Sidney Vlieg speaks out about racism targeting blacks, all people of colour and Indigenous people and how it has affected his daughter, his family and the community. He would like denial from people in Salmon Arm who are white to end and more education in the community to take place to counter hurtful attitudes. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)

Sidney Vlieg speaks out about racism targeting blacks, all people of colour and Indigenous people and how it has affected his daughter, his family and the community. He would like denial from people in Salmon Arm who are white to end and more education in the community to take place to counter hurtful attitudes. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)

Father: Education about racism essential in Salmon Arm, not denial

Although minority of people in the community espouse racism, such beliefs must be challenged

Part One: Working to counter racism in Salmon Arm, Shuswap

“Black lives matter. We can’t breathe. Don’t kill us.”

These were the words that a 10-year-old girl in Salmon Arm drew in a picture after hearing about a racist comment a friend had made.

Sidney Vlieg, her father, said while overt racism comes from a minority in the community, he has heard a significant amount of denial that racism exists, particularly when his daughter, who is black, is not with him. She was adopted from Ethiopia and he is of white European descent.

“How can you (know), you’re a white person in a 90 per cent white town. It’s minimizing those that have experienced it.”

Denial is more of a passive bias, not necessarily actively racist, he said.

“But if you don’t admit there’s a problem, you can never solve anything.”

In the overt instance that led to such anxiety for his daughter, he said a friend of hers was bothered by the comment so told his daughter and her teacher when school reconvened.

“It is great it was brought forward.”

But Vlieg said he didn’t know about it until his daughter told him when he picked her up from school that day. She was terrified.

He doesn’t think it was initially taken as seriously as it should have been, but he said the school subsequently responded really well.

“You have to stop everything and address it with everybody.”

Read more: ‘Am I racist?’ sign in Shuswap part of B.C. campaign to combat racism

Read more: CSRD adopts policy against racism within organization

More recently, he was pleased with how an incident was dealt with which involved someone trying to get kids to say a derogatory word. A written and verbal apology provided to his daughter recognized the effect on her and her wider world.

With emotion, Vlieg expressed how much he had appreciated the children who spoke up and refused to do what was requested.

Another instance of racism was the painting of harsh graffiti on a city underpass.

Vlieg has also seen pickup trucks flying Confederate flags in town and a person wearing a Confederate T-shirt and hat. He mentioned it on a Facebook page and was “destroyed” by commenters defending it, he said. “It was sickening.”

“All of these things affect us.”

But he notes his daughter is still young and isn’t out in the world on her own yet.

“What about the 15-year-old boy, what about immigrant black families? All they’re trying to do is survive and fit in, they’re not going to say anything. And it’s not just black, it’s First Nations.”

He said it’s not uncommon for First Nations people his family knows to be followed around by store staff in Salmon Arm while shopping.

“Make no mistake, this is not an Indigenous problem, not a black problem, not a person of colour problem – it’s a white problem.”

Vlieg added that there’s nothing wrong with white people, with being white.

“We’re not blaming all the white people for what happened 300 years ago. What we can do is do something positive today, be responsible for what we do today.”

Read more: B.C. government looking to create anti-racism training for high-level officials

Read more: Syrian refugee responds to racism in Canada

People of Asian descent in B.C. and across Canada have reported racism directed at them, particularly during the pandemic, but those interviewed in Salmon Arm said they haven’t.

Melissa Brett is one.

“I kind of thought, being a nurse at the hospital, with dark eyes, half-Japanese and slightly Asian eyes, I had thought about it. Would that be something my patients could be more concerned about?”

She said she can’t imagine how upsetting it would be to be exposed to that when risking your own life, providing care.

“Regardless of an origin of a virus, I think a lot of it stems in fear and anger, potentially trying to direct that at a source to alleviate some of the frustration people are experiencing.”

She said she feels Salmon Arm has been a very respectful place.

“Of course we’ve seen things like the mask rally…, but for the most part I feel people respect each other.”

Her family moved to the community from Steveston, where there are more Asian people.

“When I first moved here four years ago, I felt a bit like I stood out a little bit, even though I’m only half Japanese – but the dark hair. I have definitely seen a stronger presence of Asian people here in Salmon Arm more recently.”

