Letters to my city: 5X Press

By:
Rumneek Johal (@rumandwoke)

To the City of Surrey.

For those of us who are truly proud to call this place home; who have grown up and created or found community here, and come to love this city, it’s people, and it’s potential -- it is safe to say that it is quite a disappointment to hear radio silence from the city when asked to take action on systemic racism.

To say that systemic racism doesn’t exist in Surrey is a way to discredit the lived experiences of the people who live here, and to hide behind empty words of diversity and inclusion without taking any tangible action by committing to equity training, or to diversifying leadership positions in the city, or committing funding to Black and Indigenous organizations here in our home town.

In a city as diverse as Surrey, to deny that systemic racism exists is a blatant misunderstanding of how this type of racism operates.

Systemic racism is defined as a form of racism that is embedded into the normal practice within a society or an organization. It’s very function is to be normalized, to the point where on the surface, one could even refute its existence.

Local politics and politicians govern things that directly impact the quality of life of their residents, and systemic racism and discrimination no doubt play a role in access to housing, employment, health care, education, presence of policing, and access to political power, which if we’re being frank, is consolidated in the hands of of leaders that do not proportionately reflect the population or it’s interests.

Municipal government is in the position to change the material living conditions of Black, Indigenous and people of colour in this city -- people who face racism and discrimination in multiple levels here within the city’s jurisdiction.

Yet if the organizing institution in our city is denying the existence of systemic racism, what does this tell the Black, Indigenous and people of colour who have faced marginalization, discrimination or racism in various parts of the city?

Racism does not have to be overt to be acknowledged and condemned. It permeates institutions including our very own city hall in ways that marginalize Black and Indigenous people in our city, in overt and implicit ways.

Creating diversity committees without tangible action, funding, or transparency about the number of Black, Indigenous, and people of colour working for the city, feels like empty lip service, and in a city we live in and love, it simply isn’t enough.

What exactly is the purpose of these committees if not to speak out and take action on racism that exists in our city? What good is a committee if our highest local government officials are evading accountability and not speaking out themselves?

The city may not be ready to engage in this conversation, but it is needed now more than ever.

We are now taking submissions for open letters on this very topic, including but not limited to experiences of racism in Surrey, or more broadly essays on the existence of racism in Surrey and why the city needs to stand up.

As Editor of 5XPress, I am hoping to include more Black and Indigenous voices in this call for action, also recognizing the emotional labour that is disproportionately placed on these populations to recall their racial trauma in hopes for change.

Here at 5X Festival, we want to hear and amplify your stories and lived experiences as members of this community, and show the city that we love, that we expect and deserve more.

So far, a petition aimed at the city has received over 5,000 signatures, and 8 artists have pulled out from Surrey’s Canada Day celebrations as a result.

Join us in asking that #SurreyStandUp to address and do the necessary work to dismantle racism in our city.

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