A crowd of close to 100 people were in Swift Current’s Market Square on March 15 to take a stand against racism.
The recent event was an opportunity to commemorate the International Day For the Elimination of Discrimination and Racism, which was observed on March 21. Participants were asked to take a stand, recognize racism, and try to stop it to make a change.
Organized by the Southwest Newcomer Welcome Centre, the event also had a chance to reflect on the racism that newcomers to Swift Current still face.
Southwest Newcomer Welcome Centre Executive Director Icasiana de Gala said the event is not intended to paint a picture of Swift Current as a bad community, but rather to show how common racism remains.
“We are all here to reject those kind of statements, to recognize them and to tell people that that is not o.k.,” de Gala said. “For as long as there is a mother or a father who will teach their child, or a child who will hear from their parents something like that, then there’s no healing.”
This is the fourth year of hosting an anti racism event, and de Gala pointed to a growing turnout each year.
“I’ve heard so many stories of racism and discrimination, but I’ve also heard stores of triumph and success and happiness from our newcomers,” she said. “We want more of those stories than stories of racism and discrimination.”
A portion of the event’s program was to share actual stories from newcomers in the community.
Gordon McCall, the Artistic Director of The Lyric Theatre, coordinated a reading of the real life experiences of racism endured by newcomers to Swift Current.
“I think that all of us can be intimated at times from speaking out loud about racism. A most difficult thing is to witness racism, and say nothing about it. So I urge all of us to take the risk, have the courage, and shout out loud that that’s just not acceptable for our community,” McCall said during the rally.
Cypress Hills Grasslands MP David Anderson spoke on the fundamental right to be treated equally by others.
“We can celebrate and honour our differences, or pretend that there are none, and by doing that create even more,” Anderson said.
“I think it’s critical that we who are leaders, when we see racism occur, we need to do better than most responses that we see today.”
He added that society needs a more mature discussion of these issues, instead of just vindictively assigning labels to people and continuing the problem of disrespect and hatred.
“The solution to racism is not going to be found in more restrictive and totalitarian government responses. We’ve seen that picture far too many times. Racism will be eliminated when each one of us teach, and we embrace the ideals that we’ve held for centuries, and which need to be applied now more than ever. The notions of equality, equality of persons, equality of opportunity, equality of responsibility. It comes with a consistent application of our fundamental freedoms. And I would say a brave, and unwavering commitment to both the rule of law and to democracy.”
“It’s not easy. The human heart inclines to its own interest first. But by stressing equality, by broadening our own perspectives, by communicating graciously and seriously, by understanding that real freedom is found in a value system that sees all men and women as inherently equal, we will find ourselves a long way down that road to finally eliminating racism.”
Kiwanis Club of Swift Current President Ray Friesen noted that it is a commitment of Kiwanis to represent the diversity that is alive and well in the community and around the world.
“Racism is still far too prevalent in our world,” Friesen said before calling for a moment of silence in solidarity with the 50 victims who were shot by a white nationalist while attending mosque services in New Zealand.
“Racism still takes many forms in our society, and it is important that each of us recognizes those, is aware of those, and checks ourselves as to our attitudes.”
“We have people in our own community who unapologetically tell racist jokes and make racist comments, and see white supremacy, although they would never admit to it, as somehow acceptable.”
He said he often hears people say they are not racist, and then say things that are clearly racist. While many other practice racism without even being aware of it.
“Let’s all gather together. Lets remind ourselves personally when our friends and family, maybe intentionally, maybe unintentionally say things. Lets remember. Lets remind each other. And lets hold hands together and realize that we will have the kind of world we want when we can all hold hands together and work together.”
Councillor Ron Toles, representing the City of Swift Current, commended the crowd for their show of solidarity. He said the rally was clearly a gathering of people with far more in common that they have in differences.
“It isn’t inconvenient to talk about racism. It’s much easier to try and pretend it’s a problem of the past. The reality is that racism does exist in our community.”
“When we chose to ignore, that’s what allows it to perpetuate.”
He said it is vital that bystanders when racism is occurring must no longer remain silent.
“It’s time we say it’s not o.k. to stand by and watch as individuals are bullied and belittled because of the colour of their skin, or their country of origin, their gender identity, their religion, their sexuality or their first language.
“The truth is we can’t silently condemn racism, or any form of discrimination. As long as racists believe that through our silence they’re accepted by their peers, it’s sad to say that their actions will continue.”