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Racism in province’s schools just drives immigrants to ‘bigger world,’ researcher says

By Vanessa Blanch, CBC News |

Researcher Manju Varma will be celebrating Black History Month but believes that if New Brunswick really wants to become more diverse, schools need a strategy to deal with racism.

Varma, who works in employment equity and diversity with the federal government, has been examining youth and racism in the province for more than 20 years.

The sad part is that not much has changed since her first research project in 1995, she said.

“The people who tell me [racism] doesn’t exist are the people that don’t have non-white children. I have yet to talk to a parent who has non-white children in the school system who says, ‘No, my kids haven’t experienced anything.”

Varma said the children she’s spoken to as part of her research often report name-calling at school.

“All of those kids said it wasn’t the threat of violence, it was the name-calling that really got them because it’s constant,” she said. “It can happen anywhere. It’s quick and for most of my participants it happened as soon as they started school.”

Varma said many schools want to sweep incidents of racism “under the carpet,” and people are embarrassed when there is a racial incident at their school.

“But what you should be embarrassed about is that you don’t deal with it,” she said.

‘It attacks who you are’
Varma remembers the story of a little girl in Grade 1 who suddenly refused to go to school. When the girl’s mother realized her daughter was being called names by a classmate, the mother went to the principal, who was already aware of the incidents.

“She said, “Well why didn’t you ever call me and let me know,’ and [the principal] said, ‘Well why would we call you?’ And she said, ‘Well if my child got punched in the nose would you call me?’ and the principal said, ‘Of course.’ She said, ‘Well, my child got hurt — her soul got hurt.'”

Varma said schools generally include racism in the same category as bullying, but racism is different.

“Racist name-calling is special, it attacks who you are.”

Varma wants schools in New Brunswick to bring in a zero tolerance policy that would address all racist incidents.

Black History Month important to youth

Marcus Marcial and Fidel Franco, the creators of a podcast called Black In the Maritimes, have experienced racism in Moncton and often discuss it on their show.

They agree that Black History Month is an opportunity for everyone, but especially young people who are visible minorities, to learn more about their history and their identity.

“It’s needed,” said Marcial. “I grew up here … like you only know as a black person that slavery happened and then you were freed. That’s it.”

Franco, who has two-year-old twins, said that growing up he had few role models who were black, and he hopes it will be different for his sons.

“This is the thing about being black. We come from so many places … you can teach the Canadians what happened in Canada but maybe you can dig deeper into that. Kids have the ability that we didn’t have.”

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