Let's Talk About Racial Discrimination in Waterloo Region

The United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination took place on March 21 and the Kitchener Public Library made sure there was an informative discussion about it. 

The library continued their 85 Queen series by hosting a panel of experts on racial discrimination in Waterloo Region. The panelists took part in a discussion about the history of racism and what is necessary to make a change in the world today.

 Photo: Peter Swart

Photo: Peter Swart

Maedith Radlein, a retired elementary school principal and the former chair of the committee which created the first equity policy for the Waterloo Region District School Board, acted as the moderator for the discussion. She began by saying there is a large gap between the privileged and the disadvantaged.

“This is not acceptable,” She said. “We need to change the way we do things and break down barriers to advance racial equity.”

Equity was a major topic discussed between the panelists, along with the effects that white privilege can play in establishing equity in today’s society.

Deepa Ahluwalia started the discussion by explaining that there is a difference between equity and diversity.

“Diversity is a state of being, we have diversity,” she said. “What we need to be talking about and thinking about is how do we bring equity into that diversity.”

 Photo: Peter Swart

Photo: Peter Swart

She went on to emphasize that white privilege does in fact exist but that it can actually be used to create equity.

“Through love and kindness, we need to show people how they can use that privilege to do good," she said. 

The panel also tackled the topic of accountability for those in a position of power, as well as anyone in the community that continues to participate in racial discrimination.

“Accountability is still not there,” said Jean Becker, the Elder-in-residence at Wilfrid Laurier University who was on the panel as a representative for Indigenous people of Canada.

She believes that the accountability for racism in Canada is far too low and for obvious reason.

“Every time we say this is what’s happening, it’s invalidated,” she said.

Becker knows that Indigenous people are singled out but that they are not the only ones struggling with the same issue.

“Our experience of being marginalized, excluded and just being regarded as inferior throughout the entire colonial history of this country is the same experience that other people of colour had,” she said.

Idrisa Pandit is the director of studies in Islam at Renison University College and the founding director of Muslim Social Services Kitchener-Waterloo. She had a similar perspective on the topic of accountability.

“Whenever a racialized person experiences racism and expresses that’s what is happening to them, the first thing that happens is their experience is invalidated,” said Pandit.

 Photo: Peter Swart

Photo: Peter Swart

After that, according to Pandit, racism is often termed as interpersonal conflict.

Because people of colour often feel that their experiences are unimportant to authority figures they tend to keep it to themselves.

“We’ve been socialized to keep quiet,” said Ahluwalia.

“Unless and until people in power, people with privilege, people with authority take it on and take it head on and say ‘this is my problem,’ nothing is going to change,” said Pandit.

According to Waterloo Regional Police Chief Bryan Larkin, they have made it their problem and change is coming.

“We’re going to be doing implicit bias testing and it’s not voluntary, it’s going to be mandatory,” he said to a chorus of cheers from the audience.

With the Waterloo Region Police Service introducing implicit bias testing to their recruiting and training processes in the near future, as early as September 2018, the hope is that other similar organizations will follow suit.