Thousands protested in Victoria following the death of George Floyd in the U.S. (Black Press Media file photo)

Thousands protested in Victoria following the death of George Floyd in the U.S. (Black Press Media file photo)

B.C. is not exempt: New report documents 150 years of racism and the fight against it

Booklet marks province’s 150th anniversary with call for transparency, change

A new open source publication documents B.C.’s history in a manner rarely seen before – one that comprehensively describes the racism Black, Indigenous and racialized groups have faced and fought against for nearly 150 years.

Purposefully released months before the province’s anniversary, the authors of the 80-page illustrated booklet titled Challenging Racist “British Columbia”: 150 Years and Counting, hope to localize conversations around racism and white supremacy, which they say are too often brushed off as a “them” problem.

The publication dives into a history the majority of British Columbians were never taught and even students today only learn snippets of. It also calls into question the name of the province itself.

“Does the term ‘British Columbia’, named after a colonizing empire and Christopher Columbus, not embody and project the history of racism in this province?” the authors ask.

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While many people may know about some of B.C.’s history regarding residential schools or Japanese internment camps, the report also brings to light far lesser known realities.

Few people may know, for example, that even for decades after B.C. was colonized, the majority of the population was non-white, and that this only changed when the B.C. government forced racialized communities out. Indigenous people were forced onto reserves, Chinese immigrants were charged a head tax before being outright banned and Japanese Canadians were exiled. For those who weren’t overtly forced out, the stripping of rights and culture and everyday racism were enough to make them want to leave.

(Challenging Racist “British Columbia”: 150 Years and Counting/Screenshot)

In 1861, performer Emil Sutro is quoted in the newspaper refusing to go on stage because “coloureds” were in the front row, saying: “They are not desired, and are furthermore offensive to a majority of the residents of Victoria.”

Written by a number of prominent academics and activists, the new report does more than recount racism. It also documents the fight against it, all the way up to the last couple of years of Wet’suwet’en land defence and Black Lives Matter movements.

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“This book offers a bold, honest, historical correction to the false narrative that Canada is exempt from white supremacy and racist nation state formations,” Sharanjit Kaur Sandhra, author and coordinator of Simon Fraser University’s South Asian Studies Institute said. “And for that reason, this book is the exact resource needed in this pivotal moment where an anti-racist movement continues to take shape. It is a resource for activists, students, educators, community professionals — it is a resource for all.”

The report’s other authors include Nicholas XEMTOLTW Claxton, Denise Fong, Fran Morrison, Christine O’Bonsawin, Maryka Omatsu and John Price.

Challenging Racist “British Columbia”: 150 Years and Counting is available at challengeracistbc.ca, and an enhanced digital edition and 20-minute video are expected this spring.

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