A community addresses issues of racism

Meharoona Ghani, manager of community connections and diversity
at the North Shore Multicultural Society | Photo by Minori Ide

“What do we do?” The need to answer that question is at the heart of an upcoming public forum where North Shore residents will have an opportunity to discuss their concerns relating to discrimination and racism.

“Canada has often been touted as a successful experiment in multiculturalism. However, in light of recent events, such as those in Charlottesville where an alarming level of racial discrimination was exposed, as Canadians, we must carefully examine our own society to determine whether we are at risk of going down a similarly dark path,” says Marcus Wong, fifth-generation Chinese-Canadian, board member of the West Vancouver Police Department and North Shore Multicultural Society and forum panelist.

The North Shore Immigrant Inclusion Partnership (NSIIP) is hosting Acting Against Racism – A Public Forum on Sept. 14 at the Kay Meek Centre in West Vancouver. The forum aims to connect local residents in the hope of coming up with strategies towards a better understanding and possible resolutions. Two guests speakers from the University of British Columbia will be present as well as four panelists, all local residents of diverse intersectional identities. Talks will be followed by a Q&A session.

From fear to action

Marcus Wong, board member of the West Vancouver Police Department and North Shore Multicultural Society. | Photo courtesy of Marcus Wong

Born and raised in Golden B.C., Meharoona Ghani has pondered the notion of racism and various forms of discrimination since she was eight years old. Yet for forty years, fear had never played a part in her life. Until recently.

Ghani, manager of community connections and diversity at the North Shore Multicultural Society and lead organiser of Acting Against Racism, says that the idea of holding a public forum formed gradually. She experienced feelings of fear for the first time when the bus she was on drove past Vancouver’s Trump Tower after its name was unveiled. She then wondered if she, as a diversity specialist, felt so uneasy, how did other people feel?

To address those feelings and take action, Ghani started informal talking circles where people from various backgrounds could come together and share their stories of racism in a safe environment. Two recurring elements stood out: fear and the question “what do we do?”, she says.

The momentum grew.

“Basically I felt a forum was needed to discuss the implications of and current affairs of racism/Islamophobia and various forms of discrimination along with an emphasis on strategies,” says Ghani.

Strategies and policies needed

Two keynote speakers Dr. Sunera Thobani, Ph.D. and Handel Kashope Wright, Ph.D. will offer a “macro” or big picture of the current state of various forms of discrimination and racism/Islamophobia and the implications of these situations, says Ghani.

As one of the guest speakers, Sunera Thobani, associate professor in the Department of Asian Studies and the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice at the University of British Columbia (UBC), will share her concerns about Islamophobia in Canada, particularly violence against women.

“(I want to) raise awareness about the seriousness of this problem, and the urgency to confront Islamophobic and racist attitudes and actions at the local, community level, as well as the national and foreign policy level. It is crucial that we understand how this form of hatred is linked to other forms of racism, and how it is transforming the country,” she says.

The panelists will bring local perspectives to the dialogue.

Shelina Neallani, member of the North Shore Multicultural Society Board | Photo by Olga Volpe

Shelina Neallani came to Canada in 1968 at the age of three when her family, third generation Indians in Uganda, left post-colonial Africa. She has a passion for diversity, inclusion and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As a panelist, and through her interest in inter-cultural issues in conflict resolution, Neallani, member of the North Shore Multicultural Society Board, plans to generate a discussion around strategies for dealing with racist comments and actions, whether they are experienced directly or witnessed by a bystander.

“My hope is that through this dialogue, members of the community will feel better equipped to step out of their comfort zones and that the discussions we have will continue long after the symposium is over,” she says.

Ghani stresses that discrimination and racism affect all communities, are felt within, without and across all communities and are not restricted to the Caucasian–non-Caucasian dichotomy. All communities, she says, are encouraged to partake in the open and safe forum.

“I hope people walk away with factual information, hope, ideas and inspiration,” she says.

For more information, please visit www.nsiip.ca/acting-against-racism/