“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist” - AngelaDavis
The Black Lives Matter movement has seen a worldwide surge in support with global protests and social media coverage spiking after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis was caught on camera. Police brutality and systemic racism are, unfortunately, deeply ingrained, systemic issues.However, the corrupt murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony Mcdade, andGeorge Floyd’s inhumane death, in particular, has caught media attention and has been a catalyst (or simply the straw that broke the camel’s back) for social change and activism. As a result, there has been an eruption of global anti-Black racism protests and widespread solidarity with BIPOC (Black,Indigenous, People of Colour) and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Nevertheless, racism is not new and protesting against racism is not simply a trend. Racism exists not only in the United States but also in our communities and universities; Kelowna and UBC Okanagan are no exception. In a Skype discussion about racism and reform, African CaribbeanStudent Club Executive Marketing member, Brandon Koo, shared his experiences asa black student at UBCO and agreed to co-write this article for the Phoenix. He provided insight into how non-Black people, including students and the University, can be non-performative with their ally ship and can work to be actively anti-racist.
To be actively anti-racist proper allies must first remove the element of ego and the feeling of being uncomfortable or attacked when spoken to about racism. White fragility is harmful and it is necessary that white people remove this ego in order to be outspoken and vocal on the topic of racism instead of silencing the topic due to discomfort. People outside of the black community must acknowledge their frailty and move beyond it to recognize that there are external systems in place that uphold systemic racism.
Only then, when difficult conversations and open dialogue are encouraged in the home and in the community, is there hope for education and social change. It is important for non-BIPOC to be able to move past this sense of fragility. Black people live with discomfort every day, and it is not an option. Non-BIPOC need to move past their sense of white fragility and be willing and able to live with discomfort, recognize their privilege, and have important, albeit sometimes uncomfortable, conversations about racism.Non-BIPOC should be willing to have these conversations beyond a close-knit circle of people who share their opinions. Only posting a hashtag and moving on is an example of performative ally ship. To be a proper ally, one must be active and vigilant in the fight against racism, and in order to do so, allies must first remove the element of ego and access humility and empathy.
UBC Okanagan has made steps in the right direction with their Different Together webinar inspired by the global anti-Black racism protests. This webinar centered “the voices of students and impacted community members, [and] the forum gives us a window into the grief and the liberating potential of this moment.” It is crucial that UBCO continues to move forward with panels and webinars that amplify Black voices and lead to positive changes within the community. UBC President and Vice-Chancellor SantoOno also sent out an address on systemic racism where he stated that racism and bias have "no place in our community and that we have zero tolerance for it." Evidently, UBCO is making a significant effort to be anti-racist and to allow for open and honest dialogue between black people and white people with BIPOC voices at the forefront of the discussion. This kind of open dialogue between Black people and people outside of the Black community is incredibly important for moving forward. Knowledge is the only way we can fight against fear and ignorance, which is at the core of racism.
However, while UBCO is taking steps in a positive direction, we also discussed the dire need for educational reform in our University. TheAfrican Caribbean Student Club (ACSC) launched their YouTube discussion series called O2 Monologues, a safe space where Black student voices are “taking the centre stage on issues that affect them.”
In their first episode, Looking Beyond the Castles of YourSkin, the ACSC expressed their disappointment at the lack of African History courses at UBC. They discussed the importance of a diverse curriculum in a campus that claims to be diverse. It would seem obvious that the selection of courses should reflect the diversity of the Okanagan campus, but unfortunately there are no opportunities for Black students to major or minor in AfricanHistory. It seems extremely unfair that African students have to learn aboutCanadian and American History but are unable to properly study African andBlack History at their university. Though it appears that there will be aHistory of Southern Africa course—HIST 317—offered at UBCO in the Winter 2020semester, offering only one course on African History is just the first step towards a holistic and inclusive education on the history of the African continent.
In addition, this lack of diversity is also represented in the staff at UBCO, for we both agreed that we have not seen many Black professors on our predominantly white campus. Hopefully UBCO will consider the lack of African courses and BIPOC Professors at UBCO and will work to help broaden the scope of our University to one that includes a wider variety of diversity within our campus. Even in courses regarding Canadian History, the history of black people is limited—slavery occurred in Canada, too, but manyCanadians are not aware of this as it is often overlooked or only mentioned very briefly. It is a delusion to claim that there wasn’t any black violence inCanada. This is why there is a need for education and for the curriculum to be modified to include different historical groups; too many Canadians are left in the dark or ignorant about the truth of the history of their country.
