Background: Change the Conversation Project
Because racism and xenophobia are on the rise, municipalities across Canada are developing and delivering anti-racism / anti-discrimination campaigns. The City of Kingston, in partnership with the Kingston Immigration Partnership, Kingston Community Health Centres, Kingston Economic Development Corporation, KEYS Job Centre and the Réseau de soutien à l’immigration de l’Est de l’Ontario sought to develop and implement a campaign to invite Kingstonians to learn and reflect on what they can do to make our city a place where everyone feels welcome, respected, accepted and valued. The goal of the Change the Conversation project is to build awareness of the diverse cultural values, beliefs and perceptions across our community, to build a culture of inclusion and to build cross-cultural understanding and support for diversity.
Secondary research was done to learn about best practices from a variety of anti-racism / anti-discrimination campaigns carried out by different municipalities across Canada and abroad. Primary research (key informant interviews and focus groups) was also done to gain context specific to Kingston.
Kingston Includes You survey:
Understanding Racism and Discrimination in our Community
This research was complemented by the Kingston Includes You survey, available from August 15th to September 15th, 2017 and completed by 608 residents. The main objectives of the survey were to: 1. Understand how Kingston residents see and experience racism and discrimination; 2. Obtain input on what our community can do better to address racism and discrimination; and 3. Gather information to better design a campaign that responds to the specific needs of our community.
The Kingston Includes You survey showed that the vast majority of respondents (87.81%) feel that our community is / will be more enriched by having a diverse and inclusive population. However, 7 out of 10 respondents have witnessed racism and discrimination in our community. At the same time, non European-Canadians experience racism or feel discriminated against 7 times more than the rest of the community and members of the LGBTQ+ community witness racism and discrimination 11 times more, to give a few examples. Public spaces, social media, workplaces and educational institutions are the places where racism and discrimination are the most prevalent in.
Survey responses also show that people from minority groups in Kingston do not feel part of or connected to the larger community. These individuals only develop connections within their own communities due to the fear of voicing their opinions publicly, creating tensions between different groups and a fractured community. Due to Kingston’s negative reputation, being recognized as a white community where minority groups do not feel welcome and recognized, our community is losing the talent and the skills required because newcomers are choosing other communities. We, as a community, need to do better at promoting and celebrating the diversity we have in order to improve retention rates.
What can our community do better so that everyone feels welcome, accepted and valued? How can we create a community where all residents feel they belong? Different residents have expressed that the community as a whole needs to recognize that there is a problem and send a clear message that racism and discrimination are unacceptable. Likewise, there is a need to educate the community on how racism and discrimination are seen and experienced and their impact in our community. Residents want to be empowered with information and tools so that they know what to do, where to go and who to contact when they experience or witness racism or discrimination. There is also a clear need to provide individuals with opportunities to meet new people, socialize, establish new relationships and learn from each other to fight misconceptions and stereotypes.
After consulting residents on how they see and experience racism and discrimination in our community, the SayHello campaign was launched on May 31, 2018. The campaign aims to reduce racism, discrimination and exclusion in the city, and fights stereotypes and misconceptions by asking resident to have conversations with other residents. Everyone can say hello, it's a simple way to start talking and start understanding where others are coming from.
The #SayHello campaign has two components: Public Awareness and Educational Opportunities and Safe Spaces.
Educating the community by sharing real stories around racism and discrimination in our community and by opening the lines of communication is the best way to fight misconceptions and stereotypes with the goal of creating a more connected community.
Videos and posters from people that have experience racism and discrimination in Kingston have been shared on social media. Posters and standees have been displayed across the city thanks to our community partners.
Click here to watch the videos.
Educational Opportunities and Safe Spaces:
The #SayHello campaign will provide safe spaces where residents of all ages can learn and talk about racism and discrimination in our community, come together, socialize and learn from each other. Safe spaces ensure everyone feels free to voice their opinions and that they are heard, accepted and valued.
We are currently working closely with different groups and organizations to deliver educational events across Kingston. To make sure we are addressing these issues at the earlier stages by educating children and youth, and following recommendations from community leaders and residents, we are working with different schools in Kingston and the Kingston Youth Strategy to involve, educate and empower our future leaders on diversity, cultural awareness, inclusion, discrimination and racism.
Similarly, the Kingston Frontenac Public Library will host a Human Library on November 24, 2018. The goal is to give residents the opportunity to hear stories from those who have experienced racism or have felt discriminated against in our community. It was expressed throughout the survey that Kingstonians want to hear real stories as a way to educate the community and become more aware of the impact racism and discrimination have on local residents. Likewise, KEYS Job Centre, through their PIN and Mentoring programs are training employers on cultural competency.
We hope that the different initiatives and activities we will be carrying out in the community will help to spark the conversation, to generate dialogue, to bring people together to have a more accepting, caring and welcoming community. These will be the first steps we need to take to build a community where everyone feels not only welcome, but also accepted and valued. If we do this, we will be then in a better position to fight racism and discrimination at a higher level to have lasting change.