KWENCH writer, Jody Carrow, was fortunate enough to be granted 30 minutes of Kamika’s time with very short notice and on a Monday to boot – here is their conversation:
Thanks for taking this call today.
Kamika: Thank you for reaching out and giving me an opportunity to talk about ARC and our initiatives. Thank you so much.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself – I understand you were born and raised in Victoria.
Correct! Born and raised in Victoria. Grew up here in the 80s, 90s, early 2000s and especially in the 80s and 90s, there was not a lot of diversity in Victoria. I have an older brother but when he went off to Junior High, I was the only Black person in my school. So there have been many, many times when I have been the only Black person in the room and in the community, and in my school and classroom, etc. I think I was about 5 years old when my mom told me I came home crying because someone said that I looked like poo. And so I experienced racism at a very, very young age and on a consistent basis.
So that has definitely been what has fuelled a lot of my drive and my interest to fight for social justice work. I like to give back to community in general and also have done work with Big Brother Big Sister and homelessness – I like to give back to community in general.
I was raised by a white family who on their own have always been aware and trying to get us to learn about certain issues. I grew up in an immigrant family with people very focused on social justice and poverty.
And then in 2013 when Trayvon Martin was murdered and Michael Brown, I started to pay attention and get more vocal about it. Through my social media I started to express my anger and put up posts to help try to spread awareness, but it wasn’t until the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery that I think, like most people around the world, it was, “Enough is enough.” Through some forums I met up with some other Black people and People of Colour and parents of Black children and we started ARC in June of last year.
You’ve done a lot in pretty short period of time, that’s for sure.
We really have! Our first initiative was our “Know Your Rights” campaign that we launched last July/August. It’s on our website, but we also made these handouts that people can stick in their wallets and carry with them so that they can understand their rights when they interact with police. We’re very proud of that because it can be potentially lifesaving.
Just to circle back to something you said earlier – what does it feel like to be the only Black person in the room?
That’s a really great question – it’s very mixed. So many different emotions. One is you kind of feel a sense of being proud about being Black, and then you also feel like the weight of Black people is on your shoulders. Like I have to act or dress a certain way because people are going to think this is how all Black people act, so there’s a lot of that, I think, within the Black community is that we feel like we always have to represent the Black community when we are in non-Black communities.
And then there’s also dealing with little micro-aggressions when you’re the only Black person in the room. Some people are just jerks and some people just don’t know – all they see is media and they’re so closed off from interactions with People of Colour that they just don’t know and they say so many ridiculous things. And then you challenge them and their white friends who think like them and don’t see it as an issue rally around them. It’s frustrating when it’s people you like and they’re not jerks and you just want them to get it. There’s a lot of that. People just don’t understand and you’re the only example they have of what a Black person is like.
And there’s the constant feeling of being dismissed – and I’m also aware of being a woman – so there’s always the intersectionality of that in groups. If you’re in a group of males, it doesn’t really matter what colour your skin is if you’re a woman. So, there’s the intersectionality piece and all the different emotions that come with being the only Black person in the room: sense of pride, that struggle of representation…
There’s a lot going on when you stand in a room as the only Black person.
Exactly, right? And you want to wear your hair a certain way and you want to dress a certain way but then it gets looked at as unprofessional. I’m not sure why nicely done braids are unprofessional –
When yoga pants aren’t.
Right? Exactly. I guarantee you Kylie Jenner wears breads and it’s professional now. That’s the whole crux of it – as soon as with white people or males or the dominant group do something, then it’s okay. So that’s another struggle too.
How did ARC’s Black Shirt Day initiative go on January 21st?
We are feeling great. Honestly, we were not expecting the reception that we received. We just didn’t really think it would take off – we were hoping to get maybe 10 schools for 2021. It’s really a community-led grassroots movement. We have an educator in our group who works at Marlborough Elementary in Burnaby who spread the word around her school. My nephew plays volleyball at TRU, some other members had connections at SFU. Once they were on board, I contacted my nephew’s coach and it just grew from there.
Maybe that’s why – you hit the right demographic to start. To kids it’s a no-brainer. Sometimes when you start at the adult level…
Exactly. My nephew is 18 years old and he just thought it was great. My other friends, their nieces and nephews got in the paper supporting it and like you said, to them it was a no-brainer. Kids these days have no tolerance – not all kids, but a lot of kids these days have no tolerance for hate.
Are there any ARC initiatives coming up that KWENCH can help get awareness out about?
