How a Toronto photographer is sharing stories of everyday anti-Black racism in Canada

A Toronto portrait photographer is hoping images and stories help inform people about what everyday racism looks like. Aous Poules started Project Echo after George Floyd was killed by police.

Project Echo is a collection of portraits of people sharing experiences of racism, discrimination.

Portrait photographer Aous Poules launched Project Echo back in the summer to amplify and elevate voices 'in Canada's underrepresented Black community.' (Submitted by Aous Poules)

Going to the dentist as a child and feeling humiliated by staff touching your hair, being picked last for sports teams despite being athletic or being told by guidance counsellors in high school that your goals were "too ambitious."

Those are just are a few of the experiences shared by participants in Project Echo, a visual series launched by Aous Poules, a Toronto portrait photographer.

Poules, who is originally from Iraq and immigrated to Canada with his family when he was six, says he launched Project Echo after the death of George Floyd last May at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis. Floyd's killing unleashed a torrent of anger and frustration as people took to the streets to protest against racial injustice in the U.S., Canada and around the world.

"I wanted to do something to contribute to the conversation and do it in a way where I can use my skills as a photographer but also give people a voice and a platform to share experiences and stories and memories they have of racism they've experienced," he said.  

The project aims to "amplify and elevate voices in Canada's underrepresented Black community ... with a goal to highlight the very real ways Black individuals face prejudice, discrimination and vicious racism in day-to-day life," according to a statement on Poules's website.

Diondra Filicetti says when she was asked to participate she immediately said yes.

"Because with everything that's happened this year I think it's important to share stories," she said. "I think people learn most and relate most to stories."

Diondra Filicetti says she jumped at the opportunity to be a part of Project Echo. (Submitted by Aous Poules)

Her contribution to the project describes the things she experienced growing up in two different cultures.

A passage from it reads:

"All of a sudden by the time I turned 15, I was constantly getting asked if I was mixed and what countries my parents were from and which parent was the Black parent. All of sudden, people would be sticking their fingers in my hair telling me how my hair is so beautiful and exotic. All of a sudden, people began commenting on my name saying that my first name is a sassy Black girl name but my last name is so Italian."

Filicetti says she doesn't usually share these experiences, but she wanted to take the opportunity for people to see how certain actions have affected her throughout her life.

"Being a biracial person and growing up that way has unique challenges and unique experiences to it that I think are also important when we're talking about the stories of people of colour," she said.

Filicetti hopes that if others read these experiences they will realize that they're common — even if it's not happening within someone's immediate circle.

"At the end of the day, you're battling ignorance and I think sharing a story and putting a face to it is very powerful in helping people understand what experiences are like for other people."

Photographer says project is ongoing

Poules says he wanted to demonstrate through the project that racism isn't always overt.

"It's not always direct and its not always as bold as the things you hear about in the news," he said.

"Racism can come through micro-aggressions; just the way someone looks at you, talks to you, and I think that's often overlooked when people talk about racism and I wanted to show that it's a spectrum."

Poules is a Toronto-based portrait photographer. He says he aims to capture his subject's images and story in an authentic way. (Submitted by Aous Poules)

Poules says the people he featured come from all walks of life and while the anti-racism protests and hashtags have died down, he plans to keep this project open.

"It's easy to turn the other way when it's not trending, it's not in your face. But at the very least, we need to keep having some awareness around it."

It's a sentiment echoed by Filicetti.

"People are still experiencing these things and if we don't constantly bring light to it and bring focus to it day-to-day, then these things will be swept under the rug again once that hashtag is no longer trending."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.