Talking About Racism was organized and co-facilitated by a group of students from UVic Social Justice studies to build awareness and activism in support of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, March 21st.
Saturday, March 24th was the date of antidote’s Intergenerational Event. After welcome and introductions Elitsa facilitated ‘Barnga’ an exercise disguised as a card game. At first I wondered “this is fun but how will this relate to the day’s theme?” As the game proceeded and we moved silently from one table to the next (each table having a different set of rules), it became clear that we were being set up for a lesson. The question arose, what happens when we agree on a set of rules in one context and then move into another context where the rules are different and unspoken?
When the rules are different, we are not always aware of where others are coming from. People had a variety of responses like anger, confusion and wanting to help others to understand the rules of the game. My response was “this is not fair” because I had agreed on a set of rules and then they changed. I felt like I was at a disadvantage for not knowing the new rules and needed to look to others for leadership. Once I learned the new rules, I felt more comfortable to play the game. We talked about how this is what it can feel like when someone moves to a new country. It also happens when we transition between classrooms, workplaces, and different community spaces. What we take for granted as “common sense” in one place can change in another, and without open communication and tools for easing this transition, we can easily get frustrated and feel left out.
Next we identified more personal experiences in an activity with Gayle, antidote Coordinator, to describe
“When I see…., when I hear…..or when I feel…….. I know racism is occurring”. That got us talking more about how we see racism perpetuated through hierarchies and institutions, and reflected through images in the media of idealized fashions, body image and cultures of war. We hear history lessons that glorify some groups while understating the contributions of others through constructions of “crime” and racial profiling. We shared stories of observing prejudice, slurs and unjust treatment towards racialized groups based on stereotypes and unfounded fears of the unknown. Some of us talked about feeling racism through impressions, subtle or blatant gestures and body language.
We talked about the misunderstandings that can be created when people group up with others from the same culture or identity, while this may create a space to feel comfortable and connect, it can also end up creating more exclusion based on identity politics. In building healthy, vibrant, multi-cultural communities, we agreed that it is important to value one another as unique individuals who are not simply defined by socially constructed categories of identification such as ethnicity, gender, and nationality.
Antidote thanks the activist Social Justice students – Elitsa Ivanova, Kim Boyd, Marwo Dubow, Kelsey Hayek and Sara Einarson stepping up to work with us and for energizing us on the critical conversations needed to eliminate racism in society. We look forward to more social justice collaborations through activist and youth-led anti-racism and violence prevention education.
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