Racism is a problem that concerns everyone; not just the people it directly affects. That’s the ethos behind an online workshop designed to give people the tools to take action against oppression.
How to be an Ally is a free webinar taking place Oct. 27, hosted by the Social Planning Council of the North Okanagan, the Okanagan Regional Library and the Restorative Justice Society. The session is a first step for people who want to learn how to support those who experience racism in their communities.
“Talking about racism and hate is a challenging conversation, and I think we’re just starting to learn what that means and to unpack what it means to be an ally,” said Annette Sharkey, executive director of the Social Planning Council.
“What it takes to be an ally is curiosity, to be brave, to care, and to really be willing to look at ourselves, our actions and our privilege.”
The workshop will be led by a pair of well-accomplished facilitators. Laura Hockman is a member of the Gitxsan First Nation in Northern B.C. and executive director of Independent Living Vernon. Margaret Clark, an Okanagan-Irish woman, is the executive director of the North Okanagan Restorative Justice Society, a non-court alternative service to address the harms caused by acts of wrong-doing.
Sharkey said the webinar is open to anybody who agrees that racism is a problem but is unsure of how to get involved to make their community safer.
“We feel that there is an interest in the community to start talking about what it means to be an ally,” she said. “We want to be an anti-racist community, but we first need to talk about what that means.”
Discussions around racism are especially useful in small, predominantly white communities, says Sharkey, who is often asked whether racism exists in Vernon.
“Of course, in every community across Canada there is racism.”
Vernon saw evidence of that in late September and early October, when flyers with website addresses to white supremacist and anti-Semitic groups were scattered on the streets near a number of local schools.
“I think when something like that happens, your immediate response is ‘what can I do?’” Sharkey said. She added that the actions of parents and school staff were a “perfect example” of being an ally.
“They were immediately outraged by those flyers and did everything they could to collect them and get them out of the public space. That’s exactly what we need: for people to be engaged, to care and to follow up with action.”
The webinar takes place Oct. 27 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and will be followed by two online “talking circles” on Nov. 3 and Nov. 10 during the same hours.
Learning how to be an ally is an ongoing process, and so Sharkey says more webinar sessions will be announced in the future.
To register, visit the Okanagan Regional Library website.