VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Black and white billboards with the words, “Am I racist?” have started popping up around the Lower Mainland, encouraging British Columbians to examine their internalized racism as part of a province-wide campaign.
It was launched by the BC Office of the Human Rights Commissioner (BCOHRC) in Vancouver and other B.C. cities and asks specific questions about what constitutes racism. One sign reads: “If I say I don’t see skin colour, am I racist?” Another asks the question: “If I want to forget our province’s history, am I racist?”
While BC Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender says people might often think believing they don’t see colour means they aren’t racist, that isn’t the case.
“What we’re showing here is that often means you don’t see racism, and if you can’t see it, you can’t root it out,” she explains. “Even those of us, like the human rights commissioner, need to take a look inside and identify our own racist stereotypes. Then the next step is to start work to becoming anti-racist.”
Govender says racism is on the rise, especially during the pandemic, making it all the more important for everyone to learn to look inward.
“[The billboards are] really aiming to get people to start to self-interrogate, meaning to look inside and start to identify our own biases and stereotypes – often which are really subconscious to ourselves,” she adds.
In the first nine months of this year, the Vancouver Police Department reported a 116 per cent rise in hate crimes, with Asian communities bearing the brunt of the increase. A report from Statistics Canada found COVID-19 morality rates between March and July of this year were higher in B.C. communities where more than 25 per cent of people living there are visible minorities.
Govender notes systemic racism is an urgent problem in B.C.
“Canada has a reputation of being a safe place with minimal racism, but this does not truly reflect the history and present-day experiences of Indigenous and racialized people in this province and country,” she says. “I know it’s uncomfortable to recognize this racism and to start to work on it, but it’s crucial that we do so—because uprooting systemic racism starts when we change ourselves.”
The campaign launched this month and the signs can be seen on buses and transit stops until Dec. 11.