Letters to my city: Harpo Mander

By:
Harpo Mander (@itsharpo)

Dear Councillor Hundial,

A couple of years ago, I went out for dinner with a group of friends at a restaurant in Surrey. There were tons of us, both men and women, seated at a long table in the middle of the restaurant. We were celebrating a friend’s birthday, so naturally we were loud and boisterous. 

We were happy -- until we were suddenly interrupted. 

Two uniformed men approached our table and asked to see all of our IDs. We were asked to name ourselves, state why we were there, and give a rundown on how we were all related to one another. A few of my friends began to argue with the uniformed officers, demanding answers for why, in this large restaurant, our table was the only one approached by them even though there were other patrons in the restaurant, and on what grounds? The officers shrugged us off, stating that they were only doing their job -- which is to “keep the public safe”. 

Fast forward a few months, and I’ve just dropped my teenage brother off at the movie theatre. He’s also celebrating a friend’s birthday and he’s meeting up with the boys. I drop him off after waving ‘hi’ to the group of boys congregated outside of the door. Shortly after I leave the premises, I get a phone call from my brother. 

“Come pick me up” he says, “they didn’t let us in.” 

I was confused. “What do you mean they didn’t let you in?” 

It wasn’t until he was back in the comfort of my car that my thirteen year old brother told me that the movie theatre manager rushed over to the group of boys dressed in black hoodies and black sweatpants and said they had to leave. The manager argued that the boys had been disruptive and were being a nuisance to other movie-goers, all before they could even purchase their movie tickets. 

When I asked him on what grounds the movie theatre manager had essentially kicked them out, my brother answered “it’s to keep the public safe”. 

Councillor Hundial, if there’s anything that you got right in your recent comments on systemic racism in Surrey, it’s that there’s a lot of “room for improvement”. What you did not get right -- by a long shot-- is by saying that systemic racism is not a problem in Surrey. 

I would know, because I left the comfort of my beloved city and moved across the country to pursue an education at a graduate level to equip my toolbox to dismantle the exact systemic racism that you say does not exist -- and I’m not the only one. 

There’s a plethora of BIPOC millennials living right here in your city who are so fed up with the systemic racism brewing in Surrey, that they’re paying thousands and thousands of dollars in tuition, just to equip them with the right tools to try and dismantle the systemic racism that you say does not exist. There’s a plethora of BIPOC millennials living right here in your city who are experiencing the systemic racism you say isn’t a problem every single day. 

Systemic racism exists in the city every time one of my teenage brothers falls through the cracks of a system that doesn’t understand him, and is shot and killed in a cross-fire. It also exists in the city every time one of my teenage brothers is shot and killed point-blank. And it most definitely exists every time gangs are labelled a ‘South Asian issue’ and not a Canadian issue, a British Columbian issue, a second-generation Canadian immigrant issue, a hyphenated identity issue. 

Systemic racism also exists when a Black teacher working at a Surrey high school is repeatedly harassed, bullied, and confronted with anti-Black racism. It exists not only when no action is taken in that case, but especially when everybody but the teacher who was repeatedly harassed, bullied, and confronted with anti-Black racism forgets it even happened.

Systemic racism is most definitely a problem in Surrey when your definition of diversity doesn’t account for the isolation that the Black community living in Surrey feels. It’s definitely a problem when Black youth themselves are saying they do not feel understood and welcomed here. 

Systemic racism absolutely exists when your definition of diversity is seeing a lot of coloured faces, but ignoring the nuances of each face and colour. It absolutely exists when the city thinks it’s done its job of “diversifying”, simply because the grocery stores now have aisle titles in Gurmukhi, but still won’t publicly acknowledge how white its boards and committees are. 

And it most definitely exists every time I say the words “Councillor Jack Hundial” to someone who doesn’t know you, and they assume I’m talking about a white dude. 

It upsets me that you would say systemic racism is not a problem in Surrey, when there are multiple voices telling you that it is. And while you say the city that you serve embraces diversity, I’d like to see you embrace this: systemic racism is well and alive in your city and insteading of standing on the sidelines, blow the whistle and make the call.

Sincerely,

Harpo 

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