Sidney Vlieg speaks out about racism targeting blacks, all people of colour and Indigenous people and how it has affected his daughter, his family and the community. He would like denial from people in Salmon Arm who are white to end and more education in the community to take place to counter hurtful attitudes. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)

Sidney Vlieg speaks out about racism targeting blacks, all people of colour and Indigenous people and how it has affected his daughter, his family and the community. He would like denial from people in Salmon Arm who are white to end and more education in the community to take place to counter hurtful attitudes. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)

Father: Education about racism essential in Salmon Arm, not denial

Although minority of people in the community espouse racism, such beliefs must be challenged

Part One: Working to counter racism in Salmon Arm, Shuswap

“Black lives matter. We can’t breathe. Don’t kill us.”

These were the words that a 10-year-old girl in Salmon Arm drew in a picture after hearing about a racist comment a friend had made.

Sidney Vlieg, her father, said while overt racism comes from a minority in the community, he has heard a significant amount of denial that racism exists, particularly when his daughter, who is black, is not with him. She was adopted from Ethiopia and he is of white European descent.

“How can you (know), you’re a white person in a 90 per cent white town. It’s minimizing those that have experienced it.”

Denial is more of a passive bias, not necessarily actively racist, he said.

“But if you don’t admit there’s a problem, you can never solve anything.”

In the overt instance that led to such anxiety for his daughter, he said a friend of hers was bothered by the comment so told his daughter and her teacher when school reconvened.

“It is great it was brought forward.”

But Vlieg said he didn’t know about it until his daughter told him when he picked her up from school that day. She was terrified.

He doesn’t think it was initially taken as seriously as it should have been, but he said the school subsequently responded really well.

“You have to stop everything and address it with everybody.”

Read more: ‘Am I racist?’ sign in Shuswap part of B.C. campaign to combat racism

Read more: CSRD adopts policy against racism within organization

More recently, he was pleased with how an incident was dealt with which involved someone trying to get kids to say a derogatory word. A written and verbal apology provided to his daughter recognized the effect on her and her wider world.

With emotion, Vlieg expressed how much he had appreciated the children who spoke up and refused to do what was requested.

Another instance of racism was the painting of harsh graffiti on a city underpass.

Vlieg has also seen pickup trucks flying Confederate flags in town and a person wearing a Confederate T-shirt and hat. He mentioned it on a Facebook page and was “destroyed” by commenters defending it, he said. “It was sickening.”

“All of these things affect us.”

But he notes his daughter is still young and isn’t out in the world on her own yet.

“What about the 15-year-old boy, what about immigrant black families? All they’re trying to do is survive and fit in, they’re not going to say anything. And it’s not just black, it’s First Nations.”

He said it’s not uncommon for First Nations people his family knows to be followed around by store staff in Salmon Arm while shopping.

“Make no mistake, this is not an Indigenous problem, not a black problem, not a person of colour problem – it’s a white problem.”

Vlieg added that there’s nothing wrong with white people, with being white.

“We’re not blaming all the white people for what happened 300 years ago. What we can do is do something positive today, be responsible for what we do today.”

Read more: B.C. government looking to create anti-racism training for high-level officials

Read more: Syrian refugee responds to racism in Canada

People of Asian descent in B.C. and across Canada have reported racism directed at them, particularly during the pandemic, but those interviewed in Salmon Arm said they haven’t.

Melissa Brett is one.

“I kind of thought, being a nurse at the hospital, with dark eyes, half-Japanese and slightly Asian eyes, I had thought about it. Would that be something my patients could be more concerned about?”

She said she can’t imagine how upsetting it would be to be exposed to that when risking your own life, providing care.

“Regardless of an origin of a virus, I think a lot of it stems in fear and anger, potentially trying to direct that at a source to alleviate some of the frustration people are experiencing.”

She said she feels Salmon Arm has been a very respectful place.

“Of course we’ve seen things like the mask rally…, but for the most part I feel people respect each other.”

Her family moved to the community from Steveston, where there are more Asian people.

