Racism in province's schools just drives immigrants to 'bigger world,' researcher says

If New Brunswick wants to become more diverse, schools need to introduce a strategy to deal with racism, researcher Manju Varma believes.

If children don't feel welcome in province striving for diversity, their families won't want to stay

Manju Varma, seen here with her son, has been researching the issue of youth and racism for more than two decades. She believes schools need a strategy to deal with racism. (Submitted by Manju Varma)

Researcher Manju Varma will be celebrating Black History Month but believes that if New Brunswick really wants to become more diverse, schools need a strategy to deal with racism.

I have yet to talk to a parent who has non-white children in the school system who says, 'No, my kids haven't experienced anything.- Manju   Varma

Varma, who works in employment equity and diversity with the federal government, has been examining youth and racism in the province for more than 20 years.

The sad part is that not much has changed since her first research project in 1995, she said.

"The people who tell me [racism] doesn't exist are the people that don't have non-white children. I have yet to talk to a parent who has non-white children in the school system who says, 'No, my kids haven't experienced anything."

Varma said the children she's spoken to as part of her research often report name-calling at school.

"All of those kids said it wasn't the threat of violence, it was the name-calling that really got them because it's constant," she said. "It can happen anywhere. It's quick and for most of my participants it happened as soon as they started school."

Varma said many schools want to sweep incidents of racism "under the carpet," and people are embarrassed when there is a racial incident at their school.

"But what you should be embarrassed about is that you don't deal with it," she said.

'It attacks who you are'

Varma remembers the story of a little girl in Grade 1 who suddenly refused to go to school. When the girl's mother realized her daughter was being called names by a classmate, the mother went to the principal, who was already aware of the incidents.

"She said, "Well why didn't you ever call me and let me know,' and [the principal] said, 'Well why would we call you?' And she said, 'Well if my child got punched in the nose would you call me?' and the principal said, 'Of course.' She said, 'Well, my child got hurt — her soul got hurt.'"

Manju Varma has been researching the issue of youth and racism for nearly 30 years. She says the city's strategy fails to address racism experienced by children. 9:59

Varma said schools generally include racism in the same category as bullying, but racism is different.

"Racist name-calling is special, it attacks who you are."

Varma wants schools in New Brunswick to bring in a zero tolerance policy that would address all racist incidents.

Black History Month important to youth 

Marcus Marcial and Fidel Franco, the creators of a podcast called Black In the Maritimes, have experienced racism in Moncton and often discuss it on their show.

Moncton's Marcus Marcial (left) and Fidel Franco have a regular podcast called 'Black in the Maritimes,' where they share their experiences as black men living in New Brunswick. (CBC)

They agree that Black History Month is an opportunity for everyone, but especially young people who are visible minorities, to learn more about their history and their identity.

"It's needed," said Marcial. "I grew up here … like you only know as a black person that slavery happened and then you were freed. That's it."

Franco, who has two-year-old twins, said that growing up he had few role models who were black, and he hopes it will be different for his sons.

"This is the thing about being black. We come from so many places … you can teach the Canadians what happened in Canada but maybe you can dig deeper into that. Kids have the ability that we didn't have."

Fidel Franco and Marcus Marcial, creators of the Black in the Maritimes podcast say bringing success stories from Canada's black community to light is important as we mark the beginning of Black History Month. 17:10

An event in Moncton on Saturday called Afro Cultures from Here, is being held at the Moncton Lions Club from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. and is open to everyone.

"It will celebrate the rich traditions and history of the peoples of African descent who have chosen to make Moncton their home," said organizer Paryse Suddith.

Alfred Bessawa and Paryse Suddith are organizing an event in Moncton on Saturday called 'Afro Cultures From Here' to celebrate Black History Month. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

Immigrants won't stay if kids unwelcome

Varma said if New Brunswick hopes to grow and increase its population by welcoming more immigrants, it is crucial their children feel welcome.

It's sad, because I love  Moncton  — I want to see it become more diverse but for my own kids I'm just like, 'There's a bigger world out there and maybe you'll find a place that treats you for who you are.'- Manju   Varma

She said in her research she found newcomers responded to racism very differently from people in visible minorities who grew up in Canada.

"With immigrant children, they experience racism but their way of reacting to it is, 'I'm just here for a little while and I'm going to leave. Moncton's not diverse, New Brunswick's not diverse, I just have to put up with it.' And that's the message they get from their parents."

Varma said people come to Canada because they want a better life for their children.

"If you come to a place and your children still are not feeling like they fit in, then what are your options? If their family is not happy, they're not going to stay."

Varma admits that both of her children have experienced racist name-calling at school, and she has taken the same approach as many newcomers, telling them they probably won't stay in New Brunswick.

"It's sad, because I love Moncton — I want to see it become more diverse. But for my own kids I'm just like, 'There's a bigger world out there and maybe you'll find a place that treats you for who you are.'"