British Columbia

Path to ending systemic racism requires rethinking everything, say advocates

Policing, education, and deeply rooted white privilege are all areas that need change.

Policing, education and deeply rooted white privilege are all areas that need change

Indira Prahst, instructor of sociology and anthropology with a specialization in racism and ethnic relations at Langara College, is hopeful that change is afoot. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The path to ending systemic racism won't be simple or clear, but it's necessary and will require leaders to do the hard work of re-evaluating every policy, everywhere, say advocates.

"We have had the conversations but we have not brought about the structural changes that are needed," says Indira Prahst. 

After teaching and talking about racism for more than two decades, the Langara College instructor says seeing "the outrage" from the public has made her hopeful a shift is finally about to come.

For policy makers, Prahst says, it begins by looking at the blueprints guiding every institution, from police to the education system.

"If we want to bring about the change, it's not just the police officer," say says. "It is the rules and regulations that they're guided by — who makes them and who are they reflective of."

WATCH | Indira Prahst explains why the language around racial diversity needs to change:

Why the word 'tolerance' shouldn't be used when talking about racism

3 years ago
Duration 0:52
Langara instructor Indira Prahst explains why terms such as equality and respect should be used instead of tolerance when discussing racial minorities and diversity.

She and others like Jennifer Reddy, a social justice advocate and Vancouver School Board trustee, say a holistic approach is required if we're serious about dismantling systemic racism.

Previous efforts by government and organizations that have tried "piecemeal approaches" like offering one-day workshops on unconscious bias aren't enough, she says.

"People are dying because of anti-Indigenous and anti-Black racism," says Reddy. "It has to be embedded in interrogating our everyday decision-making systems."

She says we need to question who benefits, who is left out, and who certain policies were informed by.

Vancouver School Board trustee Jennifer Reddy says more needs to be done to support Black, Indigenous and all people of colour to ascend to positions of power. (Shawn Foss/CBC)

Representation in positions of power

From Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart to the prime minister, leaders at all three levels of government have acknowledged the reality of systemic racism and have said they are taking steps to address it.

In an interview with CBC News, Citizens' Services Minister Anne Kang says because systemic racism "didn't just happen overnight," it will take time to tackle and require effort from everyone.

"I want to really emphasize that government alone can't eliminate racism, but ... all of us working together we can do this," says Kang.

However, critics say more input from diverse communities is needed, considering the lack of representation among those who wield influence.

"There's a lot of non-racialized folks in those positions of power deciding what the next step should be," points out Reddy.

She says more support needs to be provided so people of colour have equal opportunities to rise to those positions and break glass ceilings.

Once they're there, Prahst says protections need to be in place so people of colour aren't fearful to voice concerns about structural racism.

Role of white privilege

Until there is a more equitable distribution of power, leaders like Katie Rosenberger says they need to examine their white privilege.

"It really is the groundwork that we need to do as white folks, as leaders of organizations, before we can then start to meet those other changes," says Rosenberger, CEO of the Affiliation of Multicultural Societies and Service Agencies of B.C.

Katie Rosenberger, CEO of the Affiliation of Multicultural Societies and Service Agencies of B.C., says white people like her need to acknowledge the role white privilege plays in systemic racism. (Shawn Foss/CBC)

Her organization and the province's Multicultural Advisory Council of B.C. have been pushing for the collection of race-based data.

She says that's a clear place where governments can begin to fill in information gaps and hold organizations accountable to equality initiatives.

"We need to see where people are being included, where people are not being included and the impact of the racism that is systemically built within our institutions," she says.

Without that data, she says we're getting "colour blind policy" when some ethnic groups are disproportionately disadvantaged.

Kang says the province sees the urgency for this data.

She says Premier John Horgan is "on board" with the idea but she could not give an exact timeline on the initiative other than it will be "very very soon."

Focus on education

Silvia Mangue Alene of the B.C. Black History Awareness Society wants the province to make the history of ethnic minorities mandatory learning in schools.

Ideally, she says Black teachers should be teaching those histories to share their lived experience.

And if there aren't enough Black teachers, she says, instructors could be brought in for those lessons.

Silvia Mangue Alene, president of the B.C. Black History Awareness Society, wants to see Black history made mandatory in all schools across the province. (Derek Ford/Kulea Love)

Prahst and Reddy are in agreement, adding policies need to be in place so that prospective Black and Indigenous teachers are supported throughout their education so they can fill those roles.

Mangue Alene says the Ministry of Education has already been in touch with her organization, leaving her optimistic.

In addition to changes to education, she's hoping to see the province formally recognize the UN International Decade for People of African Descent — something the federal government has already done.

It recognizes the legacy of slavery against the Black community and colonial history.

"When this is recognized then we can proceed on creating policies or look at those policies that are racist," she says.


Lien Yeung


Lien Yeung is a host and reporter with CBC Vancouver News. She has covered stories locally and nationally from Halifax to Victoria on television, radio and online. Find her on Instagram or Twitter @LienYeung or via email at