Glossary: Systemic racism; white privilege; white supremacy; settler colonialism
The end of World War II saw white supremacy on the defensive. However, by then white settlers had come to dominate in terms of population and in almost every sphere. Indigenous and racialized communities had survived and came out of the war strengthened. Yet it remained an uphill battle to root out racism in BC.
As First Nations reorganized, they waged important struggles for land and justice leading to the constitutional and legal victories of the 1980s and 1990s, including the Delgamuukw decision of 1997 that marked a significant legal step forward in the fight for land justice. The movements for the franchise ended in victory, as did the fight against overt discrimination in immigration. The Constitution Act, 1982, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the Multiculturalism Act, for all its weaknesses, also represented significant steps. Increasingly, the legal underpinnings of white supremacy were coming undone.
But racism by this time had become entrenched. It was one thing to gain legal victories, quite another to have the legal decisions put into practice. The culture, regulations, and operating procedures of public and private institutions had come to reflect the norms of whiteness and racism remained widespread.
Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers' documentary, cə̓snaʔəm, the city before the city. Watch for free at | https://www.knowledge.ca/program/city-city
The 1967 commemoration of Canadian Confederation is a case in point. Under the guise of urban renewal and freeway development, city planners took aim at Chinatowns and Black communities. In Duncan, BC, they succeeded in destroying the Chinatown. In Vancouver, a community alliance based in the Strathcona neighbourhood saved Chinatown, but Hogan’s Alley, the heart of the Black community, was sacrificed, just as the city of Halifax razed the African Canadian community in Africville.
Hogan’s Alley is the unofficial name given to the Strathcona area of Vancouver that was home to the Black community. Among those who lived there was Nora Hendrix, grandmother of rock legend Jimi Hendrix. The community was destroyed as part of the 1960s urban renewal. Today, it is rebuilding through the efforts of the Hogan’s Alley Society and others. A new modular housing residence has been named after Nora Hendrix and a community centre is also in the offing.
In the 1980s, Asian Canadian movements for redress led to a fi rst victory in 1988 when Japanese Canadians achieved a settlement in which the federal government acknowledged its wrongdoing and provided a redress compensation package of more than $400 million, including $21,000 for each survivor. At the same time the Asian Canadian Writers Workshop (asiancanadianwriters.ca) brought varied writers together to publish anthologies, helping produce Inalienable Rice: A Chinese and Japanese Canadian Anthology (1979) and The Asian Canadian and the Arts (1981), a special issue of West Coast Review, a journal that later became West Coast Line.
In BC, the government only began to come to terms with its racist policies through redress for Chinese Canadians in 2014 with the submission of the Chinese Historical Wrongs Consultation Final Report and Recommendations.2 This resulted in Chinese legacy projects worth more than $1 million. In subsequent years, the BC government also sponsored the Japanese Canadian Historic Sites registry project, as well as initiatives to support not only a provincial Chinese Canadian museum but also the Punjabi Canadian Legacy Project, which resulted in a recent $1.14 million grant to the South Asian Studies Institute to present Haq and History: A Punjabi Canadian Legacy Project. Following on the provincial NDP’s re-election in 2020, the Japanese Canadian community awaits the government’s honouring of its pledge to meaningfully redress the historic wrongs to the community.
Recently the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Actions are having a profound impact.3 The movements for change and reform have meant that today there is little social sanction for white supremacy of the past.
Yet, for all the effort, and despite decades of suffering, racism continues, permeating the institutions and culture inherited from more than a century of settler colonialism. Beneath a veneer of equality and adherence to multiculturalism, there exists a tangled, often-invisible web of prejudice that make up what we call systemic racism. This web includes the social standards against whom all are judged and usually reflects a normative white settler experience, affording those of European heritage the perennial advantage of white privilege.
White privilege does not mean white folks are bad – it simply recognizes that the history of settler colonialism here in BC has afforded privileges to white settlers and their descendants while impairing the rights of Indigenous peoples, Black, and diverse racialized communities. That privilege forms the basis for systemic racism today and requires serious efforts if we are to put an end to it and move forward.
