Forum talks racial healing

Coun. Rebecca Johnson, co-chair of Diversity Thunder Bay, speaks at the beginning of a community conversation hosted Monday in Thunder Bay, where participants talked about the racial divide that exists in the city.

Racism is more than just a conceptual issue or topic. For people who encounter it, racism becomes a personal experience.

That was one of the prevailing themes that emerged from a conversation encouraging participants from across Thunder Bay to talk about how to bridge the racial divide.

The first of two sessions was held Monday at Lakehead University with about 80 people in attendance, including a group of grades 7 and 8 students from Westmount Public School. A second followed in the evening at Ka-Na-Chi-Hih.

Participants also spoke of deep-seeded racial tension in Thunder Bay, a desire for a safe community for all and skepticism about whether racism can ever be eradicated.

Coun. Rebecca Johnson, co-chair of Diversity Thunder Bay and member of the city’s Anti-Racism and Respect Advisory Committee, said there needs to be action.

“Is racism prevalent in Thunder Bay? Is it increasing? I don’t know that it’s increasing but it’s not decreasing,” Johnson said.

“I think that when we start looking at some of the incidents we have, we have to make some changes.”

Aftab Erfan, the session facilitator, said dialogue is needed to bridge racial and cultural divides.

“We want to bring together voices that don’t normally speak to each other,” Erfan said.

“We know that in Thunder Bay, and really actually all through North America and around the world, there’s this division of people who are different from each other racially, culturally and around religious lines. The idea of this dialogue is the more they don’t talk to each other, the bigger the gaps will be between them.”

The session used a method where participants stood in the centre of the room, where they were able to move around to show whether they agreed with each speaker.

When people agreed, they were encouraged to move closer to that speaker. If they disagreed, they were asked to step away.

“It’s not a panel discussion or experts telling you how to deal with cultural differences, it’s people speaking in their own voice to each other,” Erfan said.

“We get a quick sense of what the different views are, where are the differences and what people are really thinking and feeling. We’ll have a deeper conversation than we would have just sitting around the dinner table and potentially getting into a fight.”

The participants also spoke about the importance of embracing diversity and differences, rather than requiring minority groups feel required to adapt to become part of a mainstream culture.

It’s through talking and learning that racism can be addressed, Johnson said.

Policies passed by any level of government aren’t necessarily effective, she added.

“The way we really address racism and make change is one-on-one,” Johnson said. “To just carte blanche say we’re going to have a new bylaw or something, it doesn’t work. You can’t teach people but you can have dialogues and conversations.”

(6) comments

OhGod Make it stop

It boils down to this..."white people" look at the natives and all they can see is someone getting government money and all the opportunities in the world...just for being aboriginal. OK - in their minds, that's enough reason for some degree of resentment....but to see those funds and opportunities wasted in the manner that they see demonstrated time and time again on the streets of TBay...well, it's just more than they can see past.
Conversely, a lot of the aboriginals see the white guys as patronizing, condescending, unaware of the realities facing natives these days...and occasionally, out-and-out racism and pure hostility. Would you feel inclined to be social with feelings like that bubbling under the surface?
One side is jealous and resentful...the other side feels persecuted at many levels.
My two cents, anyways.

Myles Penny

I am of the opinion that "diversity" is tearing Canada apart, rather than drawing us together, but no one wants to address this concern.

And, I don't believe they are looking at what causes racism, especially in Thunder Bay. Might those that are deemed "racist" have a reason for it, however my minuscule this reason may be. Might one party have to make a few changes to draw these "racist s" closer? There are 2 sides to every story.

K N

Very good points.

The Corporation of the City of Thunder Bay, for example, likes to promote it self as an equal opportunity employer. However, this corporation doesn't put it's money where it's mouth is.

There are far too many examples of racism, sexism, agism and other aspects of human rights and employment standards violations that are committed by this corporation to list here. These ongoing acts only fuel the racism and other divisions in this community.

Khan K.

I guess when you support a "seminar series" titled "The White Problem" are you really the person to spearhead the discussion?

K N

The last person I will accept anything from is Rebecca Johnson. She was one of the most vocal counselors who wanted Grandview Lodge and Dawson Court closed. This act casted aside those seniors who built this community and in some cases defended this city/province/country.

As I have mentioned several times before, the closure of these two Homes for the Aged was not about money like her and her fellow counselors preached. Those borrowed funds were directed to other projects.

Now she's co-chair of Diversity Thunder Bay and member of the city’s Anti-Racism and Respect Advisory Committee? What a complete joke. The sooner this councilor is elected off of City Council the better.

All members of this community deserve to be treated with respect whether they're First Nations, Elderly, or any other group.

Joe Bush

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