IT WILL TAKE DECADES to change the ingrained racism embedded in our society. That’s what a well-informed, well-connected senior statesman of the community told me the other day. We just don’t change that easily is what they said.
Except that over the last few decades, we’ve seen huge changes, and within a few years, it’s as if it has always been that way.
It was only in 2005 that same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada. Before it happened, there was strong debate and deliberation. But since then, life has gone on, and it’s as if it has always been the norm.
In 2016, only four years ago, assisted dying legislation was passed. There were decades of debate and hearings before the decision. But once the decision was made, people had the choice of how their lives could end.
We’ve changed how we see where we live as well. In 2010, Queen Charlotte Islands was renamed back to Haida Gwaii. Similarly, in 2010, the Georgia Strait is now the Salish Sea.
I’ve changed as much as everyone around me. I’ve had same-sex relatives who have married, and also others who have chosen assisted dying. And I have no problem finding either Haida Gwaii or the Salish Sea on a map.
Decades of activism led to these changes. Legislation allowed for all these changes to actually happen.
Systemic racism affects all aspects of society from health outcomes, to policing, to education, to the economy. The fact that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants to move quickly to tackle systemic racism is good news for change.
But what about more locally?
Interior Health Authority’s board of nine directors has two First Nations’ members, but doesn’t appear to have any other racialized individuals.
Again and again, studies show worse health outcomes for racialized groups in Canada. Culturally sensitive care, language barriers, economic inequality are all factors that impact health outcomes. Interior Health Authority should diversify its board to help ensure eliminating systemic discrimination in health care is a priority.
The RCMP is constantly under scrutiny for its policing of racialized groups. Locally, the RCMP meets with mayor and council yearly to discuss its priorities. While having City council give input has some effect, more input from some of the most affected groups is needed. City Council should be bringing representatives of racialized groups to the table to speak to the RCMP. Policing is the largest single item in the City’s budget, and council has the obligation to ensure the voices of groups impacted by systemic racism are heard.
Addressing systemic racism can lead to change. Changes at the top of our institutions is a key. Change may be hard, but other changes we’ve gone through show it’s not impossible. And the sooner we start, the sooner it will seem like it has always been a less racist place that we live.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.