Library Archives

Acting Against Racism: Strategies for Moving Forward

Fight racism in BCWhen Meharoona Ghani was eight years old, living in small town BC, she was surrounded by Caucasian kids and taunted with racial slurs. This memory was brought forth again as she rode the 240 bus to Vancouver and passed the Trump tower during the US Presidential election. Seeing this sign, she could ‘feel’ that something had changed; she became afraid. Her fear spurned her into action.

“If I’m afraid,” she thought to herself, “how do others feel? What steps can I take? What’s in my control?”

Ghani started by forming talking circles amongst her colleagues, providing a safe space for people to share what was in their heart. Here, she found: a self-identified Chinese individual worried about her Iranian friends and clients – “this can happen to me next. We can be rounded up again;” seniors articulating that it feels like Nazi Germany again; Muslim women with hijabs, and without, pointing fingers – “it’s because of you people that this is happening.” The bottom line, explained Ghani, is fear; regardless of skin colour or identity.

As she was participating in these discussions, a white supremacist, accused of shooting up a Quebec City mosque, killed six and wounded 19. Swastikas and racial slurs were spray-painted around the North Shore. Racism was becoming bold.

Ghani became convinced that a larger conversation needed to take place. With support of NSIIP, she organized the ‘Acting Against Racism: Strategies for Moving Forward’ forum, held Thursday, September 14th at West Vancouver’s Kay Meek Centre. This event brought together five speakers from diverse backgrounds to address the current issues of racist, anti-immigrant and Islamophobic views. A whopping 480 people responded to this sold-out event.

Sunera Thobani, Associate Professor in the Department of Asian Studies and the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice at the University of British Columbia stated that racism works through dividing and conquering communities. Sobering statistics from Statistics Canada have shown an increase in hate crimes against Muslims by 60% with a majority of these directed towards women. Racism, she states, is embedded in institutional structure of our society. Our media, connected to larger political practices, plays a leading role in normalizing racial stereotypes, attitudes, and constructs of who Muslims are and what they do.

Josh Patterson, has seen a rise in this emboldenment of racist views in his role as Executive Director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA). He notes that white people are often surprised by these overt acts of racism but, he argues, this is because they don’t go through their days battling racism, subtle or not. Marcus Wong agrees. A fifth-generation Canadian, who fluently speaks both official languages, and sits on the boards of directors of the West Vancouver Police Department, the BC Association of Police Boards, the North Shore Multicultural Society, and the West Vancouver Track & Field Club, finds his ‘belonging’ in Canada continually questioned.

In order to fight racism, we first need to identify it. Handel Kashope Wright, Professor and Director of the Centre for Culture, Identity & Education, University of British Columbia, says that we tell ourselves, and the world, that Canada is a joyous, harmonious, multicultural society, however, it may not reflect the lived realities for people of colour.

Once identified, we need to respond appropriately. Shelina Neallani is a member of the Family, Civil and Child Protection Rosters with Mediate BC, is an accredited Family Law Mediator and Arbitrator with the Law Society of BC and a registered Social Worker with the BC College of Social Workers. She approaches racism from a conflict resolution approach. She finds that people who practice or rehearse what to say in the event that racism is encountered turn from reactor to responder. She offered direct responses to racism: “I find that comment disrespectful and it made me uncomfortable,” and indirect responses: “You’re not really telling a racist joke, are you?” The key, in all situations, is to feel safe enough to express yourself. If you find that you’re doing nothing, you need to ask yourself ‘why.’

We need to model reconciliation in our families first. Charlene Seward, a member of the Squamish Nation, and Community Engagement Manager for Reconciliation Canada, says that children only know what we teach them. If we’re teaching them hate and discrimination, they are going to pass this on to other children in our schools. “We are all one,” she says, “we share a common humanity.” This sentiment was echoed many times through the forum. We cannot do this work alone. We need to form coalitions, and alliances – working together to reduce racism’s power. Apathy is something we cannot afford. Think. Act. Be political.

Shideh Taleban: The story of a library champion

libraries in BC

Shideh Taleban moved to Canada in 2009, one week after graduating from the Master of Library and Information Study in Iran. Shortly after arrival, she discovered that her previous degree was not useful here as it was not American Library Association accredited. She had a road of challenges ahead of her to get into her chosen career.