History courses need to be reformed so that they focus on a variety of historical groups, not only White peoples. History tends to be dictated by victors and people in positions of power, so it is definitely time for the focus to be redirected, starting in our History courses at UBCO. This would open dialogue between black and white people concerning issues of race and allow students from other disciplines to broaden their understanding and backgrounds. For instance, many disciplines, such as Engineering or Sciences, hardly focus specifically on cultural topics and issues, even though these disciplines lead to work positions that require cultural, political, and social awareness.
Students in general need to be cognizant of social issues even if they are studying only the sciences, as there is a tendency to become stuck in a narrow, myopic worldview—they are possibly not aware of a broader scope of history because it isn’t being taught in their curriculum. More education in every discipline about systemic racism and marginalization is vital for students in order for them to be able to cultivate a broader worldview, be aware of issues of race, and able to identify and fight against racism. If students are not educated or aware, how will they be informed and equipped to be actively anti-racist? Though these topics are difficult to digest and people typically want to learn about things that make them feel comfortable, it is necessary to have a curriculum that breaks down barriers and reflects the diversity of the campus.
Additionally, cultural inclusion is necessary, not only in regards to academia, but also within UBCO’s new student orientation, Jump Start. There should be a cultural literacy/competency workshop component that focuses on how to navigate different sub-cultures and categories. This workshop would work to broaden the discussion of culture and cultivate awareness by including education and discussions of a variety of cultures rather than promoting the expectation that international students will simply conform to Canadian culture.
Moreover, non-performative ally ship requires work and a willingness to learn. Proper allies should seek out the myriad of resources that are readily accessible and available to them. There are plenty of resources online, websites, documents and petitions, books by Black authors at the Kelowna and UBCO library, informative documentaries on Netflix, and more. Support local Black businesses, including Kelowna’s Black-owned businesses. It is the responsibility of the ally to educate themselves on how to be properly anti-racist. When we know better, we do better. We, meaning the student body and UBC Okanagan, must educate ourselves and learn how to be properly anti-racist because Black LivesMatter.
Racism is not always the brutal acts of violence that are seen on the news. Oftentimes, it is found in our communities in the form of condescension or micro aggressions.
It is my pleasure to say that I have not had the deep misfortune of facing incidences of overt racism directed at me during my time at UBCO. Nevertheless, there is an insidious breed of racism that exists today.It dwells within our “safe spaces” and within even the most progressive campuses and UBC is not exempt from this. This is what social psychologist shave termed “modern racism.” It is dangerous because this face of prejudice manifests itself in the ideas that people have about persons of colour that seem self-evident, or in the notions easy to rationalize in a way that may not(on the surface) make you appear racist.
I will give an example based on my own experience to explain precisely what I mean. Imagine you are discussing with a colleague one day about the recent legalization of marijuana and you explain to them the cultural significance of marijuana to an ethnic group in your country. He then goes onto make a face of revulsion saying, “I can't imagine the quality (of the marijuana)”. Now if you are a person of Afro-Caribbean descent as I am, or just educated on the subject matter, you would know that the ethnic group I am talking about are the Rastafarians. A religious group who use marijuana as part of their rituals to receive prophetic visions and as a means of building community between members.
When I inquired as to why he was concerned about the quality, he continued to assert that he just meant it couldn’t have been as good as the quality of the product used in Canada because “y’know,” he added sheepishly.He realized that at that moment he had crossed the threshold of what I was willing to tolerate and that I had perceived the assumption of inferiority associated with his statement. So, to clarify, if you have assumed that anything Black-made is inferior as a product of their “harder-circumstances” in life, you have participated in modern racism. If you have expressed concern fora Black friend’s chances at doing well in a test despite them studying as hard as you, you have likely participated in modern racism. If you have that oneUncle or friend of a friend that says some out of pocket thing about black people sometimes but you think it's okay because no one is around to hear it?You have supported modern racism.
It is important to be aware of the dangers of this type of racism because it masquerades itself with a certain type of benevolence that is deceiving, and both Black people and their allies alike can fall victim to its subterfuge. It is critical that we educate people on these matters because these seemingly innocuous incidences, while non-lethal most of the time, have important implications in the lives of Black people.
Assumptions of inferiority form the substance of stereotypes that create anxiety and undue stress in the minds of Black students when they are preparing for exams or any endeavour. I can't tell you how many Black folk have expressed the feeling of a double burden as they are both students and Black, so they must try harder than anyone else to succeed. If we aspire to live in a fair world, we cannot allow this situation to continue and we must make as many people as we can aware of the dangers of this form of racism in the modern age.
I am deeply grateful to have the opportunity to share my experience and be a cog in the wheel of meaningful change.
- Brandon Koo, ACSC Executive Marketing Member