I find that the topic of racism and discrimination is multi-layered and complex.
I believe that racism and discrimination is a systemic issue because it can be exhibited in social, economic and political dimensions. And racist and discriminatory views can be rooted in the conscious and/or unconscious.
The current global protests against racism and police brutality can be seen as the effort against conscious discrimination, which is exhibited on the social level, by making racism much more visible.
This work in acknowledging the continuous existence of racism in our society, in my view, is especially important in Canada, where we pride ourselves on the shared value of multiculturalism. Through this work, we also convey the message that, while racism exists, it is not tolerated.
However, there are a few reasons that I am not particularly keen on being explicitly vocal by joining in the voice of the protest. Firstly, I have heard from a number of people that we, as supporters of this cause, should be careful not to take up the precious space that the Black and Indigenous communities need to have to make their voices heard. Our good intention may end up taking away opportunities for others to articulate their messages in the ways that they prefer.
Secondly, as I believe racism and discrimination happens also in our everyday lives, subtly and unconsciously. From employment to investment, from national politics to community politics, I believe racism and discrimination are visible in so many different corners of our daily lives, affecting social mobility and social access.
What is dangerous is that we accept that as the norm. And this unconscious acceptance by the wider society is what, I believe, makes racism and discrimination a systemic issue. And the work is understandably difficult to counter as this unconscious acceptance cannot be attributed to one villain. I don’t like to talk about racism and discrimination as a problem to be solved by addressing the conscious evil if we don’t also resolve the unconscious side of the equation.
I don’t feel comfortable making a singular statement at this point. I know that in a moment like this, many community or organization leaders are asked to express their positions as a way to help add support to the cause. I often feel that the most powerful position to take is not just to condemn the conscious racism we see, but also to learn – and to unlearn – what makes us unconsciously discriminatory.
This is not only a unique opportunity for those of us working in the culture and heritage sector to lead in this way of thinking, but this is also an opportunity for us to see our roles as both teacher and student of culture and heritage. When we see ourselves as both teacher and student, we can better accept that we don’t know as much as we think we know.
And this is the powerful position of learning.
Executive Director, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
Heritage BC, Director
Situated in the heart of Vancouver’s historic Chinatown neighbourhood, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is an oasis of tranquillity and reflection amid the bustle of urban life. Modelled after the Ming Dynasty scholars’ gardens in the city of Suzhou, it became the first authentic full-scale Chinese garden built outside of China upon its completion in April 1986. (Learn more.)
(Return to Racism: Do Not let the Forgetting Prevail)
Do Not Let the Forgetting Prevail
“Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” — Martin Luther King, 1963
Visit these websites to support and learn more about the history and heritage of BC and Canada’s Black community:
“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots” – Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr.
This is not an exhaustive list of resources. If you know of other resources, please share them with us, so that we may share them with the heritage community.