Many people today are open to change. As author Bev Sellars tells those who want to apologize for the racist past: “I know you are not personally responsible for these laws and policies, but now that you are aware, you have a responsibility to help change the situation. You cannot turn a blind eye to this because, if you do, you will be doing the same thing as your ancestors.”5
The recent anti-racist upsurge shows that we have a lot to do. Prejudice can exist in all communities, racialized or not, and this must be confronted wherever it is found. It will take effort and the redeployment of resources in every sector of society if we are to meet the challenges ahead. It will require many people learning, perhaps for the first time, what it means to be an ally in ending racism. Environmental racism, in which natural resource development takes place at the expense of Indigenous land rights and the negative effects of which disproportionately affect Indigenous communities, is institutionalized. As we saw with the COVID-19 pandemic, racism can erupt at any time.
BC’s demographics today differ from earlier colonial trends. The province’s Indigenous peoples (First Nations, Métis, and Inuit) represent a small but growing proportion of the population, and the proportion of non-white residents has substantially increased. What were in the past referred to as “visible minorities” today represent a significant and growing proportion of the province’s population and now include South Asian, Chinese, Black, Filipinx, Latinx, Arab, Southeast Asian, West Asian, Korean, Japanese, as well as great numbers of mixed heritage people. Yet these groups face institutional barriers that derive from systemic racism.
Domestic workers, undocumented workers, temporary foreign workers, and refugees continue to face an uphill battle against racist exclusions. Organizations such as the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), No One is Illegal (NOII), and the Migrant Workers Centre (MWC) are doing essential work to defend these often-marginalized people.
As we witnessed recently, racism can become overt and intense in times of crisis. Too often those labelled “Asian” or “Chinese” become targets. Other racialized groups also become prey to racism – victims of hate crimes, or subject to micro-aggression. Muslim and Arab peoples have been fighting discrimination and Islamophobia continuously, particularly after 9/11.6 And anti-Semitic incidents are still occurring.7
Today, Indigenous and Black communities, in particular, continue to confront racism in too many ways. After 25 years of treaty discussions in BC, the vast majority of First Nations remain without access or title to their traditional territories or rights. The right to fish as formerly remains fundamental to First Nations who, despite court rulings favouring Indigenous fisheries, continue to face challenges gaining access to and preserving fish stocks. Food security remains elusive. Racism targeting Indigenous people in the health system prompted a special inquiry headed by Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond. Her report, released at the end of 2020, found systemic racism in the health system, with 84 percent of Indigenous respondents reporting some form of discrimination.8 In Summer 2020, Lucy Bell, a Haida woman who headed the Royal BC Museum’s First Nations Department and Repatriation program resigned in protest over the racism she encountered: “There is outright discrimination. There’s white privilege. There’s bullying. There’s micro aggressions that happen here every day,” she stated in her resignation speech.9
We believe systemic racism continues in multiple and ever-changing forms in most government services, including in the education system, and in society at large. Racialized communities continue to feel the brunt of this discrimination.10 In particular, systemic racism continues and imposes major impediments for Indigenous peoples of BC:
Indigenous peoples and Black communities in BC remain perpetual targets as racism forever paints these groups as different from the white norm and making them vulnerable to police checks. A recent report pointed out: “Between 2008 and 2017, Indigenous people accounted for over 15% of street checks despite being 2% of the population, and Black people accounted for 4% of street checks despite making up 1% of the population. In 2016, Indigenous women, who comprise 2% of Vancouver’s women population, accounted for 21% of women who were street checked.”15 DI Joe, an Indigenous woman put it clearly: “The police don’t protect us; they harass us.”16
The national REDress movement aims to foreground the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls tragedy. The movement was started by Métis artist Jaime Black in 2010. | jaimeblackartist.com/exhibitions
In the face of a racist, anti-Black video circulated at Lord Byng Secondary School in Vancouver, activists formed the BC Community Alliance (bccommunityalliance.com). A chapter of Black Lives Matter Vancouver has also become active, helping to organize against racism and support community initiatives (blacklivesmattervancouver.com).
