The news coming out of the United States over the past week, as people loudly protest the death of a black man—George Floyd—at the hand of police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is life-changing.
Watching the unrest as it quickly spread across nearly every state and into some Canadian provinces was uncomfortable. We have to question ourselves why?
Make no mistake, racism exists in Canada.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said on more than one occasion that it’s time Canadians acknowledge racism and unconscious bias against black people exist in this country.
“Anti-black racism, racism, is real; it’s in the United States, but it’s also in Canada,” Trudeau said Friday, May 29, 2020. He urged Canadians to stand together against discrimination and anti-black racism and to “understand we have work to do as well in Canada.”
We are not exempt from racism in Port Alberni. We have a large Indigenous population in the Alberni Valley, and its citizens face racism every day. Although two nations have land interests and history immediately in the region, there are at least seven that come together in Nuu-chah-nulth territory—including the Alberni Valley—to do business, share culture, build lives.
The level of white rage from people reacting to the protests in the United States is disproportionate compared to the apathy that is evident toward Indigenous issues here and on the west coast.
Canadians’ reaction to the civil unrest south of our border is disproportionate even to protests between the Wet’suwet’en Nation, Coastal Gaslink and the federal and provincial governments. People now are affronted at the racial divide demonstrated in just about every American state, but where were those same people when the Wet’suwet’en Nation needed their support?
A well-respected First Nations advocate who died earlier this year once said Indigenous people have to choose whether to speak out or speak up—and if they do, what their words will cost them and whether speaking up is worth the price to be paid.
Yet non-Indigenous people don’t have to think about what they say.
Racism doesn’t have to be blatant: it can be poor choices of words when discussing “taxable” businesses, or appropriating a song that is culturally significant to a First Nation, or making assumptions about a person because of their skin colour.
The best thing we can do is check our privilege at the door (yes, we acknowledge that privilege here at the Alberni Valley News), endeavour to learn more about and understand our neighbours, and to be respectful in our words and actions.
We hear you. We see you. We stand with you.
— Alberni Valley News