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Where We Live Now: A response to the return of ‘It’s ok to be white posters’ at the University of Manitoba

January 16, 2020 — 

As reported in the November 5 edition of the Manitoban, for the second year in a row the slogan ‘It’s ok to be white’ was displayed in various locations on the Fort Garry campus, appearing in poster form, with at least 11 faculty members receiving an email with the same message.

Without the responsible and prudent reporting of the Manitoban, this re-occurrence may have been left unreported, depriving us of the opportunity to respond to these expressions of white hostility and intimidation.

Winnipeg is a diverse city, comprising the largest Indigenous population per capita in the country. Winnipeg is also a city marked by inequity and inequality.

Just as the university is comprised of members of the broader community the university is also accountable to the broader community.

Dr. Delia Douglas, Anti-Racism Practice Lead, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences.

This is a safety issue. This is also a moral issue.

We all share responsibility for creating a safe learning and working environment, one that is free from racism – silence locates the burden of responsibility on those who are the targets. This is another form of racialized hostility and is how racism persists, dehumanizes and divides.

It has been said before – and it bears repeating – silence is violence.

Silence signals acceptance.

The status quo of silence is no longer tolerable.

Silence does not address the existence of racism rather it offers racism a place of escape – ‘hiding in plain sight’ as it were.

In addressing the posters, it should not be forgotten that in August of 2019 the tepee that stands behind the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation was vandalized.

Dr. Marcia Anderson, Vice Dean Indigenous, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences.

The fact of Canada’s multiracial and multiethnic population is frequently invoked in public discourses to suggest that Canada has somehow transcended the significance of race, as well as racial inequities and racism. Consequently these have contributed to the reproduction of a national racial logic which has made it virtually impossible for many Canadians to recognize the continuation of racism and racialized hostility in Canada.

We live in a present created by dispossession, enslavement, and ongoing settler colonialism.

The message that ‘it’s ok to be white’ has its origins in white nationalism and communicates white racial solidarity. The assertion that white folks are under siege flies in the face of our racial reality by denying ongoing settler colonialism. The insistence on the stature and worth of whiteness is a deflection, a performative denial of white racial power; this message of white innocence advances a myth that protects and sustains racial hierarchies. Racism is not simply expressed through explicit acts of racial hatred, it is also expressed through denial, minimization, in conjunction with systemic and accumulative actions.

It is apparent that we have much more work to create a campus where we all feel like we truly belong. A proactive response to challenging racism ensures our commitment to a set of ideals, which include accountability, equity and inclusion, integrity, safety, and respect.

The University of Manitoba will not avoid or diminish the harmful and hurtful impact of such callous acts of overt racist commentary on campus and will continue to endeavor to encourage our city, province and beyond to educate those that believe this is acceptable.

The University has taken a number of steps to advance its commitment to Indigenous Engagement and address anti-Indigenous racism and promote reconciliation.

In 2011 Dr. Barnard made a formal Statement of Apology and Reconciliation to Indian Residential School Survivors in front of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, the first leader of a post-secondary institution to do so.

In 2015 the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation opened at the University of Manitoba, hosting the largest collection of archival materials on the Residential School system in Canada.

In 2019 Dr. Brian Postl, Dean, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, and Dr. Marcia Anderson, Executive Director, Indigenous Academic Affairs, Ongomiizwin – Indigenous Institute of Health and Healing appointed Dr. Delia Douglas as Anti-Racism Practice Lead in the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences and Ongomiizwin Indigenous Institute of Health and Healing. In December 2019 Dr. Marcia Anderson was promoted to the position of Vice-Dean Indigenous for the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences.

In January 2020 Dr. Catherine Cook took up her new position as the first ever Vice-President (Indigenous).

The President’s Office has invited Dr. Robin Di’Angelo to discuss her book, White Fragility, on February 6, 2020.

Dr. Di’Angelo’s visit is another occasion to engage in meaningful conversations about race, racism and whiteness. Let’s take this opportunity to and address barriers to racial justice and strive to cultivate relationships founded on the principles of integrity, dignity, and respect.

The struggle continues…

This article was written by:

Delia Douglas, Ph. D., Anti-Racism Practice Lead, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences

Dr. Marcia Anderson, Vice Dean Indigenous, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences

Ry Moran, Director, The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, University of Manitoba.

Note: On January 6, 2020, an it’s ok to be white poster was put up on the front of the Human Ecology Building.

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