There was a strong racist, anti-immigration sentiment in the South Okanagan in the 1920s, reflected in these headlines from the era. While it may not be as overt today, racism is still prevalent in the community, says South Okanagan Immigrant and Community Services executive director Cherry Fernandez. (Photo Courtesy Penticton Museum)

There was a strong racist, anti-immigration sentiment in the South Okanagan in the 1920s, reflected in these headlines from the era. While it may not be as overt today, racism is still prevalent in the community, says South Okanagan Immigrant and Community Services executive director Cherry Fernandez. (Photo Courtesy Penticton Museum)

Survey hopes to shine light on racism in the South Okanagan

Racism ‘very much a reality’ in the Okanagan, says immigrant services executive director

A South Okanagan immigrant services group has launched a survey to get a better grasp of the impacts of racism across the region.

South Okanagan Immigrant and Community Services (SOICS) executive director Cherry Fernandez said that racism in the South Okanagan is much more prevalent than many people would like to admit.

Many of her clients at SOICS have shared firsthand experience with racism and discrimination. The survey was launched to provide context and statistics to the vast amount of anecdotal evidence Fernandez has gathered.

“There’s this idea that this is a problem only with our neighbours down south, but it’s very much a problem here in the Okanagan,” Fernandez said.

READ MORE: Confederate flag seen along anti-racism parade route in Summerland

Since the survey was launched Jan. 6, over 250 people have responded. Out of all of the respondents who had either witnessed or experienced racism, 76 per cent said they did not report it. The majority of those who did not report racism also said they didn’t know how or where to report it.

“There’s still that misconception that this doesn’t happen here in the Okanagan,” Fernandez said. “It’s very much a reality here in the Okanagan but it’s so under-reported. Unfortunately we live in a society where we are very data driven, because it’s so unreported we have no way to really gauge it.”

Fernandez hopes the survey serves as a starting point to gauge racism in the South Okanagan.

SOICS serves immigrants in the South Okanagan Similkameen. The organization helps new-Canadians with integration services like finding a job, filling out government forms, getting a driver’s license, applying for medical, English language courses and more. On average they have 1,500 new clients each year.

Fernandez said racism frequently affects her clients at SOICS but many people who were born in Canada also face racism regularly.

“Dismissing the issue as something that doesn’t happen here… it’s dangerous because that really allows racism to show up,” she said.

She described one incident where a woman with a “foreign” sounding name was not contacted after applying for a family doctor, but her husband — who has an English name — promptly received a call back. “It’s that unconscious bias that creates unequal access on a daily basis,” Fernandez said.

READ MORE: Joyce Echaquan’s death highlights systemic racism in health care, experts say

Confronting unconscious bias starts with a willingness to listen, Fernandez explained. “We now live in a society where it is more offensive to be called a racist than the actual racist behaviour itself,” she said. “Being willing to listen and hear how something has hurt or harmed someone else is a big step in learning.

“I’ve been told many times, ‘Cherry you’re going to make people feel uncomfortable.’ My response to that is that we should be uncomfortable, we should never feel comfortable with racism. So get uncomfortable because that’s where you’re going to learn.”

SOICS hopes the survey helps to shed light on the racism issue they know to be prevalent in the South Okanagan. Moving forward, they plan on using the results in educational events and meetings with leaders from all the communities in the South Okanagan. Hundreds showed up to Gyro Park in Penticton for an end racism rally last June.

READ MORE: Hundreds gather in Penticton to end racism

They are also working to build an online racism reporting system through the Resilience B.C. Anti-Racism Network, which would offer victims support services.

The survey can be taken by those who have witnessed racism, as well as those who have experienced racism.

The survey is open until the end of March and can be found here.

READ MORE: Former Kelowna Rocket speaks out about racism in Canadian hockey, society



jesse.day@pentictonwesternnews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

racism

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kelowna General Hospital (File photo)
Second death reported in Kelowna General Hospital COVID-19 outbreak

A total of seven cases have been identified at the hospital: six patients and one staff

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
36 new cases of COVID-19, one death in Interior Health

The number of active cases in the region is at 366

The KLO Community Policing Office is located within the Regional District of Central Okanagan building on KLO Road. (File)
Kelowna council to consider closure of KLO Community Policing Office

Since May 2020, the office has been effectively closed, with duties absorbed into the Kelowna Police Services Building

A Kelowna Chamber of Commerce event in 2017. (Contributed)
Kelowna Chamber announces new board of directors

Directors will be ratified at the annual general meeting on March 23

Mussel inspection sit set up at B.C.-Alberta border. (Contributed)
Okanagan Basin Water Board calls for stronger invasive mussel protection

Letter sets out six recommendations for environment minister George Heyman to consider

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Canada’s hockey dad had battled Parkinson’s disease and other health issues

Riverside Centre includes a theatre hosting local plays, visiting musicians and dance troupes. It is also used for community events such as public meetings and fundraisers. Photo Town of Princeton
COVID-19 numbers provided by Interior Health show Salmon Arm and Revelstoke in the 200-plus range from January 2020 to February 2021 while Vernon, with a larger population, tallied more than 600 over the 14 months. (BC Centre for Disease Control map)
14 months of COVID-19 data show Kamloops cases doubling Vernon’s

Jan. 1, 2020 to Feb. 28, 2021: 605 cases reported for Vernon, 243 for Salmon Arm, 1,246 for Kamloops

Penticton Fire Department pulled a kayaker from Okanagan Lake on Wednesday after he had fallen out of his boat and called 911. The man was taken to the hospital for treatment. (Western News - File)
Kayaker rescued from Okanagan Lake after falling in and calling 911

The Penticton Fire Department’s Marine Rescue pulled him out suffering from severe cold

The Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce’s general manager Dan Proulx, left, hosted a virtual Official Opposition town hall meeting with Shadow Cabinet Minister Small Business Pat Kelly, right, and North Okanagan-Shuswap MP Mel Arnold March 3, 2021. (Screenshot)
Tourism key to business recovery in North Okanagan-Shuswap: MP

Easing travel restrictions, limiting taxation and debt management critical to COVID-19 economic recovery

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Thomas Kruger-Allen is expected to be sentenced Friday, March 5, 2021.
Sentencing expected Friday for 2019 Penticton beach attack

Defense wants 12 to 18 months for beach assaults that left one of his victims with brain injury

Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 4, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals, NDP sing in harmony on local election reforms

Bill regulates paid canvassers, allows people in condo buildings

Most Read