While violent and overt racism south of the border captures international headlines, a research project in Manitoba is looking to expand the definition of racial discrimination and demonstrate how pervasive it is in the province.
Brandi Richardson, a Winnipeg mother, said her eyes were opened to the nature of racism during a 2016 incident where she became the target of racial harassment from a landlord while dating a Black man and pregnant with a biracial child.
"(She) made me feel a little less of a person," Richardson said Wednesday. "I believe (racism) probably happens every day in Manitoba."
In a case taken to the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, Richardson alleged her landlord, Wilma Galbraith, repeatedly levelled racial slurs and other derogatory language towards her due to her partner and child’s identity.
"It definitely opened my eyes. I didn’t realize how often people said racial slurs or let something slip that doesn’t sound right," Richardson said.
"Racism is everywhere, all the time. A lot of people don’t see it until it’s in your face."
Michelle Lam, a researcher at Brandon University, hopes to open more eyes and spark some conversation about racism in Manitoba by collecting real-life stories of discrimination and transforming them into social media videos aimed at education and awareness.
"Sometimes we think about racism as a racial slur or a violent act — which it is — but through this project, I’m hoping to expand some of that definition," Lam said.
"Sometimes it’s unconscious. Sometimes there’s good intentions behind it, but over time impacts can still be very negative and add up to have real detrimental effects."
Lam, who has biracial children, said she was inspired to pursue this project because of the experiences they have faced, which she has witnessed.
The project, which kicked off last week, will start by collecting anonymous, first-hand stories of racism experienced or witnessed by Manitobans. Common threads from those experiences will be converted into scripts for shareable videos.
Lam said she aims to "collect some of these stories in a safe, anonymous way, listen and learn and see what is happening in Manitoba."
The scripts, Lam said, will be tested with diverse focus groups as part of the research project before being professionally shot and shared through targeted marketing campaigns.
The project will also analyze online comments that arise in response to the project, which have already been "hostile" as part of the research element, Lam said.
"We want to explore the experiences but we also want to explore the perceptions around racism and the environment that exists. I think what we see online is the environment that’s in your face," she added.
The format, she said, was inspired by a similar model developed in Australia, which produced several viral videos and prompted accessible conversations about challenging racism.
The research has been supported by a $100,000 Canada Heritage grant as part of an anti-racism action plan grant initiated last fall.
Adult Manitobans who have experienced or witnessed racism in any context over the past year are invited to share their stories through the anonymous survey until Jan. 31.
The survey had garnered about 250 responses as of Wednesday, Lam said, but she hopes to reach 1,000 by the end of the month.
Julia-Simone Rutgers is a general-assignment reporter.