'Am I racist?': Billboard poses question as rise in hate crimes prompts public awareness campaign

·2 min read

"If I want to forget our province's history, am I racist?

The question, written in white block lettering on a large black poster at a Metro Vancouver transit stop, is one of a few currently printed on billboards across the province as part of a public awareness campaign launched this month by B.C.'s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner (BCOHRC).

The first wave of the campaign rolled out Nov. 16 with signs that simply ask, "Am I racist?" and are part of the office's first major campaign following the 17-year absence of a provincial human rights commissioner.

On Nov. 30, the campaign was updated to ask more specific questions about what constitutes racism, such as "If I don't see skin colour, am I racist?" and "If I assume you're not from here, am I racist?"

BC’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner
BC’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner

The new signs also direct viewers to an interactive educational experience on BCOHRC's website designed to help British Columbians look deeper at the issue and their own biases.

B.C. Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender told CBC's The Early Edition Monday the campaign is a direct response to a rise in hate and racism in B.C. that she said was simmering before COVID-19 was linked to a spike in anti-Asian racism.

"This is a call to self interrogate," she said. "It's a call to look inside and identify the racist stereotypes that we all hold."

Vancouver police say they opened 29 investigations into hate crimes that occurred in the months of March, April and May, an almost eight-fold increase compared to the same period last year.

According to the BCOHRC, reported hate crimes in B.C. rose by over one third (34 per cent) between 2015 and 2018.

"Vancouver is particularly bad," said Govender, who also said B.C. appears to be worse when compared to elsewhere in the country.

She hopes the campaign will cause people to think about their own value systems, how they were raised, what stereotypes the believe and how they can educate themselves.

To begin that education process, people can visit bchumanrights.ca/BeAntiRacist for resources.

The campaign runs until Dec. 11.

To hear the complete interview with Kasari Govender on The Early Edition, tap the audio link below: