Letters to my city: Neesha Hothi

By:
Neesha Hothi (@neeshahothi)

Dear City Councillors,

As representatives of the people and this city, it is just as important that you not sit idly by. You have been given a voice, use it. To turn around and say that you do not control the Mayor, or that there are procedures in place is just a cop-out. We deserve better than that.

The facts you already know: the City of Surrey is a richly diverse place and home to people of many different backgrounds. Not surprisingly, according to the 2016 Census, Surrey is almost 60% BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour). It also stated that Surrey is home to the largest Black population within British Columbia, so why won’t the City of Surrey recognize that institutionalized anti-Black racism exists?

The City of Surrey cannot stand on the sidelines, blind the reality of racism in our City. It is time to ask questions - difficult questions, hard and uncomfortable questions, but necessary questions.

Q: Where are there Black and Indigenous voices in the City of Surrey’s leadership staff? How many Black and Indigenous people are on the City of Surrey’s leadership and executive teams? Or have ever been?

Chaired by Councillor Guerra, the Public Engagement Task Force shared in their December 2019 minutes: “Outreach to seldom-heard individuals has been a slow process. The consultants have created priority short-lists of community organizations that provide services to black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC), newcomers to Canada, youth, people on low incomes, diverse families and diverse abilities and are reaching out to these groups.”

Q: Councillor Guerra, to this I ask you, why is this a slow process? Are they names, numbers, emails, Instagram handles any less available to you than their White counterparts? Where is this short-list and how far along are we with that outreach 6 months later? Did you speak to any Black community organizations on that short list? Did they believe not responding to #BLM was a good thing?

Q: Councillor Locke, do you have any Black or Indigenous representation on your Social Equity and Diversity Committee? I’ve gone through the minutes and there doesn’t appear to be any Councillor Guerra, same question and same comment.

Q: Councillor Guerra, was your Committee’s advice to the Mayor’s Office to simply ignore #BLM and the anti-racism movement happening across the globe right now? Councillor Locke, same question.

Q: Why do we have diversity committee’s if there is no follow-through or they don’t have a voice at a time like this?

Councillor Hundial, you have publicly stated that you don’t see racism as a systemic problem in the city.

Q: Councillor Hundial, if there is no systemic racism in Surrey, why did the City of Surrey’s partners at Surrey Urban Indigenous Leadership Committee (SUILC), a coalition that advocates for B.C.’s largest urban Indigenous community, release a report sharing that Action is needed against everyday and systemic anti-Indigenous racism in Surrey? Pulled from their summary, they share: “Surrey Indigenous residents “are repeatedly perceived as ‘knowing nothing’, ‘on welfare’, ‘lazy’, ‘violent’, and ‘not good mothers’.” Structural racism in Surrey means “families are ‘afraid’ to access services”, individuals hide their identity when seeking healthcare, and workers are discriminated against by employers.”

Why did Brenda Lucki, the RCMP Commissioner, admit that systemic racism is part of every institution including the RCMP? Why have organizations, institutions and businesses around the world admitted that not only does systemic racism exist but it is time to do something about it?

Institutions across North America have risen to the occasion to respond to the obvious need to recognize and act against systemic racism within our organizational policies and procedures, at every level. Where the City of Surrey stands silent.

Q: Why, Councillor Hundial, do you believe that Surrey is somehow exempt?

Please understand, none of these questions are being raised to say that Surrey is a bad or racist city or that City of Surrey staff are bad or racist people. They are being asked to demonstrate that issues of racism and racial oppression exist here, as they do everywhere, and we need to acknowledge them to do better.

For the City of Surrey, to simply not acknowledge 1) the largest civil rights movement of our generation, 2) that the discussion around anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism is a necessary civic discourse, or 3) the thousands of asks via social media, petitions, emails and phone calls coming from your citizens to comment on this topic, — can only be called willful ignorance.

Councillors, please respond to the asks of your citizens. Stand up against anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism. Tell us your stance. Show us your action plan.

Sincerely,

Neesha Hothi

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