On the evening of Monday May 18, as the long weekend was winding down, a big black crew cab truck drove through the Lil’wat community, where four older Lil’wat friends were visiting with each other, outside, 8 feet apart from each other, carefully observing the social distancing recommendations.
The passers-by were driving by with their windows wide open, sun-tanned Caucasian men, and, on sighting the four indigenous elders, began coughing out their windows at them, and laughing.
This isn’t a joke. This isn’t funny. It’s a deeply disrespectful and racist thing to do.
Community members, like people all across BC, have been doing their best to protect each other, and seniors and elders and the vulnerable, and cooperate with the COVID Quarantine and keep COVID19 out of the community.
Everyone is in a heightened state of vulnerability, and anxiety. We’re being asked to stay alert and be vigilant for a danger we can’t even see – an invisible virus, that only manifests when people are coughing, and even then might not be the virus.
Living with this invisible threat has been exhausting. For everyone. And every time you leave your house, you’re opening yourself to the exposure and risk, which is really hard to quantify.
My husband has teased me for not leaving our property for 10 weeks. Like, I have not gotten into a vehicle. By staying at home, I’ve felt more at ease, more able to manage my own anxiety in the face of an invisible threat.
If someone drove up my driveway and coughed in my face, I would be fucking livid.
Never knowing what danger you’re going to be exposed to when you leave your house is new for me.
But, I suddenly realized, it’s probably not that new an experience if you’re First Nations. Racism exists as an invisible threat, constantly operating in the world, but you can never know when it might show up, who’s a carrier of this mind-virus, and when you might be dangerously exposed to it. You’re more vulnerable when you step outside your home or your like community. And staying at home should keep you safer from exposure.
It sucks that people experience racism and have to navigate that emotional toll and stress. It sucks that this experience is completely widespread for every First Nations person. And it sucks even more that people would be exposed to this in a place they should feel safe, in their own homes and yards and neighbourhood.
On Tuesday, at the daily briefing (that has been going on for 17 weeks! since the earliest days of the pandemic) held by Dr Bonnie Henry and Minister Adrian Dix, a media question came in addressing the rise in racial slurs and harrassment, directly particularly at Asians.
Dr Henry and Minister Dix didn’t mince their words.
Dr Henry said, “People in BC are better than that. A virus doesn’t respect geopolitical social borders. It affects all of us. There is no one race affected by this. It’s all of us in it together. The only way we can get through this challenging time is by working together. There is no place in our society for racism.”
Minister Dix added, “We need to call out acts of racism for what they are: devastating to civil society and for the way we want to be as a province. We need to build communities that are more resilient against racism.”
I don’t think we should mince our words about this either.
This is not okay.
We need to ask, and expect, better, of each other.
If these men are your brothers, your sons, your colleagues, your friends, please, let them know: that was heartless and thoughtless. We don’t need more fear and hate being spread throughout our community. When you look at someone with different skin, you might see “other” and it might make you feel safe and powerful to put them down. But whatever you do in the world, comes back to you. Whatever you put on other people – the fear-mongering, the disrespect – reflects back at you. One day, you will be vulnerable. You never know who you might need to turn to for help.