Registrar’s Message: condemning anti-asian racism
In my last Registrar’s Message, I tried to underscore the importance of collective action in response to both the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as racism, in all its forms. I was encouraged by all the positive feedback and support I received from my colleagues, registrants and the public. It felt like I struck a chord. These are the two major social issues of our time. However, while the availability of the vaccine has us hopeful that COVID-19 will be mostly resolved in the coming months, the elimination of systemic racism still feels like it’s a long way away.
It’s been 2 weeks since a tragic and unsettling act of violence took the lives of six Asian women in Atlanta. Even more recently, closer to home, I was appalled to see reports of two anti-Asian attacks against women in the Lower Mainland.
I stand alongside Asian Communities across the world who continue to experience this sort of violence and discrimination. I feel your pain, share your fears, and join you in solidarity as we confront the sad truth that anti-Asian racism is still a daily reality.
As a Canadian of Japanese descent, it’s been deeply disturbing to hear of a surge in anti-Asian hate crimes in Vancouver during the pandemic. While I’ve experienced my share of discrimination growing up as a minority in Vancouver, this past year has certainly been a wake-up call. It’s reminded me that we are not immune to this kind of hate, and we never have been.
We’ve been here before. Throughout BC’s 150-year history, non-white communities have struggled against systemic racism and discrimination. And it hasn’t stopped.
A friend of mine recently forwarded me a copy of “Challenging Racist British Columbia: 150 Years and Counting,” a publication that chronicles the roots of systemic racism in BC since it joined Canada. It’s compelling, disturbing, maddening and insightful, and a must-read for all British Columbians, especially on the heels of a particularly challenging year for non-white communities in our province and many parts of the world.
The central question that “Challenging Racist BC” explores is: how did this situation arise in BC? Most of you reading this weren’t alive when the “Pacific politics of white supremacy” resulted in the attempted genocide of BC’s Aboriginal People; the racist policies that demolished Black Communities; and the attempted ethnic cleansing of Japanese Canadians from our province. However, looking back reminds us that our province was built on a foundation of white privilege, and helps to provide context for our current challenges.
While it can be discouraging, it’s important that we learn about and recognize the violence and oppression faced by Asian British Columbians during the 20th century. For me, it’s always difficult to read about the uprooting, dispossession and exile of Japanese Canadians that took place during and after World War II. Despite being Canadian citizens, born and raised in Canada, tens of thousands of Japanese Canadians were forced from their homes and put in detention camps in the interior of BC, sent to other sites to perform forced labour, or otherwise detained. Make no mistake, these are absolute atrocities, and yet, they are all too often forgotten.
It is vital that we, as health professionals, acknowledge and understand how our province’s history continues to perpetuate the discriminatory attitudes present within modern healthcare. As the stewards of healthcare in our society we have an obligation to lead anti-racism within our society and our health system as well as to learn about and remember the forces that shaped today’s health inequities.
My writing this would not have been possible before 1949 when anti-Asian voting laws barred Asian Canadians from obtaining certification to practice in professions such as law and pharmacy. As an Asian pharmacy professional, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to leaders such as Tomekichi Homma and Velma Chen, for challenging the government, fighting against these laws and advancing the rights of non-white communities in British Columbia.
It’s in the leadership of Homma, Chen and countless others throughout BC’s history, who have fought to eliminate the discriminatory policies and institutions of BC’s past, that I find hope for the future. The surge in racist hate and violence over the past year is only the latest chapter in the saga of systemic racism that continues to plague our society. Fortunately, we’ve also seen more people than ever before band together to take a stand against this sort of hate and violence.
These recent events quickly reminded us that there is so much more to be done. That it’s not enough to simply read about it in the news or talk about it with our friends. That we must take action and condemn anti-Asian racism, and all other forms of racism and demand dignity and respect for all people.
Over the past year, the College has recognized that as the regulator of pharmacy professionals, we have a duty and obligation to do everything we can to eliminate racism from our society. We have declared a commitment to cultural safety and humility to First Nations People, established a Black Lives Matter Working group within the College, and now, will commit to calling out anti-Asian racism as unacceptable and intolerable in our professions and society. We are committed to ensuring that all British Columbians receive safe and ethical pharmacy care, and that they are treated with dignity and respect. Full stop.
We need to do our part to make British Columbia a better place for everyone. Please join me in condemning racism in all its forms.
Bob Nakagawa, B.Sc.(Pharm.), ACPR, FCSHP, RPh
Registrar and CEO
College of Pharmacists of British Columbia