“Am I racist?” signs like the one standing on the west end of Salmon Arm are part of an anti-racism campaign launched in November 2020 by B.C.’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner. Hate crimes have been rising in B.C., particularly during the pandemic. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)

“Am I racist?” signs like the one standing on the west end of Salmon Arm are part of an anti-racism campaign launched in November 2020 by B.C.’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner. Hate crimes have been rising in B.C., particularly during the pandemic. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)

‘Am I racist?’ sign in Shuswap part of B.C. campaign to combat racism

As hate crimes rise, Office of Human Rights Commissioner would like citizens to examine inner biases

A sign next to the Trans-Canada Highway at the west end of Salmon Arm asks, “Am I racist?”

With hate crimes rising in B.C., particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, the Salmon Arm sign and ones like it in other B.C. municipalities are part of a public awareness campaign launched by B.C.’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner.

The campaign takes British Columbians through the first steps toward a more anti-racist B.C. by asking them to examine their inner biases, states a news release from the human rights commissioner’s office.

Along with billboards, the signs can be seen on transit shelters and the backs of buses in B.C. Updates to the campaign include more specific questions about what constitutes racism. One sign asks: “If I say I don’t see skin colour, am I racist?” Another question is: “If I want to forget our province’s history, am I racist?”

An interactive website can be found at bchumanrights.ca/BeAntiRacist, designed to help British Columbians look deeper at the issues that divide citizens.

“Systemic racism is a difficult and urgent problem in B.C.,” said Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender. “Statistics show a rise in hate crimes in B.C., both gradually over the last decade and rapidly since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the province. We need to name the problem before we can solve it, and that starts when we confront our own, often subconscious, racial biases.”

Govender said if people have different views of the campaign, it’s hoped that will generate conversations about the value in recognizing racism and what a difference that might make in people’s lives.

Read more: VIDEO: ‘Am I racist?’ campaign asks British Columbians to confront their unconscious biases

Read more: Asian celebs work to combat racist attacks amid pandemic

Read more: B.C.’s first independent human rights commissioner sworn in

Read more: Shuswap residents encouraged to write letter for human rights

Reported hate crimes in B.C. rose more than 34 per cent between 2015 and 2018. In the first nine months of 2020, the Vancouver Police Department, for instance, reported a 116 per cent rise in hate crimes in Metro Vancouver compared to the same period in 2019, with Asian communities bearing the brunt of the increase. Anti-Asian hate crime incidents increased from just nine reported in B.C. in 2019 to 88 reported in the 2020 period, an 878 per cent increase.

Along with individual racism, structural racism in health care and other institutions, including the disproportionate impact COVID-19 is having on health in racialized B.C. communities, is raising concerns.

A Statistics Canada report found COVID-19 mortality rates between March and July 2020 were higher in B.C. communities where more than 25 per cent of residents are visible minorities, Govender said.

“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. 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 will continue until Dec. 11. To learn more, visit bchumanrights.ca/BeAntiRacist or follow the hashtag #BeAntiRacistBC on Twitter or Instagram.

The Office of the Human Rights Commissioner began its work in September 2019 with a mandate to educate the province on issues of systemic racism, following the 17-year absence of a provincial human rights commission.


marthawickett@saobserver.net
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