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Nearly three-quarters of non-white residents report experiencing racism in the Sea to Sky

Results of Whistler Multicultural Society anti-racism survey will inform new protocols around reporting racism locally
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Institutional racism, such as race-based discrimination in the workplace, is one of several forms of racism Sea to Sky locals have reportedly experienced within the corridor.

Newly released results of a 2022 corridor-wide anti-racism survey by the Whistler Multicultural Society (WMS) are shedding light on just how pervasive racism and discrimination are, even in the most idealistic of resort communities.

Statistics show 11.3 per cent of all respondents reported feeling unsafe in the community where they live because of their race, while 39 per cent of respondents said they have experienced racism while living in the Sea to Sky.

The survey defined racism as “unfair or harmful assumptions, beliefs, actions, behaviours, policies and/or practices that target[ed] and/or disadvantage[d]” respondents based on their race, ethnicity or status as a person of colour.

Vast majority of racialized survey participants reported experiencing racism

Seventy-two per cent of non-white respondents said they had been subject to racism, bias and discrimination in the Sea to Sky, while every respondent who identified as Black and 94 per cent of Indigenous participants answered “yes” when asked if they had experienced racism. 

Though 78 per cent of respondents who said they have not personally experienced racism would be willing to report an incident, just 43 per cent of people who have said they would be willing to do so.

More than 61 per cent of survey respondents stated their racial identify as white, with 10.6 per cent self-identifying as Indigenous; 9.4 per cent as a person of colour; 8.9 per cent as “other,” 7.8 per cent as mixed race and 1.7 per cent as Black or of African descent.

Most survey respondents (43.5 per cent) lived in in Whistler, with Squamish residents accounting for 37 per cent. The remainder of respondents said they lived in Pemberton, Mount Currie, or D’Arcy.

Of those individuals that reported experiencing racism within the corridor, more than half said they had encountered “multiple forms” in most social and civic environments, including verbal racism, such as comments or micro-aggressions; institutional racism that manifests in discrimination at school or in the workplace; non-verbal racism such as racist gestures or avoidance; virtual racism, such as social media posts or racially-based online bullying; and physical racism, such as assault or spitting.

From the society’s perspective, those results fall along the lines of what stakeholders expected to see, said Kira Grachev, a community outreach coordinator with the WMS.

“I feel that maybe certain ... segments of Whistler will be surprised at these results, but I think when it comes to people who work at WMS, this is expected,” she said.Just because it’s a small town doesn’t mean there isn’t racism, and just because it’s less overt, doesn’t mean that it’s not happening. It happens in very insidious ways as well.”

The anonymous study on racism, bias, and discrimination was funded through WMS’ partnership with the Resilience B.C. Anti-Racism Network and conducted throughout the first few months of 2022. The 10-question online survey was disseminated through social media channels, emails to local businesses and community members, and through QR codes that appeared on printed posters. The survey garnered 180 responses. Results were made public on Monday, Jan. 23.

“We all interpret data through our own experiences,” said Grachev. “That’s kind of the … middle goal with getting this out there: we want the community to interpret the data, not just someone like me.”

‘I’m sick of the lack of diversity in Whistler’

The survey’s final question offered participants the opportunity to share their thoughts outside of the multiple-choice format. A handful of those responses read as follows:

  • “Police are best called on for anti-hate crimes, but it is all citizenry who need to be educated/react to acts of racism, which can happen on a very subtle level. So I’m sort of assuming you’re referencing overt, hateful acts of racism for this survey, but it’s more complex than that.”“Whistler Secondary is in crisis. Reported incidents of student-to-student racism are not communicated to teachers... If they are reported to admin, that’s where it ends. There is a fear that the pervasive racism and violent incidents related to race will ‘hit the headlines’ so everything is done to protect the identities of all youth involved and in so doing the staff isn’t informed, the issues are not addressed and the staff end up looking complicit.”
     
  • “Being Indigenous, trying to live a good life, there are so many hurdles of underlying and obvious racism. If that’s something I have to deal with on an ongoing basis, so should those who inflict racism—not have racism cast in them, but to learn to change their behaviour. Society has to change, too.”

  • “I’m sick of the lack of diversity in Whistler. There are no black or brown teachers or [principals]. We just need to start hiring and centring more people of colour. I hope this survey wasn’t just a bunch of white people with good intentions that created it, for instance. That’s what the science says is what works, not diversity training and anti-racism training, although I think those are a good start.”
     
  • “As an educated Indigenous woman, I have found myself in a position of always having to teach, to share my trauma and the pain of my people to educate and support white people in their learning. It’s time they took more and better steps to do this learning themselves. The answer is not to get more Indigenous people to train as (diversity, equity and inclusion) experts; the answer is to get white institutions and corporations to make meaningful changes to break down the systems of oppression.”
     
  • “I believe there is a lot of performative action being taken and not as much actual systemic reform. Lots of white people in this town do not believe that racism exists and it should be talked about way more and ACTED on in the way of systemic reform.”
     
  • “Crimes should be reported to the police and then they should be involved but a lot of this involves changing the culture. In some cases, involving police may be counterproductive or too much. For example, something happens at an elementary school during recess break—[that] may be best handled by discussing why it was wrong at the school.”
  • “Systemic racism needs to be resolved ASAP. It teaches us every day that different people have different rights. And Whistler is not immune to systemic racism, in fact, I think it’s prevalent and widely accepted.”

WMS seeks feedback as it looks to create guiding protocol for those who have experienced racism

The ultimate aim of the study, explained Grachev, was to identify and challenge racism within the community, with the related goal of informing of new set of guidelines that could support both individuals and service providers in the wake of racist incidents.

“Another thing that we noticed in the survey results was that a lot of people said they didn’t really know what to do with their experiences—like they had them, they experienced [racism], and then they weren’t sure whether they should tell the police. There is no kind of formal protocol,” she said.

“Again, this is preliminary because we’re going to go where the community decides—and it’s not a homogenous group either—but one of the ideas right now is to kind of develop a protocol … for supporting people when they experience racism in Whistler.”

A protocol “would be a good starting point” in tackling racism on a local level, Grachev continued, so “people feel that they have a safe space where they’re supported to go to, and that there’s going to be some kind of outcome—that it’s not like their experiences or their traumas are just being held in suspense, that they are actually able to see some sort of change and have this kind of agency when they’re experiencing something that’s obviously degrading.”

In the coming weeks, WMS plans to host a series of small, informal group discussions with respondents and community stakeholders about survey results and what this protocol could look like. Those interested in participating can email info@wmsociety.ca for more information.

“Because we’re such a small group, we’re trying to focus right now just on Whistler, with the intention of eventually [expanding] into different areas,” Grachev added. “Also, because the demographic of Whistler and Pemberton and Squamish are all so different … and we want to do it in a very delicate and respectful way, I think we’re trying to not bite off more than we can chew, and just see where the community takes us with this.

“If [the focus groups are] successful … and people feel that they’re being supported, then we’ll probably go into Squamish and Pemberton as well.”