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Members of B.C.’s African diaspora call for better Black representation

Issamba Centre couches Black History Month discussions around release of provincial racism report
Victoria Issamba Centre founder Pulcherie Mboussi says Black representation in institutions in Greater Victoria and B.C. is far less than elsewhere in Canada. (Photo courtesy Pulcherie Mboussi)

B.C.’s oldest African cultural centre is counting down Black History month with one eye on hosting a series of events and the other on the pending release of a landmark report on anti-Black racism in the province.

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Pulchérie Mboussi, executive director of Victoria’s Issamba Centre, says the through line of either set of discussions is the matter of representation within British Columbia and its institutions.

African-descended people are far more commonly represented in public office, news media and police services elsewhere in Canada than in B.C., Mboussi said, recalling two decades lived in Montreal before moving to Victoria in 2010.

The sole Black police officer on Vancouver Island is a constable with a Greater Victoria department, and research conducted by Issamba found the majority of Black journalists in B.C. were employed by such national outlets such as CBC as opposed to local media.

“Here in B.C., we’re still looking for (representation),” Mboussi said.

The release of the provincial report on Feb. 17 could shine a light on systemic biases preventing stronger Black representation in B.C., and the institutions responsible. The government-commissioned report, 10 months in the making, will include over 90 recommendations for provincial policy, gleaned from 12 focus groups and 2,000 survey respondents, Mboussi said.

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Focus group discussions gave verbal testimony to an increase of racism, from microaggressions to hate crimes, throughout the province.

Five years ago, B.C. was reported to have the worst rate of hate crime in the four western provinces, with 255 incidents per 100,000 residents, according to Statistics Canada. StatsCan also reported racially motivated hate crimes reported to police surging from an average of 851 between 2017 to 2019 to 1,594 in 2020.

After addressing a worrying rise in racially motivated hate, Mboussi said the coming provincial report will inform the province how to create a missing sense of home for its Black residents.

The African continent has over 3,000 ethnicities across as many countries as there are American states. “To be a welcoming city, you have to open space for people from the continent. We are all Black, but we (each) have our own habits and culture,” she said.

From the coming report’s suggestions, Mboussi said she would like support toward what she said she feels is a right for anyone living in Canada.

“I’ve been here for over 30 years now, and I don’t want to be assimilated by another culture,” she said.

Each week of February, Issamba is set to feature a panel discussion on topics like personal finance, cultural cooking, community policing and more. Registrations for the sessions can be done via the group’s Facebook page.

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