'Am I racist?': British Columbians asked to examine internal racism during human rights campaign

Agency asks 'Am I racist?'

You may be able to spot large black signs with bold, white writing throughout the city asking a simple question with complicated implications: “Am I racist?”

The billboards — which are also popping up in transit shelters and on the backs of buses in cities across the province — are part of the first major campaign from B.C.’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner (BCOHRC).

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

The “Am I racist?” public awareness campaign aims to take local residents through the first step toward a more anti-racist B.C. by asking people to examine their internal biases.

It also asks more specific questions about what constitutes racism. One sign asks “If I say I don’t see skin colour, am I racist?” and another asks “If I want to forget our province’s history, am I racist?”

Starting today (Nov. 30) these signs direct the public to an interactive educational experience on the BCOHRC website designed to help people look deeper at the issues that divide us.

“Systemic racism is a difficult and urgent problem in B.C.,” says Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender in a news release.

“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.”

Reported hate crimes in B.C. rose by over one third (34 per cent) between 2015 and 2018. 

Anti-Asian hate crime incidents increased from just nine reported last year to 88 reported in the 2020 period, an 878 per cent increase.

This campaign also comes amid concerns of structural racism in health care and other institutions, including concerns that COVID-19 is having a disproportionate impact on health outcomes for racialized communities in B.C.

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.

“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,” Govender said.

“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 run until Dec. 11 and to learn more you can follow the hashtag #BeAntiRacistBC on Twitter or Instagram.

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