderator Shachi Kurl: “How have you personally reckoned with your own privilege and unconscious bias, as a white political leader?”
Horgan initially drew on personal experiences.
Q-what prep did you do to talk about race/systemic racism in debate.@jjhorgan – apologizing for saying he’s colour blind “as a personification of white privilege” – I was jolted out of my comfort – profoundly regret I alienated and hurt people#bcpoli #BCvotes2020 @NEWS1130
— LizaYuzda (@LizaYuzda) October 14, 2020
“I grew up in southern Vancouver Island. I was a lacrosse player. I played with Indigenous friends. I played with South Asian friends. For me, I did not see colour. I felt that everyone around me was the same, and I brought that through my entire adult life, and I’ve instilled that in my children,” he said.
His response was widely questioned on social media.
This is not the first time Horgan has had to walk back comments regarding social issues. In July, he said he regretted saying drug addition is initially a choice that becomes a dependency.
“I regret that I mischaracterized the challenges of addictions,” Horgan said then.
‘Horgan apologized after debate’
After Tuesday’s debate, Horgan apologized immediately and retracted his statement, saying he “mischaracterized” the challenges people of colour face day-to-day.
Horgan said Wednesday he is reminded every day that he is a person of privilege and will learn from his initial response and continue to try to lift everyone up.
This is the answer I wish I gave on stage. Saying “I don’t see colour” causes pain and makes people feel unseen. I’m sorry. I’ll never fully understand, as a white person, the lived reality of systemic racism. I’m listening, learning, and I’ll keep working every day to do better. pic.twitter.com/Rbr7h0JOyh
— John Horgan (@jjhorgan) October 14, 2020
“I will be delighted if we have the opportunity to address racism, call it out and name it and take steps to fix it — if that’s the rest of the campaign, that’s great news for British Columbians,” he said.
“This is an opportunity for all of us to remind each other every single day that we are a diverse and dynamic community and that we all have to work together to make sure everyone feels comfort and safety and inclusion in every aspect of our lives.”
Horgan added the NDP slate reflects B.C.’s diversity, with 46 women, 22 people of colour, and five Indigenous leaders.