Politicians, businesspeople and other leaders in Canada have been making a habit lately of denying the existence of systemic racism and then later having to issue retractions.
Part of the problem is that no one really knows for sure what systemic racism is.
I wonder if many of the people denying its existence are thinking that the term refers to a written down set of legislation and policies, such as the U.S. South’s Jim Crow laws before the 1960s and South Africa’s Apartheid system before the 1990s.
Maybe they’re thinking about unwritten conventions, such as Jewish hiring and recruitment quotas that many North American businesses, universities and other institutions quietly but firmly had in place up to the mid-20th century.
If the commissioner of the RCMP or the premier of Quebec can’t find racist laws or policies on paper, then maybe that’s why they can argue that systemic racism doesn’t exist.
But racism has many faces and comes in many disguises. At its core, racism is the act of treating someone differently because of the colour of their skin, and the evidence is mounting that this happens all too often in this country.
Inspired by the events that have transpired in the United States in the last month since a police officer killed George Floyd in Minneapolis, reporter Jeremy Simes set out to explore how we are faring on the Prairies.
It didn’t take him long to find three people who belong to visible minorities — two who work in the agricultural sector — who told their stories of how they have been treated differently because of their skin colour.
These stories ranged from the horrific and undeniable racism of name calling to less visible but still appalling acts such as following someone around a store just because they’re not white.
In Simes’s story, Agricultural Producers Association of Sask-atchewan president Todd Lewis made the point that racism has to be acknowledged.
“The more conversations we have about it, the more improvements we’ll see,” he said.
And that’s key, I think. It does no good to deny the existence of racism just because it’s invisible.
It’s time to listen to the stories being told by members of visible minorities and believe that they are true.
That, I believe, is the vital first step in confronting racism.
Simes’s story, which can be found on pages 38 and 39 of this week’s edition, is well worth the read, as is a related column by Katelyn Duncan on page 40.