Vancouver to celebrate a day aimed at eliminating racism and discrimination

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Apartheid South Africa 1985.

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Apartheid South Africa 1985 - Photo courtesy of United Nations, Flickr

This March 21 the question of racism still existing or not can be asked and, possibly even answered. It is definitely a question worth pondering as the United Nations’ designated that day the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It is a celebration that urges us to re-examine our societies and redouble our efforts in eradicating racial discrimination, an important issue that might have long been forgotten.

This same day in 1960, a group of brave individuals in Sharpeville, South Africa peacefully protested against the apartheid “pass laws.” The pass laws were a series of institutions designed to limit mobility on the basis of racial identity and reinforce racial segregation. Police responded by opening fire, killing 69 people on scene. Some say it was a demonstration of racism in its most extreme form. That was 52 years ago. The question that remains is if things have changed.

However, Harsha Walia, a social activist and spokesperson for No One is Illegal, reminds us that racism is in fact still a very vital issue.

Harsha Walia, social activist.

Harsha Walia, social activist.

“Despite the current racially diversified nature of our city [Vancouver], racial discrimination is still an overwhelmingly important issue,” says Walia. “We live in a post-racial multicultural society. What that means is that people tend to forget all about racism when it can very well still be embedded in our society on multiple levels.”

According to Statistics Canada, the number of reported hate crimes in Vancouver nearly doubled in 2008 from 2007. Walia stresses the importance to continuously remind ourselves that “racism isn’t a thing of the past.”

It becomes evident that as Vancouverites, we have the responsibility to take the initiative in the eradication of racial discrimination.

Walia points out that the law, education and media are all pertinent contributing factors to racism. A reform in these areas is undoubtedly necessary. Regardless, individual efforts are also invaluable. One can start by being open about racism and readily communicate the related issues with family, friends and neighbours.

“Instead of denying the existence of racial discrimination, people ought to be able to talk openly about it and have honest and open debates. This way, we would progress much faster,” says Walia.

Alden E. Habacon, director of Intercultural Understanding Strategy Development at UBC, thinks that racism ultimately results from anxiety between people.

Alden E. Habacon

Alden E. Habacon, director of Intercultural Understanding Strategy Development at UBC

“Two things that impact racism are the reduction of anxiety between people, and equally important, the increasing of our empathy for others. This requires stepping outside of oneself,” says Habacon.

“I think a place of social sustainability is a place where people are less anxious about each other, a place bubbling over with empathy, where people are not just polite, but in fact shovel each other’s driveways.”

Vancouver has, for a long time, held the vision of becoming the greenest city in the world by 2020. Social sustainability is, as claimed by Habacon, equally as important as economic and ecological sustainability.

He says everyone has the opportunity to play a vital role in shaping the city into an even more wonderful place.

As Habacon mentions, we should start by being open and honest about racism, practice interacting with one another and develop our empathy.

Celebrate this year’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination by attending the Community March Against Racism event on March 18 hosted by No One is Illegal. The march begins at 2 p.m. at the intersection of Commercial and 14th Avenue. By joining the march, you will help raise awareness of racial issues in Vancouver.