A few weeks ago, the City of Victoria, the Victoria Foundation and the Canadian Urban Institute came together to host an “urban intensive” called CUIxVictoria – Vital Conversations for Our Shared Future. It was a very powerful three-day series of discussion and dialogue. If you missed it, you can catch all the sessions on the CUIxVictoria website, some of which I’ll highlight in this post.
As event organizers, we deliberately profiled and foregrounded voices and experiences that are often left in the margins: Black, Indigenous and people of colour. The event was powerful because their voices and experiences are powerful. But it was also powerful in that it gave me hope that even though the world is coming apart at the seams as I wrote in a previous blog post, a new world is possible. Indeed, it is already emerging.
The CUIxVictoria sessions gave me greater motivation to work at helping to create that world. I also feel a keen sense of responsibility – a big one – as a white middle class settler woman to de-centre myself, to get out of the way, to provide support and resources where necessary, and to stop that “trickle of whiteness” as Charity Williams so eloquently called it in the video featured at the top of the post, “Hope Meets Action: Echoes Through the Black Continuum.”
The “trickle of whiteness” that seeps into processes led by and for Black, Indigenous and people of colour is the product of unconscious bias and the systemic racism that infects so many of our processes and institutions. In “Hope Meets Action” – which is also the name of an exhibit at the Royal BC Museum (RBCM) – we heard about what is possible when institutions like the RBCM hand over power, authority and resources to the Black community.
The museum exhibit, and the process to create it, centres the lives and stories – past and present – of Black British Columbians. The process of deciding what stories to tell and how to tell the stories was in the hands of Black community members, not in the hands of the museum curators. “Hope Meets Action” is a remarkable story. I highly recommend watching the panel discussion above if you work in an institution or setting that is decolonizing and working to address systemic racism.
In “Belonging in Victoria: Muslim Voices for Change,” (video below), we heard directly about experiences of Islamophobia and racism that Muslim women face in Victoria. Aisha exclaimed in disbelief, “How is Islamaphobia worse now than it was when I was in high school?” Zara noted that racism is rooted in colonization and that colonization is dehumanizing. We have an idea in Canada that we are not racist, she said, that we think, “This isn’t who we are in Canada.” If racism is rooted in colonization and Canada was created by way of colonization, then there is racism in Canada, and in Victoria. These Muslim women face it every day.
Yet also, they shared stories of resilience: their recommendations presented at the end of the panel for how to make Victoria more inclusive, less Islamophobic; their very presence and courage to organize a plenary session for CUIxVictoria and to speak so vulnerably, so openly, and with such generosity; and Chrystal’s moving spoken word poem where she asserts, “I deserve to be held with love, dignity and awe.” Please take the time to listen to the conversation as part of helping to usher in the new world we need. Addressing Islamophobia is work for all of us.
The CUIxVictoria sessions left me thinking about what concrete actions I can take in my last year as mayor and in whatever I do next, to support decolonization, dismantle systemic racism, create more inclusive economies and low-carbon prosperity. Those of us with white privilege, class privilege, settler privilege have to work hard to help create this new world, this new way of living together.
How do we do this? In the “Inclusive Economies” session profiled below, one of the panelists quoted Lilla Watson, a Murri visual artist, activist and academic working on women’s issues and Aboriginal epistemology in Australia: “If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
Working together involves those of us with power and privilege handing over power, resources, time, centre stage, and more, to those whom patriarchal-colonial-extractivist capitalism has left out and left behind. What I learned from CUIxVictoria is that the view from the margins holds the wisdom for our shared future.
There was one additional and simple piece of advice that came through from the Black, Indigenous and people of colour participants on many of the panels, and was especially highlighted by members of the Welcoming City Strategy session profiled below: build new relationships. Members of the City’s Welcoming City Task Force suggested that if you are Caucasian, ask yourself if most people in your social circle are also Caucasian. Work to change this. When you meet someone who is different from you at work, picking up your kids at school, in your neighbourhood, invite them for a cup of coffee. The work of welcoming belongs to all of us.
With so much hopelessness around climate change – which we heard a lot about in the youth session – and hopelessness about the opioid crisis, the housing crisis, mental health challenges, experiences of racism, discrimination, the ongoing impacts of colonization, CUIxVictoria was a peek into the world that is possible and a sense of what it will take to get there.