On a rainy Sunday afternoon this past weekend the Fernie Awareness and Accountability Project hosted a “Listening Project to show our solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement”.
When I saw this advertised I speculated if people would attend especially after reading a couple of Facebook comments that stated the noble thought that “no one in Fernie cares about the colour of anyone’s skin or where they come from.”
But despite the weather a large number turned out to have the discussion on racism and discrimination in the Elk Valley.
Fernie was always mostly a white community, I was raised here from 1953 onwards and except for a Chinese family that owned a restaurant and who was very loved by everyone and a few Indigenous school mates I never encountered a Black person until I was well into my late twenties. I was in line up at the Super Value grocery store busy with my cart full of groceries and a couple of in tow when I noted the person ahead of me was clad in white dress trousers. Intrigued I lifted my eyes slowly from his shoes upwards to be startled by a handsome face of satiny ebony skin. I wanted to stare but had to turn away as I didn’t want to be rude. Cousins from California often came to Fernie to visit and I had heard many disparaging remarks over the years about the “coloureds”. I didn’t understand it then and on finally seeing someone “coloured” still couldn’t grasp the feelings they shared.
There are many in Fernie that don’t think this is or has been an issue here but, those are probably white individuals of British descent. As the daughter of Italian immigrants although not overtly facing discrimination there was the occasional put down for what we wore and what we ate, for instance if we had a provolone cheese sandwich other kids would plug their nose and call it stinky feet cheese, or make fun of espresso coffee.
One person that attended the gathering yesterday and who works with kids mentioned to me that Indigenous children face discrimination regularly as do LBGTQ members. Personally, over the years I have also seen prejudice against the elderly, the overweight, those not involved in sports and those that work at minimum wage jobs. It seems some younger people haven’t been taught that seniors have built this town and if they are enjoying what the town offers it’s due to the effort and contribution of the elders that came before them. For the most part our area is very accepting of all people but you only have to look at the history of the area to see at one time there was much prejudice towards Chinese, Japanese ,Italians, Ukrainian as well as immigrants from other European and Slavic countries.
For many in our community who have good jobs and high standing they may not notice any slight levelled towards them because more than likely they won’t experience negativity but even for those one day they will face prejudice as they age or lose a job that provides money and recognition.
I love this quote from event organizer Kerri Wall to the Free Press, “Anti-Black racism is a crisis in this country as well as many others, including the nation to the south. Recently released Toronto Public Health data shows that the COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately affecting racialized neighbourhoods in that city,” said Kerri Wall, event organizer, to the Free Press. “Similar data from British Columbia shows that Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) live shorter lives and suffer with higher incidence of chronic health conditions than their white neighbours. High school graduation rates across Canada are lower for BIPOC, incarceration rates are higher, and poverty rates are higher too. Is white silence equal to violence when it comes to this situation? We think so.”
I agree with what Kerri says, silence can be construed as being in agreement and equal to violence but here in Fernie and perhaps in other communities I don’t believe that whites consciously consider themselves better than others its just that it’s an eons subconscious given that they are. These individuals live their lives with the problems and stress that goes with it without even recognizing how privileged they are. For most it’s not until the privilege gets dented in some way that they wake up to the realization of reality. For some of us that have had any form of prejudice directed towards us, if light skinned we can hide our feelings but for those born with colour it’s a constant battle to feel accepted and respected and most of all safe no matter where they live.
Congratulations and deep gratitude to the organizers for wanting to have the dialogue and from the excellent turnout it shows people are interested in the issue and those are people who care. And that proves the majority of Fernie residents understand that although we may be different we are all equal in this life and must be treated so. It’s my hope that this is true and that Fernie residents and visitors will always feel Fernie to be a most welcoming and safe place to be.