Reprinted from the "Systemic Racism" issue of Visions Journal, 2021, 16 (3), p. 4
I am thrilled to have the opportunity to not only serve as Visions’ new Editor, but to have the first issue under my leadership focus on systemic racism, a topic dear to my heart.
I grew up in a Sikh household. The men and boys in my family keep their hair long and wear pagri, or turbans. My childhood experiences were marked by my family’s ethnic difference. I have witnessed and experienced a wide variety of racist acts, from microaggressions (everyday acts of racism such as assuming I cannot speak English) to more serious acts such as being excluded from job opportunities and verbal and physical assaults. As an adult, I began to experience different forms of racism when I entered an interracial partnership. Yet, despite these encounters, I know what I have experienced pales in comparison to anti-Indigenous and anti-Black racism in BC.
Racism is systemic because it affects all of the systems that exist in our society—health care, education, the judicial system, and more. Systemic racism means that the very institutions that claim to protect our well-being are deeply embedded with racist thinking, whether the system’s actors realize it or not. We know that racism affects mental health in a kind of feedback loop: racism can contribute to mental health problems, and, when one seeks help for mental health concerns, they are often faced with further racism from the health care system. In the most extreme cases, this can lead to the disproportionate deaths of BIPOC* during police wellness checks. The recent Black Lives Matter protests and the anti-Indigenous “alcohol guessing game” in some BC hospitals show that racism is far from over.
Our guest editors for this issue, Meenakshi Mannoe, Betty Mulat, and Sharon Thira, discuss what systemic racism is, how it affects mental health care in Canada, and how racism is embedded in policing. The other contributors in this issue have shared their own experiences with and reflections on racism in their lives and in their work.
This issue of Visions may bring up many emotions for you. It may remind you of racism you’ve experienced in your own life or witnessed in the life of a loved one. It may prompt you to question if you hold any racial biases. I encourage you to be gentle with yourself as you read the stories and perspectives within. Knowledge is power, and the more we know, the more we can work towards a more just society for all.
*Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour
About the author
Kamal Arora is Visions Editor and Leader of Health Promotion and Education at the Canadian Mental Health Association’s BC Division