When Raven Khadeja, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter NL, saw yet another social media post recounting a racist incident in the province, she said, she was appalled, disgusted and concerned — but not shocked.
Last week, a Black Memorial University student recounted their experience of blatant racism while on a staycation in Newfoundland. In the Facebook post, which has now been deleted, the student said they looked up the people they met, and found disturbing racist photos, memes and comments, including references to the Ku Klux Klan.
The student who made the post declined CBC’s request for an interview. Khadeja said she doesn’t know the student who made the Facebook post, but she stands in solidarity with them.
“We have seen that there is a large number of racist incidents that take place,” Khadeja said in an interview with The St. John’s Morning Show. “It’s just under reported, underrepresented.”
Khadeja said the work of organizations like Black Lives Matter NL and the Anti-Racism Coalition of Newfoundland and Labrador has allowed people of colour to become more comfortable sharing their experiences of racism.
Additionally, Khadeja said, allies have been more vocal about speaking out against racism, which makes racists less comfortable.
“They don’t get to have that level of security where everybody will hide it or it will be acceptable,” she said. “It’s being highlighted by people who look like them as being wrong. And I think that’s what we need in this province to really go forward.”
Khadeja said a recent visit to Topsail Beach with a friend was ruined when people began heckling and catcalling them. She said she and her friend, who are both Black women, were eventually forced to leave. The hecklers stayed in their vehicle, so Khadeja didn’t see their faces.
Khadeja said Black Lives Matter NL learns of similar incidents across the province “at least once a month.” She said the organization gives support where it can on a case-by-case basis.
Sharing experiences of racism helps dismantle the idea of “Canadian exceptionalism,” Khadeja said. In this context, Canadian exceptionalism refers to the misconception that racism doesn’t exist in Canada on the same scale as it does in countries like the United States.
“It’s really important for us as individuals, us as members of the community, when we see this to highlight that and call it out, because in that way, it’s really showing what happens,” she said. “Not just what we perceive racism to be, but the actual reality of it.”
If someone is experiencing racism, Khadeja advises them to first ensure their personal safety before speaking up. Once their safety is ensured, she said there are several ways to raise awareness, and they don’t necessarily involve social media. She suggests writing to your member of Parliament or talking with people in organizations you’re involved with.
She also acknowledges that some people of colour might not want to share their experiences of racism publicly.
“Some people do not like highlighting their own experiences. Some people prefer to keep their Black trauma to be dealt with privately, which is perfectly fine.”