Nfld. & Labrador

Time for government to get involved, says co-chair of Anti-Racism Coalition NL

Over the past few years, long-held conversations about race and racism have moved into the mainstream, with many across the province now becoming aware of the prevalence of racism in society.

'We need to provide educators with the tools,' says Sobia Shaikh

Sobia Shaikh, co-chair of the Anti-Racism Coalition of Newfoundland and Labrador, hopes racism can be tackled head on in the province with support and leadership from the government. (CBC)

A group devoted to promoting a culture of anti-racism in Newfoundland and Labrador says it has seen a significant increase in complaints about racist incidents and are calling on the province to take the lead in challenging racism.

Sobia Shaikh, co-chair of Anti-Racism Coalition NL, said the group saw a pronounced spike in calls and messages from the public around May of last year, as the Black Lives Matter movement began growing.

"There were people who were very interested in talking about anti-racism, anti-Black racism, Islamophobia and anti-Indigenous racism," said Shaikh, speaking with Ramraajh Sharvendiran on The St. John's Morning Show

"There was a lot of movement into discussions about racism around the province that we hadn't seen. It was very unprecedented."

Racism still prevalent in schools, group says

While that public engagement has tapered off as online resources become more available, Shaikh said the coalition is seeing a new group of people reaching out: parents of school-age children who are facing racially motivated bullying.

"We've been receiving individual parents calling us, reaching out to ARC-NL and saying, 'Hey, listen, my child is being, we think, racially harassed," Shaikh said, noting that while those exact terms weren't being used, "they're hearing slurs."

Many individuals who had previously contacted the coalition were looking to further their own learning in regard to racism, including teachers seeking resources for their classrooms. However, the direct questions that they're now receiving from concerned parents are not what the coalition is set up for, Shaikh said.

Shaikh says incidents of racism are still being seen in schools. (wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock)

"The Anti-Racism Coalition was [meant] more an educational and advocacy group," said Shaikh, noting that their early goals were to facilitate conversations about race in the province.

"It was surprising to us that we're getting more and more calls about specific instances."

According to Shaikh, there is a lack of support in the province to deal with the issue. While multicultural focuses have been adopted and implemented, individual examples of racism have yet to be addressed.

Shaikh said that leaves her group to make connections and provide resources.

"What we are doing, basically, is providing more information: linking up with people who can support them on an individual basis, and also reaching out with some strategies to levy at the school."

But the Anti-Racism Coalition is advocating for a more encompassing approach, with all levels of the education system working to combat racism.

"Anti-racism in the school system happens at all levels," said Shaikh.

"It has to happen at the level of students and parents, at the level of educators, and at the level of the board."

ARC-NL calls on government to be more involved

With a provincial election underway, Shaikh said it's the government's responsibility to finally act on promises and take a leadership role in fighting racism, particularly in public education.

People gather on the steps of the Confederation Building on June 6 to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. (Marie Isabelle Rochon/Radio-Canada)

"What we're seeing is conversations about a task force, but none of the folks in Newfoundland and Labrador who actually talk about racism and anti-racism have been consulted," said Shaikh. "And that's really problematic."

Shaikh said the provincial department needs to promote anti-racism education, inclusion and reconciliation.

"We need to provide educators with the tools, the education, and training that could help them provide better supports for conversations about racism."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Conor McCann is a freelance writer and journalist from St. John's.

With files from The St. John's Morning Show