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LETTER – Comox Valley not free of racist symbols and actions

Nothing will change as long as we continue to just walk on by

Dear editor,

Over the past few weeks, in cities around the world, symbols of oppression have been debated, defaced, beheaded and, in some cases, even removed. Here in the Comox Valley, we may be geographically far from Richmond, Virginia; London, England; or Ghent, Belgium, but does that mean we’re psychologically distanced from the issue?

Walking home from the park one late afternoon, carrying my young mixed-race son in my arms, I stopped in mid-step. A few feet away from the place we currently call home was a sight that, at first glance, would have never caught me off-guard here on the Island: a white pick-up truck, raised wheel beds, auxiliary lighting and a small, but ever-so-shiny and carefully placed American flag decal pasted to the side window. To the many passersby, the scene was hardly noteworthy. But to me, the image of the Confederate Battle flag – the red field topped by a blue X with 13 white stars and a large spread eagle fanning its wings across the truck’s back window – was a beacon glorifying the division and hatred this symbol represents well beyond its southern American roots.

Outside of the Comox Valley’s two Black Lives Matters peaceful protests, in early June, and the condemnation of racist acts carried out on Tseshaht First Nation territory, in the Alberni Valley, or at the Cornerstone Taphouse in Courtenay, there has been little, if any, talk of how we might address other acts (verbal or otherwise) that promote exclusion and exalt repression. As the partner of a man who grew up in Europe facing daily reminders that his blackness deemed him somehow less ‘worthy,’ I was shocked and saddened to see that here on our “peaceful” West Coast we, too, have individuals that believe their freedom of expression trumps (no pun intended) all else.

We like to call ourselves tolerant, welcoming, open and multicultural, in this country. These are all great virtues to extol, especially on Canada Day. But we need to question how much we routinely espouse these words without regard to the symbols around us that go counter to our supposed values.

The driver of this truck may or may not be aware of the potency of his car decorating choice. But ignorance is no longer an excuse. If we, as a collective group of “open-minded” people continue to accept symbols, historical or not, that carry great weight and serve as painful reminders for a particular group – either because we have the luxury of being able to do so or the reluctance to have hard conversations – then I’m afraid we’re all responsible for keeping our communities back.

I’d like to hope that the day my son is carrying his own child back from the park, this type of experience will only be recalled in history books or museums. I’d like to think we could get there. I’d like to think one day these symbols will be deemed illegal.

But it’s not something likely to happen if we all continue to just walk on by.

Amanda Fortier,

Comox Valley

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