“Remembering 27 Black, Indigenous, and racialized people killed by Canadian police” | https://thatsatruestory.wordpress.com/2020/04/17/remembering-27-black-indigenous-and-racialized-people-killed-by-canadian-police/
Read the Report: Red Women Rising: Indigenous Women Survivors in the Downtown Eastside | bit.ly/3aRxNaI
The recommendations of the United Nations Decade for People of African Descent go to the heart of identifying systemic and structural racism in Canada; calling on institutions to eliminate the phenomenon popularly known as “racial profiling”; ensure equitable and fair access to justice, and implement policies and programs that promote diversity, equality, social justice and equality of opportunity. The federal government and Nova Scotia, Ontario and Alberta, as well as the city of Victoria have officially recognized the International Decade for People of African Descent but the BC government has yet to do so. As mentioned in the Introduction, all levels of governments will also need to consider major issues including defunding and demilitarization of police forces and the reallocation of resources towards support for alternative services in close consultation with those most affected by racism. The ongoing struggles for justice and redress by Indigenous peoples, Black and racialized communities have been important in overcoming white supremacy but there remains a long way to go. Historically, anti-racism has not been a priority for the provincial government. According to its own statistics, the government spent only $10.1 million between 2002 and 2014 on multiculturalism and anti-racism education.17
In the wake of the anti-racist uprising, the provincial government has identified anti-racism as a priority, appointing a parliamentary secretary for anti-racism; funding the anti-racist network Resilience BC; promising to introduce an anti-racism law; introducing legislation to allow responsible race-based data collection; and providing redress for its role in the ethnic cleansing of Japanese Canadians. These are important steps forward. However, given that the provincial government has historically played the major role in perpetrating white supremacy and systemic racism, it needs to provide full disclosure of its own role and provide the resources necessary so that Indigenous, Black and all racialized communities are empowered to make the changes necessary so that justice can be achieved.
In recent years, Indigenous peoples’ quest for justice and demands for change have made inroads but not without a continuing backlash. In August 2018, Victoria City Council voted to remove the statue of John A. Macdonald from in front of city hall.18 The decision, prompted by complaints from Lekwungen representatives attending reconciliation discussions at city hall, created a storm of controversy
In New Westminster, city council there voted to remove a statue of BC’s first chief justice, Mathew Begbie, for his involvement in the hanging of Tsilhqot’in Chiefs, including Lhatŝ’aŝʔin who resisted colonial incursions on their land.19 Across Canada, who is honoured is being challenged, be it through name changes, removal of statues after a vote, or via direct action.
Who and what communities choose to honour, the languages we use, the names we assign to public spaces, and the education we provide all reflect and influence social values. Times are changing and so too are the public symbols and services that communities may want to celebrate. However, change must go beyond the symbolic and involve a fundamental realignment of social values and structures so that justice can prevail. We raise our hands to the many Indigenous, Black, and racialized communities who have fought so hard to end racism and to the allies who have supported them. We hope this resource will allow others to understand their stories, pay tribute to their efforts, and join them in fighting for justice and putting an end to racist “British Columbia.”
150 years is long enough.
