Asiyah Robinson, Pamphinette (Pam) Buisa and Vanessa Simon are young, dynamic women of colour who were instrumental in organizing the recent Black Lives Matter event on June 7, 2020. Thousands of Victorians of all ages, colours and backgrounds showed up to demonstrate their support for racial and social justice. We put some questions to the three of them and they candidly shared their thoughts about what motivated them to organize this event and what Canadians can do to address racism and hate in our communities.
Why did you decide to organize this BLM event in Victoria?
Pam: I decided to join because I couldn’t sit back and watch anymore. I felt so saddened, angry, and emotional and didn’t know what I should do. I always felt silenced when speaking out about my blackness and I needed to speak my truth. The BLM event allowed me to have a platform to share my voice and raise the voices of others.
Asiyah: One of the reasons that I got involved was because I was tired of being idle and wanted us to come together as a community. We needed to capitalize on the energy that Victoria was giving out because historically, the narrative of “black lives matter” has always been overshadowed by other issues. Our lives are never a priority. We are never the priority, and this time, we refuse to let that spark die.
Vanessa: I felt alone and helpless. I felt angry and sad. I felt I could no longer sit idly by, while the world was in utter chaos. I felt that the white community was sitting pretty, unaware that systematic racism and microaggression happens all around them. I wanted black people to have their voices heard. I wanted the community to know that we are here and that our black lives matter. Changes need to happen, and I felt bringing the community together and having black people’s voices heard was the first step.
Were you surprised by the support you received and the turnout at the event? Why?
Pam: I was beyond surprised. In the five years that I’ve lived here, I have never seen so many Black and Brown people in Victoria. It was such a beautiful day and I am happy that we had our allies standing with us in solidarity too.
Asiyah: I was absolutely grateful and overwhelmed by the amount of support at Sunday’s rally, but not fully surprised. And I think part of that is because, since isolation, people have been looking for a way to engage and make a difference. This simply provided them with a good outlet. I was more surprised to see that more than 11 thousand people tuned into Facebook Live! That was mind-blowing to me!
Vanessa: When I made the first rally/march on June 1, I was prepared to march alone. Lo and behold 1000+ people were in attendance. I originally thought I was one of few Black people that lived in Victoria. I was astonished by the number of Black people that attended. Fast-forwarding to June 7th, and having thousands of people on the live stream and gathered in Centennial Square, I was overwhelmed and grateful for the continued community support. It was a historic day for Victoria and I felt so blessed to be a part of it.
What do you want all Victorians to understand about racism and hate crimes directed at Black persons and persons of colour?
Pam: Just because you don’t see it, does not mean it does not happen. Racism is systematically ingrained. In order to shake the system we, as a collective, must engage in anti-racist behavior to ensure the safety and livelihood of Black and Brown lives.
Asiyah: The main thing I would like people to understand is that racism is a spectrum. Simply because it’s not as televised as in the States, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. And it comes in many forms as well. Big or small, racism affects us all.
Vanessa: Canadians have high availability of heuristic/ bias. This means that if they don’t see police brutality or racism that is publicized, they believe that it is not as prevalent. This is why one often hears Canadians say “Canada is not as bad as the United States”. This narrative needs to change. Canadians need to understand that systematic racism is just as prevalent in Canada as it is in the United States. Within the Black Indigenous People of Colour (BIPOC) community, racism affects us all differently and it comes in different degrees. It’s important for Victorians, British Columbians and Canadians to be aware of this.
What are the three questions you would like Canadians to ask themselves to expand their understanding of racism and hate in our community?
Pam: The three questions I would ask of Canadians-
- When there are no people of colour in the room, how do you show solidarity and defend them when destructive speech/actions are made?
- What actions have you done to be anti-racist?
- How do you plan on holding other people accountable when injustice has been committed?
It is important to realize that being silent, is being okay with the situation and is also a form of violence.
Asiyah: We as a people are very influenced by everything we consume from constant
conversation to social media. I want you to start asking yourself why you think the way you do? Where do your biases come from? Why do you perceive some in a certain way? And then ask yourselves if you’re ready to do the work and challenge your thoughts.
Vanessa: Within the BIPOC community, there is distrust towards police and health care professionals. Diversity training is not enough. There needs to be anti-racism training. This training needs to be implemented and institutions need to receive reassessments monthly.
What three actions or initiatives would you like to see individuals or organizations undertake to address systemic or individualized racism?
Pam: They should look at their current business policies and revise their diversity sections. If they don’t have one, that is the first step to creating policies to bring people to action. It is also consulting and researching different strategies that have propelled anti-racist actions in the workplace. It isn’t enough to just have diversity-related policies, there must be actionable goals that the organization is taking to be anti-racist.
Asiyah: One of the things I would love to see is organizations asking themselves if their current employees reflect the community they support.
Anything else you would like to share with our members?
Pam: We are three people, with different experiences with racism and it is important to know that the black experience is not uniform – we are all unique and different.