For 2022 we have lots of new stuff – I don’t want to say too much because there’s a lot we need to talk about as a group, but we’re building curriculum, we’re going to have so many more resources for educators about Canadian Black history and Black Canadian leaders so they can hit the ground running. We have a conference in March called the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. March 20th and 21st and it will be a Zoom conference. We will release all the details on our social media.
On June 27th, Multiculturalism Day, we want to do a big event. With COVID we don’t know exactly what that will look like, probably something online.
And for Black History Month, we will be focused on highlighting important Black Canadian Figures For International Women’s Day we will be highlighting Black Canadian women…so throughout the year there will be lots more going on.
What does Black History Month mean to you in today’s social and political climate?
It’s very important because it’s important to note that the fight Martin Luther King was fighting 60 years ago we are still fighting. Nothing has changed. Although people like to throw Barack Obama’s presidency around as a sign things have changed, nothing has changed. So why support Black History Month? Because 60 years of what we think is progress isn’t much progress. We need to keep this information at the forefront because for some reason so many people have forgotten the civil rights issue for Black people. We all, unfortunately, had to watch someone slowly die for 9 minutes to realize this again.
Definitely important in this climate and what we’re saying at ARC is: Black history is Canadian history. It’s not just important for me as a Black person for me to feel represented, but when we ignore people who look like me who have been here for hundreds of years, it’s really a lack in Canadian history. It’s not only important for Black people to not feel the stigma of not being included or recognized in history, but for all Canadians to know all of our history. To only focus on European history is just leaving everything else out. Education is very focused on colonial history and so we’re not teaching the truth if we’re only focused on colonial history.
As well, there seems to be a focus on the Underground Railroad that Canada’s been able to paint this narrative of this safe haven in this country that was so nice to Black people, when really there was slavery in Canada, many Black people left, and the Underground Railroad went both ways. People left Canada because they faced so much persecution that they felt they were better off in the northern United States. About a third of the Black Loyalists (slaves) who escaped and settled in Nova Scotia started their own colony in Sierra Leone because things were so bad. Another thing is not only the lack of history but the focus on Canada being a safe haven for Black people has to change.
How hopeful are you about the future for Black people, Indigenous people and People of Colour – well, all of us, really? How hopeful are you that eventually everybody will be able to freely take up their own space in the world and without reserve?
I’m very hopeful. As we grow and progress, we change as a culture and with more representation, I’m very hopeful. And with Black Shirt Day, we thought it would be positive within the Black community, but what we ended up seeing was people from all over the world participating. First of all it spread right across Canada, and we had people from New Zealand and Germany participating – it was amazing. We were so proud of that fact. And people from so many different groups. We were contacted by people from the Asian community, the South Asian community, Jewish community asking how they could help, giving donations and showing solidarity. So, I’m very hopeful for people from all oppressed groups – I almost feel like it’s our second wave.
I have goosebumps feeling your sense of hope. I also really appreciate the way ARC is using education and information and galvanizing public support in a way that bridges, and in ways where I feel comfortable being shown my ignorance in a way that kind of makes it about us all while also not making it all about me. Does that make sense?
Exactly! And that’s why we chose anti-racism because we want to support all groups. It’s not just about the colour of skin, it comes down to colonial oppression which is important. It’s important at ARC that we are open to all groups and ethnicities. I grew up in a white family and know a lot of white people and I get it. It’s so easy to just attack somebody but I understand that people can love you and care about and also just not get it. So that’s where education comes in and the perspective that ARC is coming from. People need to learn things – ignorance doesn’t mean you’re evil or bad, it means there’s a lack of knowledge and we’re here to help fill that gap.
As grow, we need volunteers! If you’re a member of the BIPOC community and you want to help out or you’re an ally and you want to help out, please join ARC. Follow us, contact us – we’re open to volunteers in any capacity.
Thank you so much for the time and the education today, Kamika.
Thank you so much for reaching out and giving me an opportunity to talk about ARC.
“The British Columbia Black History Awareness Society (BCBHAS) celebrates the achievements of Black people in British Columbia by creating an awareness of the history of Blacks in B.C., stimulating interest in the contributions of persons of African ancestry to B.C. and Canada today, and celebrating historical and current achievements in the arts, education, government, sports, science etc.”
For information and tickets to a variety of online events this month, visit BCBHAS’s Events page.
To keep the learning alive throughout the year, check out their Learning Centre.
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