1 These figures based on Wilson Duff, The Indian History of British Columbia (Victoria: BC Provincial Museum, 1952, 1973), 44; W. Peter Ward, The Japanese in Canada (Ottawa: Canadian Historical Association, 1982), 7; Harold Palmers, Ethnicity and Politics in Canada since Confederation (Ottawa: Canadian Historical Association, 1991), Table 1; and Peter S. Li, Cultural Diversity in Canada: The Social Construction of Racial Differences (Ottawa: Canada Department of Justice Strategic Issues Series, 2000).↩
3 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Calls to Action, accessed October 28, 2020, nctr.ca/assets/reports/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf↩
7 Anti-Semitism does exist and occasionally erupts in specific incidents; however, the extent of anti-Semitism in BC historically appears relatively limited according to the Jewish Virtual Library’s assessment, accessed December 15, 2020, bit.ly/3aOtYmJ. See also Lynne Marks, “‘Not Being Religious Didn’t Take Away from Their Jewishness,” BC Studies 181 (Spring 2004): 63–82. The Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre carries out Holocaust-based anti-racism education and commemoration, accessed December 15, 2020, www.vhec.org. The classic study on anti-Semitism in Canada is Irving Abella and Harold Troper, None Is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe, 1933–1948 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1983).↩
8 The 228-page report In Plain Sight: Addressing Indigenous-Specific Racism and Discrimination in B.C. Health Care by the Addressing Racism Review (November 2020) is available online, accessed December 15, 2020, bit.ly/3aTg1Ec↩
11 British Columbia, Provincial Health Officer and First Nations Health Authority, Indigenous Health and Well-being: Final Update (Victoria: BC Provincial Health Officer and First Nations Health Authority, 2018), accessed December 29, 2020, www.fnha.ca/Documents/FNHA-PHO-Indigenous-Health-and-Well-Being-Report.pdf.↩
12 Jamil Malakieh, Adult and Youth Correctional Statistics in Canada, 2016/2017 (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2018), accessed October 27, 2020, bit.ly/3nZMufH. The situation parallels the situation for Black prisoners in the United States. See Pew Research Centre, John Gramlich, “Black imprisonment rate in the U.S. has fallen by a third since 2006,” pewrsr.ch/3rChQuY↩
14 Auditor General of British Columbia, Progress Audit: The Education of Aboriginal Students in the BC Public School System (Victoria: Office of the Auditor General of British Columbia, 2019), accessed October 27, 2020, bit.ly/3n0eP40↩
15 BC Civil Liberties, Hogan’s Alley Society, UBCIC, Black Lives Matter Vancouver, WISH, Letter to Mayor Kennedy Steward and Premier John Horgan, “Immediate Municipal and Provincial Ban on Police Street Checks,” accessed December 15, 2020, bit.ly/38Mgvt2↩
18 This decision was part of Victoria City’s reconciliation process prompted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action for municipal governments, accessed October 28, 2020, bit.ly/3pzp1Ce. See also Timothy J. Stanley, “Commemorating John A. Macdonald: Collective Remembering and the Structure of Settler Colonialism in British Columbia,” BC Studies 204 (Winter 2019/20): 89–114.↩
ABORIGINAL In the Canadian legal and political context, this denotes First Nations (status and non-status), Métis, and/or Inuit.
ABORIGINAL TITLE Indigenous ownership (title) of their traditional territories.
AFRICAN DESCENT People of African descent live in many countries of the world, either dispersed among the local population or in communities. The largest concentration can be found in Latin America and the Caribbean where estimates reach 150 million.
ANTI-SEMITISM A discriminatory perception of, and actions against Jews and/or their communities, faith or institutions.
ASIAN A term denoting people of or from Asia that geographically may include East Asians, Southeast Asians, South Asians, or West Asians.
ASIAN CANADIAN People of Asian heritage living in Canada, who may share common experiential connections of migration and to (de)colonization in this country.
BLACK A designation for people of African or Caribbean ancestry.
CHINESE No single definition captures the complex histories of migration and unique identities related to this term. Can refer to people living in China today as well as the historic diasporas.
CHINESE CANADIAN People of Chinese ancestry living and making their homes in Canada, including those here for multiple generations as well as newcomers.
COLONIALISM The subjugation in part or wholly of a people or country by a dominant group or imperial power. In the modern era, European powers attempted to subjugate the world to their control. See SETTLER COLONIALISM as a specific variant.
DECOLONIZATON The process of dismantling the institutions and culture of colonialism that continue to exist and that underpin systematic racism.
DISPOSSESSION The taking of a community’s land, culture, language, possessions, or livelihood.
