City anti-racism series stepping stone to building community: Chambers
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/03/2022 (196 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
As the first Black person elected to Winnipeg city council, Markus Chambers says he felt welcomed to the role but does recall, at times, being judged by the colour of his skin.
That includes once speaking at a local gathering and receiving a “compliment” in which the speaker stated: “You speak very well for a person of colour.”
“I was kind of taken aback. It’s a back-handed compliment, so to speak,” said Chambers.
While he stressed many community members have been quite positive about his election, including some recent encouragement he run for mayor this fall, the St Norbert-Seine River councillor said such incidents underline a continuing need to raise awareness about diversity and inclusion.
“We are in a better place (now than before), but there’s still room for improvement.”
Since his election in 2018, Chambers has become a member of the human rights committee of council and has personally championed efforts to help the City of Winnipeg attract an equitable workforce that better reflects the community it serves.
Chambers has advocated to remove barriers to employment, arguing increasing the diversity of staff would help ensure all community members are reflected within their civic government.
His comments on race and politics come as the city offers a series of presentations aimed to help Winnipeggers understand, identify and eliminate all forms of racism. Chambers said he hopes those discussions, which are set to continue throughout this week, will increase awareness about racism and how Winnipeggers can best address it.
“I think it’s an important topic and… sometimes, we have to feel uncomfortable about these conversations and (let them) move us past our comfort zones. Because, if we’re continually comfortable… we won’t change,” he said.
The councillor said the presentations intend to help Winnipeggers from different backgrounds understand the culture and traditions of others.
“I’ve always said that we fear what we don’t know. If we can share a bit about our cultures and our heritage and bring awareness, then (others won’t) necessarily fear (our differences) anymore.”
The councillor said the discussion may also spark new recommendations to council from the human rights committee, which helped city staff host the events.
During Tuesday’s presentation, “Friendly Manitoba: Experiences from the Muslim Community,” Idris Elbakri revealed a recent survey of Muslim community members found many examples of prejudice in Manitoba.
Elbakri, director-at-large for the Manitoba Islamic Association, said the feedback included one report a teacher questioned and harassed two Grade 6 girls who were wearing hijabs.
“He asked her and her friend what would happen if he pulled their hijabs off. He proceeded to harass them during the day, tugging on the hijabs… He also pulled (one girl’s) hair as he walked by her desk,” said Elbakri.
Another woman reported being told she would not be hired because she wears a hijab, he added.
“We heard from people experiencing physical assault, verbal assault, (being) threatened by moving vehicles… and children suffering from rampant bullying in schools because of their Muslim identities.”
Elbakri said the information is now being analyzed for a report, which is expected to be released in April. He said the experiences highlight a pattern of Islamophobia, which has left some Winnipeggers to fear being attacked.
“We heard from people experiencing physical assault, verbal assault, (being) threatened by moving vehicles… and children suffering from rampant bullying in schools because of their Muslim identities.” – Idris Elbakri
He believes education, including the city’s anti-racism events, should help foster cultural awareness. He suggested schools add racism and Islamophobia to their curriculum.
On a more personal level, Elbakri said Winnipeggers must avoid assumptions based on person’s religion or decision to wear religious garments. He said some girls who wear hijabs complained some educators assumed they needed extra help learning English.
Elbakri challenged Winnipeggers to also find safe ways to “interrupt and defend” those they witness being harassed.
Chambers said such talks are an important step to help inspire Winnipeggers come together as a community.
“Just to have these discussions, it can build on where we are now and where we want to be as a city.”
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.