Brett noted that during the Second World War, her father’s siblings and parents were among those placed in internment camps, and not together.

She said she appreciates it when people with different foods and cultures can come together and celebrate, as it creates a new perspective for children.

Read more: ‘They’re real cowards:’ Vandals fail to deter Shuswap woman from speaking out against racism

Read more: Enderby anti-racism walk deemed a success by organizer

Vlieg, who moved to Salmon Arm about three years ago, said he’s sure that by far most people in the community don’t subscribe to racist thoughts.

“But it’s the responsibility of white families to tell their children about our racist past…,” he emphasized.

“Educate your kids and actually listen to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) people when they speak about their experiences. Believe them and listen to them…

“Listen to the black and Indigenous artists, what they have to say in their songs and their art.”

Asked if he was prepared for racism when he adopted, Vlieg answered somberly.

“Nothing prepares you for when you’re putting your nine- or 10-year-old to bed and she says, ‘when is this racism going to stop?’”


marthawickett@saobserver.net
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

racismSalmon Arm

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Paddlewheel Park off Okanagan Landing Road, Vernon. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
Vernon council looks to address parking shortage at Paddlewheel Park

City staff are looking into short, medium and long-term overflow parking options

(GVMA)
WATCH: A Royal procession through Vernon, 1959

Prince Philip, who died April 9 at 99, visited Vernon on a tour of Canada in 1959

The West Kelowna Warriors defeated the Vernon Vipers 4-2 in BCHL Pod Season action Friday, April 9, 2021. (Lisa Mazurek Photography)
West Kelowna Warriors end Vernon Vipers’ perfect start to Pod Season

The Warriors beat the Vipers 4-2 Friday afternoon

Plans are still up in the air for the 2021 Funtastic Slo-Pitch Society’s annual softball tournament and music festival after the 2020 event was cancelled by COVID-19. (Morning Star - file photo)
Raffle launched to keep Funtastic funds flowing to local sports groups

The raffle to fill the Funtastic Sports Society’s 2021 grant coffers runs until July 3

Highway 97A in Armstrong was closed in both directions Monday afternoon, just after 4 p.m., due to a serious accident at Rosedale Avenue. (Bob Dunbar photo)
No merge lanes needed on Armstrong’s Highway 97 access points: ministry

Transportation Ministry reviews accident reports, slope stability with city staff

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.[CDC]
More COVID-19 exposures reported at schools in Kelowna

Interior Health added additional schools and dates to their list of exposures

A vehicle that was driven through the wall of a parkade at Uptown Shopping Centre and into the nearby Walmart on April 9 was removed through another hole in the wall later that night. (Photo via Saanich Police Department and Ayush Kakkar)
Vehicle launched into B.C. Walmart removed following rescue of trapped workers

Crews cut new hole in parkade wall to remove vehicle safely

Four members with Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans were out at Cultus Lake on March 28 and 29 hauling trash out of the waters. (Henry Wang)
PHOTOS: Out-of-town divers remove 100s of pounds of trash from Cultus Lake

Members of Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans hauled out 470 pounds of trash over two days

As of Saturday, April 10, people born in 1961 are the latest to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. (Black Press files)
B.C. residents age 60+ can now register to get their COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccine registration is now open to people born in 1961 or earlier

A new saline gargle test, made in B.C., will soon be replacing COVID-19 nasal swab tests for kids. (PHSA screenshot)
Take-home COVID-19 tests available for some B.C. students who fall ill at school

BC Children’s Hospital plans to provide 1,200 kits to Vancouver district schools this April

Sun Peaks is tracking rising COVID-19 cases. (Kamloops This Week Photo)
Sun Peaks sees spike in COVID-19 cases at end of ski season

On April 9, there were 15 positive cases confirmed.

Ruming Jiang and his dog Chiu Chiu are doing fine following a brush with hypothermia that saw several people work together to get them out of the Fraser River near Langley’s Derby Reach Park on March 25, 2021 (Special to the Advance Times)
Man finds men who rescued him from drowning in B.C.’s Fraser River

A grateful Ruming Jiang says he will thank them again, this time in person when the pandemic ends

Most Read