“When I first moved here four years ago, I felt a bit like I stood out a little bit, even though I’m only half Japanese – but the dark hair. I have definitely seen a stronger presence of Asian people here in Salmon Arm more recently.”

Brett noted that during the Second World War, her father’s siblings and parents were among those placed in internment camps, and not together.

She said she appreciates it when people with different foods and cultures can come together and celebrate, as it creates a new perspective for children.

Read more: ‘They’re real cowards:’ Vandals fail to deter Shuswap woman from speaking out against racism

Read more: Enderby anti-racism walk deemed a success by organizer

Vlieg, who moved to Salmon Arm about three years ago, said he’s sure that by far most people in the community don’t subscribe to racist thoughts.

“But it’s the responsibility of white families to tell their children about our racist past…,” he emphasized.

“Educate your kids and actually listen to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) people when they speak about their experiences. Believe them and listen to them…

“Listen to the black and Indigenous artists, what they have to say in their songs and their art.”

Asked if he was prepared for racism when he adopted, Vlieg answered somberly.

“Nothing prepares you for when you’re putting your nine- or 10-year-old to bed and she says, ‘when is this racism going to stop?’”


marthawickett@saobserver.net
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

racismSalmon Arm

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Linda Sanky photo
Vehicle fire spreads to trees at Penticton beach spot

The fire is at Pyramid beach, off Highway 97 between Summerland and Penticton

Over 300 participants, aged nine to 99 contributed to this yarn bomb outside the Penticton Art Gallery, near the bridge going to the Japanese Gardens. (Penticton Art Gallery)
Penticton has been yarn bombed

Penticton Art Gallery is hoping to yarn bomb even more trees around town but needs your help

Oliver Fire Department. (Submitted photo)
More human caused fires in Oliver

Firefighters have been kept busy putting out several potentional wildfires

Penticton bylaw officers tore down a “pretty significantly sized” homeless camp underneath the bridge near Riverside Drive Friday, April 16 morning. (Brennan Phillips - Western News)
Penticton bylaw tears down ‘significantly sized’ homeless camp under bridge

Many residents had made complaints about the camp before it was torn down

Through their Simple Generosity campaign, Valley First has pledged to donate $1 million of community support to British Columbia communities in 2021. (Contributed)
Valley First rewarding Penticton families with innovative way to thrive together

Participants with ‘inspiring ideas’ will receive a surprise for their family, valued at up to $2,500

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Firefighters battled a burning home on farmland in the north end of Vernon Saturday, April 17, 2021. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
UPDATE: Homeowner taken to hospital after Vernon home destroyed by fire

Firefighters engaged in a lengthy battle against the engulfed structure Saturday afternoon

Members of the Okanagan Screen Arts Society received a cheque for $1,500 Thursday, April 15, 2021. The funds are to help the society’s efforts as they prepare take over operation of the Vernon Towne Cinema at the end of July. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
Okanagan dealership gives local cinema a lift

Vernon Watkin Motor Ford, in business for more than 100 years, donated to the theatre with nearly as long a history

Vernon Jubilee Hospital. (File photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared over in surgical unit of Vernon hospital

The outbreak affected four staff, 10 patients and led to three deaths in just over two weeks

A group of youth in Kelowna's Knox Mountain Park are suspected as having violated the B.C. Wildlife Act by harassing a pair of nesting bald eagles with a drone Friday, April 16, 2021. (Conservation Officer Service photo)
Nesting bald eagles harassed by youth-piloted drone in Kelowna

Conservation Officers are hoping to hear from anyone who witnessed the Knox Mountain incident

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood by moving equipment and other assets to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-average spring flooding

Larger-than-normal melting snowpack poses a threat to the province as warmer weather touches down

Vancouver-based Doubleview Gold Corp. is developing claims in an area north of Telegraph Creek that occupies an important place in Tahltan oral histories, said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)
B.C. Indigenous nation opposes mineral exploration in culturally sensitive area

There’s “no way” the Tahltan would ever support a mine there, says Chad Norman Day, president of its central government

Most Read