Black in BC and the International Decade for People of African Descent, 2015-2024

Pulchérie Mboussi, Executive Director of the African Arts & Culture Community Contribution Society – Issamba Centre.

Systemic racism exists. It exists in policing. In local, provincial, and federal government programs and services. It exists in health care and education. Systemic racism is rooted in the historical acts of colonization, displacement, slavery — acts which were foundational to the creation of western society and western institutions. Even though it has historical roots, systemic racism exists to this day, and it negatively impacts Indigenous people, people of colour and black people / People of African Descent, while those of us with white-skinned privilege continue to benefit.

February is Black History Month. It’s an opportunity to learn about the significant contributions that People of African Descent have made to Canada, British Columbia and Victoria’s history. And, it’s also a time to get educated about, and begin to collectively address, the continuing and distinct racism that People of African Descent in British Columbia and Victoria face on a daily basis.

To help uncover the contemporary experiences of People of African Descent in B.C, the African Arts and Culture Community Contributor Society (AACCCS), headed by the inspiring, passionate and amazing community leader, Pulchérie Mboussi, received funding from the provincial government to undertake research. At a symposium last week they released their report, “Black in B.C. Convenor Pilot Project.” They also rolled up the recommendations into a second report to create an International Decade for People of African Descent (IDPAD), Action Plan for BC.

The United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent runs from 2015-2024. As noted by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in her statement at the halfway point of the decade a few years ago, “Throughout the world – and regardless of whether they are descendants of victims of enslavement, or recent migrants – people of African descent endure intolerable discrimination and constitute some of the poorest and most marginalized groups … The Decade is a unique platform that emphasizes the important contribution made by people of African descent to every society, and promotes concrete measures to stop discrimination and promote their full inclusion.”

In Victoria, British Columbia, and Canada, we have a lot of work to do in the next three years to address anti-black racism and promote full inclusion. Here are some of the findings from the AACCCS survey and research about the lived experience of People of African Descent in BC. I encourage everyone to read the full reports, linked above.

Key Findings

The report notes that, “The findings show inadequate progress in terms of recognizing, promoting and protecting the human rights of People of African Descent (PAD) in BC. We find:

  • The endurance of systemic and structural anti-Black racism and discrimination across all
    eight thematic issues in British Columbia.
  • The continued absence of PAD-focused policy and legislative acknowledgments, and interventions by the provincial government as a consequence of multicultural, Indigenous,
    Black and People of Colour (IBPOC) frameworks. While such inclusive frameworks
    are important, they must not diminish the peculiarity of PAD experiences and conditions.
  • The relatively low representation of PAD in professions such as medicine, nursing, teaching and politics. This trend also reflects in the number of PAD in leadership and decision-making positions across organizations. This trend is curious considering the relatively high academic and professional qualification we find amongst PAD in BC.
  • The persistence of an education system that marginalizes and fosters ignorance about ‘Black’ knowledge forms, practices, innovations and histories.
  • The poor transparency, accessibility and cultural sensitivity of anti-racism accountability systems across institutions in BC.
  • The absence of aggregate race-based data to inform assessments and policy changes
    related to institutional equity, diversity and inclusion across institutions in BC.
  • The conspicuous scarcity of PAD-focused cultural and community spaces; the persistent
    adverse/under- representation of ‘Black’ identities, values and cultures in the media, school curriculum, public art and the built environment of BC.”

The report goes on to remark, “Even amidst the aforesaid challenges, we note the remarkable agency of the PAD community in BC. The PAD community has continued to show resilience and innovation as they push to provide solace for members and non-members of their communities, and also fight against systemic anti-Black racism.”

There are a few key findings and recommendations that stood out for me.

First, don’t lump People of African Descent under the acronym “BIPOC” and assume that Black, Indigenous and People of Colour all experience the same kind of racism. As noted in the report, “Anti-Black racism is viewed as a necessary frame to understand the peculiar challenges faced by People of African Descent and the need for customized policy remedies.”

Second, People of African Descent experience significant racism in the workplace. Ninety-six percent of those surveyed said that racism is a problem at the workplace, with 78% indicating that it is a serious or very serious matter. Only 25% felt that anti-racism training would help address this. What would help the most is having People of African Descent in leadership positions and on hiring and promotion committees. In other words, we can do all the training we want, but until we start to change the composition of our organizations and companies, we will not be able to address systemic racism in the workplace.

Third, 70% of respondents felt targeted or concerned about their safety when dealing with local police or the RCMP. The report also found challenges with access to legal resources and a low representation of lawyers and judges of African Descent. The recommendations made in the report to address these issues (pgs 13-16) are clear and strong. If implemented by the Province, we will begin to see the dismantling of systemic racism in policing and the justice system.

While the recommendations are made to and for the provincial government, there is action we can all take. I’d encourage everyone to read the recommendations and think about how they can be translated into your own workplaces, community organizations, arts and culture programming and so on.

At the City, we have recognized the International Decade for People of African Descent and created an International Decade for People of African Descent Task Force. Council has provided the task force with some initial resources to begin their work, including funding to develop a grant program to support youth of African Descent. Councillor Dubow and I are the councillor liaisons to that task force and will continue to observe and support the work.

At the City, we have also created an office of Equity Diversity and Inclusion; one of the core staff in that office is a person of African Descent who is working with the Human Resources Department to develop specific anti-Black racism training for City staff. As noted above, however, training is not enough to dismantle systemic racism in our organizations and companies. Clearly, the City has more work to do.

Dismantling systemic racism is a collective responsibility and should not be left to those who are disproportionately harmed by it. Here is a great resource to understand what white supremacy culture is. And here’s another with the characteristics of White Supremacy Culture .

If you’re inspired to share any actions you take coming out of reading the Black in BC Report or anything inspired by this post, please email mayor@victoria.ca and I will share your stories in a follow up post. Please feel free to share this post and these resources with others who might need them. Thanks in advance for helping to build less racist, more truly inclusive communities. To those of you who have already been doing this work for years, decades, or your whole lifetime, thank you.