ETHNICITY A group that shares similar cultural affinities that could include shared origins, language or dialects, culture, or traditions. Can be a subset of a racial category.
GHADAR Meaning ‘Mutiny’ or ‘Rebellion’, this movement flourished in the Pacific Northwest beginning in 1913. Its goal was to rid India of British colonialism and to defend the rights of South Asian migrants.
GURDWARA Literally the ‘gateway to the guru/teacher’. This refers to the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, the Sikh scriptures and text. First built in BC with the arrival of Sikh settlers around 1900, these spaces served all South Asians at the time, including those of Hindu and Muslim faiths.
INDIGENOUS Communities of peoples who identify themselves as descendants of the original inhabitants of their ancestral homelands and who are land/waterbased cultures disrupted by colonial invasion(s).
INTERSECTIONALITY The interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender that often manifest as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.
INUIT The Indigenous people of the north who live in Nunavut, Nunavik (northern Quebec), Nunatsiavut (Newfoundland and Labrador), and the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (western Arctic). Inuit means “people” in the Inuktitut language. The term “Inuk” denotes a one Inuit person.
ISLAMOPHOBIA Fear, hatred of, or prejudice against the Islamic religion or Muslims.
MÉTIS Originally those descended from intermarriage between French and Scottish fur traders and Indigenous women who settled in the Red River Colony. Today the definition includes the diasporas associated with this original group and others.
PRE-EMPTION Land regulations passed by the BC government allowing mainly white settlers to claim up to 320 acres of Indigenous land just by staking it out. If the land was developed the claimant could then obtain outright ownership by paying a small fee. 72
PREJUDICE Biased or discriminatory beliefs or attitudes (conscious or unconscious) held by individuals towards a racialized group or people associated (rightly or wrongly) with the group. Prejudice can exist in any community and can be based on gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability, or culture as well as ethnicity or race. Prejudice plus power, whether directed at an individual or more broadly, equals racism.
RACE Race Imposed categories and hierarchies of people that may share common ancestry and/or ostensibly similar physical traits that might include skin tone, hair texture, stature, or facial characteristics. Humans are intrinsically similar genetically and thus race is considered to be social constructed, often by socially dominant groups, to reflect discriminatory or cultural attitudes of superiority. With colonialism, race was constructed to justify imperial expansion by whitedominated powers. We generally avoid the term as it can normalize an otherwise unjustifiable notion.
RACIALIZATION The ongoing processes of constructing and imposing racial categories and characteristics on a given person or community.
RACISM When prejudice and power combine to discriminate against a particular group or individuals of a group. This term points to the particular effects of state-sponsored racism such as police violence or divide-and-rule policies towards Indigenous, Black, or racialized communities.
SETTLER COLONIALISM The colonial subjugation of Indigenous lands particularly through the deployment of non-Indigenous peoples as settlers who then become the dominant group in the affected territory. British settler colonies today include the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.
SOUTH ASIAN The term used by those who identify with this region that includes India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Afghanistan. Indo- Canadian is still used by some but it and ‘East-Indian’ are less current because of their hyphenated nature and geographical/historical inaccuracy. As the diversity of settlement grows, some people increasingly identify regionally and linguistically, i.e., as Punjabi. The dynamic nature of identity reflects the complexity of migration and settlement.
SYSTEMIC RACISM Institutionalized discrimination that may appear neutral but in fact establishes white domination as the norm and that has an exclusionary and discriminatory impact on Indigenous, Black and racialized communities.
WHITE PRIVILEGE The advantages accrued by those of European heritage in relation to Indigenous, Black, and racialized communities. For example, a white family whose ancestors were able to enter Canada while a Chinese family was denied that right. The ability to pursue their goals without facing racial barriers, though other barriers including class and gender may well exist.
WHITE SUPREMACY An ideology that openly or otherwise promotes the superiority of white people by associating them with superior moral values or defending them as a group in danger of losing their identity. In liberaldemocratic societies, white supremacy tends to go underground but continues in the form of systemic racism as well as in radical groups such as the Proud Boys.