President Lorene Oikawa’s Message – September 2017

I’m scrolling through Facebook posts, and a photo catches my eye. My friend has posted a photo of crayons, from pale pink to dark brown, and each is marked “flesh.”

A great visual, and reminder that we are all human even though we may look different.

Unfortunately, it’s a lesson that is lost on some who want to push a racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Jew, and anti-people of colour agenda.

We are getting used to the almost daily barrage of divisive tweets and statements from President Trump and his supporters. We sit back and say, only in America, and pat ourselves on the back for our multiculturalism in Canada.

We had a bit of a wake-up call in August when a group called the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam (WCAI) Canada organized a racist rally at Vancouver City Hall. An ad hoc group organized a counter rally, over 4,000 people showed up to send a strong message that Islamophobia and racism is not welcome.

There were five individuals who tried to engage the crowd in separate incidents and were arrested by the police, but the WCAI did not show up. Their facebook attendance appeared to be quite small, but racism is not limited to social media.

It was gratifying to see this overwhelming response and we do need to speak up when racist views are being promoted. I am also concerned that many consider showing up to a counter rally is all that is needed, and racism is vanquished.

I am a fourth generation Canadian, and I love my country. However, that is not to say we live in a country without blemish. For indigenous peoples, and people of colour (those who were born here, from multiple generation Canadian families, and new immigrants) the experience can be a world apart from your neighbour, friend, colleague, and in some cases your family.
Racism did not start with the election of President Trump, and it will not disappear when he is gone.

From dealing with racism in the workplace, schools, neighbourhoods to the people who are demanding a white Canada, and everything in between, that’s the usual experience of a person of colour. Indigenous peoples also experience discrimination, and also have to listen to settlers saying they were here first and immigrants don’t belong here. Fact check: Indigenous peoples were here before any settlers. Unless you’re indigenous, we’re all from settler backgrounds.

Using religion, immigration, attacks against Indigenous peoples or people of colour to divide people appears to be a common tactic by white supremacists and any group who wants to promote hate. We need to be wary of people who use hot button topics to create divisions in our communities. Let’s not get drawn into their games.

Allies can provide support by standing up to racism, and also check their privilege. We need all voices, and we need to support those who have been denied their voice. We also need to be careful that stories of a community are not being taken and used. For example, Japanese Canadian survivors of the incarceration should have the opportunity to tell their stories and be heard. Their stories must not be appropriated.

75 years ago, 22,000 innocent Canadian children, women, and men of Japanese ancestry were unfairly labelled “enemy aliens” and forcibly uprooted, dispossessed, and incarcerated. We must know our Canadian history and ensure the stories of Indigenous peoples and people of colour are included. And we must not let the historical injustices be repeated. There is no place for racism in the society we desire, one that is equitable, diverse and inclusive.