A rally held at Centennial Park on Saturday amplified voices that don’t get equally heard as Black, Indigenous and other people of colour spoke out against the racism they experience both in Canada and in their Gulf Islands community.
The BIPOC Lives Matter event was organized by a group of local women of colour. Their stirring series of speeches and song brought home truths that most white Canadians have never had to consider.
Event co-organizer and MC Molly Murphy started the event by explaining everyone in this society is racist.
“We can’t not be. We are born into white hands, we were taught by white faces,” Murphy said. “You can’t avoid the world we live in. It’s not your fault it’s like that; it’s not my fault that it’s like this. It’s just the way it is. And the moment you realize that, you can work towards making it better.”
The event attracted around 250 people to the park, where red dresses were hung to represent Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Sharyn Carroll talked about growing up without having the privilege of knowing where her ancestors are from, because slave records were purposefully destroyed. She also talked about discovering in university that Canada has a shameful past when it comes to slavery — a 200-year period that has been all but erased from notice, while the short window in which the “underground railroad” was active is widely celebrated.
Carroll also described the wrenching inequity that people of colour face in Canada when it comes to issues such as median income.
Lea Weir brought up the topic of the looting that has accompanied some American protests as a product of that inequity and the near impossibility for people to shift the imbalance without the support of social programs when the playing field has been rigged against them for hundreds of years. She used a speech by Kimberly Jones using the game of Monopoly as an analogy to demonstrate the reality with stark clarity.
Speakers described some incidents of racism they had personally experienced and also brought forward troubling reports coming from Gulf Islands schools. They include that of the Salt Spring mother of a black child who only recently told her he was called “the N word” at elementary school last year. Gulf Islands Secondary School parents of children of colour have also spoken up during the past month about the frequent use of that word at school and on the water taxi.
“There needs to be continuous education for professionals, parents and society at large about the issue our children face today,” said Ki Larke. “There needs to be safe, comfortable spaces that children who face racism can go for guidance and for comfort that are implemented in our schools and in our communities. No child should have to fear to speak out after being racialized, after being discriminated against. They should not fear to go to their loved ones because they fear they will be embarrassed, shunned and shamed in society.”
Larke closed the speech portion of the rally by showing just how long eight minutes and 46 seconds really is, asking the crowd to kneel for the same period that a Minneapolis police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck before he died, while she read the names and stories of some recent victims of police murder.
Murphy urged people in the crowd to help educate others in the community about the many facets of racism, but to do it without attacking those people, otherwise the message would not be received.
A Salt Spring BIPOC Virtual Community Town Hall Meeting will take place this Sunday, June 28 at 7 p.m. The event is hosted by the Salt Spring Social Justice Alliance and the Support Network for Indigenous Women & Women of Colour. Questions can be emailed in advance to firstname.lastname@example.org. See the event page on Facebook for details.
The Gulf Islands School Board voted on June 10 to enact a new committee to work on anti-racism. A special meeting has been called for June 24, during which the board will address the topic.