A new committee wants to raise awareness that racism is still a reality in Delta’s communities.
Under the auspices of Deltassist, the Organizing Against Racism and Hate (OARH) committee is comprised of Delta residents, City of Delta staff, Delta police officers, and faith leaders. The committee will educate Deltans on the various conscious and unconscious ways people express racism and how to deal with racism when it does rear its head.
Last week, Deltassist held forums in North Delta and Ladner where people who were or are affected by racism shared their stories with the local community and the city’s leaders. It was also a chance for locals to join the committee.
Delta police constable Jas Dhillon, who grew up in North Delta, talked about his experience with unconscious and conscious racism in everyday life, and during his time playing professional football.
He recalled one event that shaped how he played football and who he became as a person. During a football game in Regina, Sask., when he was still a young player, spectators and an opposition player shouted slurs at him. It confused him, he said, because only Punjabi-speaking people would know the terms.
“So it turned out to be [more of] a game of psychological warfare than it was [a football game],” Dhillon told the audience at the Harris Barn in Ladner. “So you got to remain focused and stay determined to what your task is.”
But he said it also happens at home in Delta. Whether he is at the gym or just walking down the street, he catches people staring at him, whispering cynical comments to one another about his line of work.
“It happens, right? But why does it happen?” asked Dhillon, who stands six-foot-three and weighs well over 200 pounds. “But is this real racism or a lack of education? Some people just don’t know the difference.”
Pam Shaw, committee member and North Delta resident, spoke of her encounter with overt racism a few years ago during Delta’s annual spring clean-up. While rummaging through “an interesting pile of junk” with a local resident, the person mentioned he had sold his house and was moving to White Rock.
“And without skipping a beat, that person said, ‘Because there’s too many brown people in North Delta. I can’t go to the grocery store, I can’t even go to my bank without having to deal with a brown person’ … and inside of me, my heart started to pound, my mind started to race,” Shaw recalled.
“So, I said …… I said nothing.”
After the person’s comment, the two simply went their separate ways.
Shaw said she kept wondering afterwards why it was OK for the person to say that to her and came to the conclusion that the person must have assumed, as they were both white people, that she would not push back against such comments.
“And that led me to recognize the insidiousness of racism,” she said.
“All racism needs from me is to buy into and hold on tight to the status quo, to be more invested in the status quo than I am in building a stronger community. Racism needs me to keep things comfortable,” she said.
Committee member Kate Henderson talked about the obvious and subtle ways racism has manifested in her life since she moved to Ladner nine years ago. She told the audience there have been instances in which she was told to “go back to China” in Tsawwassen and overheard from shoppers at a Ladner produce market there was an “Asian invasion happening in town.”
“I am kind of in a space where I am thinking, do they know that I [am here] and they’re saying that because they know that I can hear it?” Henderson said. “Or are they saying it because they think that’s just everyday talk and they’re just speaking truthfully?”
Henderson then focused on the more subtle racism in her community, which she said happens frequently at restaurants and retail shops. She often has to wait for some time for assistance, while white people receive prompt service.
Henderson made a point of addressing the argument that it could be some other factor as to why personnel at her local restaurants and retail shops may ignore her. “Being in the skin that I am in, for as long as I have been, I have seen it enough that I [recognize] a general pattern and I know. I have a good radar for that,” she said.
She said the community has to do a lot of work on educating itself about the forms racism takes. Avoiding an uncomfortable topic such as racism makes it hard for Delta residents to evolve, she said, so she welcomed having the OARH committee as a tool for education.
“This is not something you can feel your way through, and I think a lot of people bring their own personal experiences and biases, [and] their own spin on what is and isn’t racism,” Henderson added.
“Racism, just like culture, changes with time.”
Those looking for more information on how to join the Delta OARH committee can contact Deltassist at 604 594-3455.