While working towards her accreditation in Canada, Shideh discovered the Library Champions project through the North Shore Muliticultural Society. Looking for an opportunity to volunteer in her chosen field, and network with others, she jumped at the opportunity to get involved.

The Library Champions Project, funded by the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada,  was created by NewToBC to help new immigrants understand the settlement information and services libraries and other communities agencies provide and to share this information with other newcomers.

What did you do as a library champion?

Being involved with the library champion project was exactly what I needed when I first came here. As a passionate new librarian, I didn’t know anyone in this field here. I even didn’t know about diversity and amount of services available at public libraries. Also as a newcomer it was a great networking opportunity.

We had three training sessions. The first focused on communication skills, public speaking and cross-cultural communications. It was amazing to get to know people from different backgrounds, in similar situations as mine, and learn about their culture and how they approach things. The second session focused on a tour of the library and presentations from librarians about all different resources and services available in public libraries – especially resources and programs available for newcomers and job seekers. The third session focused on outreach plans and strategies – how we should practice being safe, how to not to cross cultural boundaries, etc. We each then reached out to our communities of newcomers and people around us. We educated them about what we learned as a library champion and gave them our business card. We would provide monthly reports, listing how many people we reached, in what location and which resources were most helpful.

During a summer course at UBC that year, I promoted public library services to university students. It was interesting to see how many of them did not know of the useful services libraries provide.

What was your most memorable moment during your time as a volunteer?

The overall experience was memorable. Being a library champion in any setting was so interesting – with my close friends or strangers on a bus, I was sharing my love of libraries. Feeling connected to the library and learning about all the resources and services was so rewarding. I was a librarian myself but I was hearing about the same feelings from other Library Champions. I remember I was so excited to tell other people about resources or services that I knew and how it could change their lives. Since we were targeting newcomers in our communities the most, they could learn how to use libraries to help them in the immigration transition. However, I was not limiting myself to immigrants or newcomers only! I remember as a newcomer being integrated with the rest of the society and having a message to conduct was remarkable. It increased my confidence and made my transition smoother. It gave me a sense of accomplishment to give back to the new society that I was trying to integrate with. Being connected to the library and surrounded by knowledgeable, kind and efficient librarians in the training session was so comforting and, in my opinion, it was an amazing volunteering opportunity designed for newcomers with mutual benefits. Library Champions and Librarians learned from each other a lot!

What surprised you most about libraries in BC?

Honestly everything about libraries in BC surprised me! In a good way, of course. We had great university libraries in Iran, but public libraries are nothing like here. The amount of free resources, services, programs, technologies, knowledge available in public libraries in BC is mind blowing. As a librarian who went back to school here and got her second Masters in Library and Information Studies, I still get amazed by how libraries in BC are evolving every day and how community oriented they are!

What is your favourite thing about libraries in BC?

The fact that everyone is treated the same. As well, the nonstop effort of librarians to identify and address the needs of their community is astonishing.

What do you wish you had known about prior to moving to Canada?

I wish I knew that I wouldn’t be able to use my Master’s degree here. Although my degree was acceptable by UBC, in real life, I could not be a librarian here until I went back to school to re-do my Library and Information Study degree. Having known this before I came here, I would have had more realistic expectations about starting my professional career or even going back to school earlier. I think lots of skilled immigrants come here and they realize that their degree is not recognizable here. It is frustrating and makes the transition even harder!

What steps did you have to take to become a librarian in BC?

Volunteering in the field was my first step. And it started with the Library Champions project. Then I became a member of British Columbia Library Association. They were offering a mentorship program, which you would be connected to a librarian who has been in this field for a while. I had an amazing mentor at Surrey Libraries who helped me a lot and I started to work as a shelver there! I was then promoted to work as a Circulation Services Assistant. I continued to volunteer with different organizations such as Vancouver Aquarium and Vancouver Coastal Health. Unfortunately, I realized that I had to fight with UBC to get a second MLIS (Master of Library and Information Studies Degree). My university in Iran was known to them, and they felt my degree too similar for a 2nd Master’s Degree program. My reality was different as all the job postings were requesting American Library Association degree. I eventually convinced UBC that I need to study here again in order to become a librarian. You can read more about my story and how I became a librarian in Canada, in this British Columbia Library Association article and this article in the North Shore News.