Whenever I think about diversity and inclusion in Kamloops, my mind first goes to our amazing history of embracing diversity. I think about community leaders like John Fremont Smith, Len Marchand, and Peter Wing. I think about my Dad driving us to elementary school and little Arjun (I was once) almost always noting there was street we passed called “Singh Street”. I think about this community largely very much embraced my immigrant parents and their children.
I know, however, my thinking needs to try to engage with the whole picture. And there is definitely racism and discrimination in our community. There is systemic racism in some of our most powerful institutions. I’ve lived these experiences somewhat but I know many many people who have experienced racism and discrimination much more that I. The recent global spotlight on racism, after the tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, has brought a lot of strong important emotions to the centre of public conversations - anger and joy, fear and hope, desires to fight and desires to collaborate.
In times like these, I seek to converse with good people who are involved, concerned, and who can seek positive outcomes. As a community representative, I feel a responsibility to try to be of service to a more inclusive community. I also think we need to move thoughtfully and empathetically as we decide how we move forward. There are very dark bitter places one can inhabit with these conversations and we need to instead find places of empowerment, hope, and community. Finding the most positive spaces can take time and a lot of energy. And there will be stumbles along the way.
Here are some the things I suggest we, as a community, explore doing:
Engage and educate each other: I don’t see a lot of success in the call out culture on an individual level. Yes, we must let people know when we feel they are being racist and / or discriminatory. This may stop the behaviour. But I am not sure it changes the views. This take fostering understanding and relations between different people with different backgrounds. This takes being empathetic to each other. If I say to someone “you are an awful racist”, I am not sure they will immediately agree and change. Their response seems more likely to be “no I am definitely not” and then the walls get built higher against any progress. Can we be empathetic to those who hold racist or discriminatory views? Where would we draw the line here? To me, these are important and interesting questions. I would potentially propose here facilitating public and private conversations between people of different backgrounds to build goodwill and understanding.
City council, city staff, the RCMP, and the Fire service should learn more about diversity, inclusion, and racism: City council has taken Indigenous Awareness training and regularly meets with T’kemlups Te Secwepemc colleagues and friends. I think it would be good to broaden this training to better understand the further diversity of the citizens we serve. This is more for me about being more aware of unconscious racism and discrimination and of systemic bias in practices and processes. And also, it makes it much less hospitable for any overt and conscious discrimination to occur. This training should be mandatory.
City hall should continue to build a diverse and inclusive workforce: From time to time, I field concerns that the city workforce does not represent the diversity of Kamloops. I am confident that there is no overt discrimination in city hiring practices and have worked with many people from diverse backgrounds all over city operations. The city does not have hiring quotas and I support an open hiring practice. I’d like to know more about efforts the city can make to outreach to communities that might have some barriers in easily accessing job opportunities. I think we need to ensure all citizens understand how city hiring practices are conducted. And I’d like to know how we are looking at unconscious bias and systemic racism and what we will do to eliminate these if they exist. And we need to be open to good faith feedback on how we can be more inclusive in hiring.
Remain open to ways to do better: This is tough and it will take time. But it has potential to be transformational. I think its so important to stay open minded to changes and not to get complacent with the first or second thing we undertake.