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‘Racism exists here’: Okanagan diversity video combats racial tensions amid COVID-19

South Okanagan Immigrant & Community Services (SOICS) is continuing its work to create a more inclusive community and highlight the ongoing issue of racism and discrimination in the Thompson Okanagan - this time with the help of the Okanagan Chambers COVID Response Coalition, #OkWeGotThis. Submitted

South Okanagan Immigrant & Community Services (SOICS) released a diversity video on Thursday to promote compassion while combating racial tensions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The video, titled, “What Do You See?” was created to raise awareness around the ongoing problem of racism towards ethnic minorities and the Indigenous community, according to a news release.

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The initiative is part of the #OkWeGotThis campaign, which consists of Chambers of Commerce across the Okanagan Valley to promote economic recovery.

“Chambers of Commerce are grassroots organizations that know how important it is for leading business associations like ours to speak up when racism raises its ugly head and unfortunately it seems the pandemic has led to an increase in such activity,” said Dan Rogers, executive director of the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce who co-chairs #OkWeGotThis.

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“Our future success is very much linked to putting out the welcome mat for newcomers to the region and also not being silent when there is an act of racism so supporting SOICS on this powerful video only made sense.”

The diversity video covers the Thompson Okanagan region, featuring the communities of the South Okanagan, Peachland, Kelowna, Vernon, Salmon Arm and Kamloops.

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Cherry Fernandez , executive director of the South Okanagan Immigrant & Community Services, acknowledged the B.C. Interior is not immune to racism.

“We do live in a diverse community and racism does exist here. It was important for us to recognize it and be able to promote that message of learning and doing better,” Fernandez told Global News.

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“Racism isn’t new in our community. It has been here but this year there is more focus on it. With the pandemic there has been a lot of anti-Asian racism so there’s a lot of micro aggressions and really hostile comments and even in some cases there are threats.”

The Okanagan has made headlines in the past year for a litany of racist incidents.

In April, two Vancouver Realtors said they’ve been targeted by anti-Asian hate after marketing a luxury $12.8-million lakefront home in Penticton, B.C.

Last summer, racist profanity was written on top of a pictograph on a large rock on the OIB reserve east of Osoyoos Lake, and an Indo-Canadian family in Summerland was targeted by what police describe as hate-motivated vandalism.

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Fernandez said the cases highlight the reality that racism is prevalent outside of the larger urban centres in British Columbia.

“There is quite often this misconception that it doesn’t exist here, that it is an issue only for larger urban communities or an issue to our neighbours in the south, but it very much exists here,” she said.

“It isn’t something that is new. It is something that is making more headlines now.”

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Fernandez is hopeful the diversity video will inspire discussion about tolerance and inclusion.

“My hope is that they would be willing to hear, to listen, and truly understand that our community is diverse. We are all here living together and we can only be stronger if we are supporting each other and have that mutual respect and understanding.”

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You can watch the video here.

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