Heritage BC: Racism: The Powerful Position of Learning

heritage bc update

As we have done many times before, we turned to Vincent Kwan executive director of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and Heritage BC director, to seek his perspective as we navigate our response to the events that have been gripping the world.

The response was effectively “no, I would prefer not to make a public statement”. But, in explaining his position, Vincent wrote a typically thought-provoking and personal statement about the complexities of the issue and the response.

His response was exactly what was needed and, with his permission, we share it with you.

It is worth noting that we publish Vincent’s words the week after survey results of more than 500 Canadians of Chinese ethnicity were revealed. They tell us that “half reported being called names or insulted as a direct result of COVID-19, and 43 percent said they had been personally threatened or intimidated.” In addition to thought-provoking and personal, we can also say Vincent’s response is selfless.


The Powerful Position of Learning

I find that the topic of racism and discrimination is multi-layered and complex.

I believe that racism and discrimination is a systemic issue because it can be exhibited in social, economic and political dimensions. And racist and discriminatory views can be rooted in the conscious and/or unconscious.

The current global protests against racism and police brutality can be seen as the effort against conscious discrimination, which is exhibited on the social level, by making racism much more visible.

This work in acknowledging the continuous existence of racism in our society, in my view, is especially important in Canada, where we pride ourselves on the shared value of multiculturalism. Through this work, we also convey the message that, while racism exists, it is not tolerated.

However, there are a few reasons that I am not particularly keen on being explicitly vocal by joining in the voice of the protest. Firstly, I have heard from a number of people that we, as supporters of this cause, should be careful not to take up the precious space that the Black and Indigenous communities need to have to make their voices heard. Our good intention may end up taking away opportunities for others to articulate their messages in the ways that they prefer.

Secondly, as I believe racism and discrimination happens also in our everyday lives, subtly and unconsciously. From employment to investment, from national politics to community politics, I believe racism and discrimination are visible in so many different corners of our daily lives, affecting social mobility and social access.

What is dangerous is that we accept that as the norm. And this unconscious acceptance by the wider society is what, I believe, makes racism and discrimination a systemic issue. And the work is understandably difficult to counter as this unconscious acceptance cannot be attributed to one villain. I don’t like to talk about racism and discrimination as a problem to be solved by addressing the conscious evil if we don’t also resolve the unconscious side of the equation.

I don’t feel comfortable making a singular statement at this point. I know that in a moment like this, many community or organization leaders are asked to express their positions as a way to help add support to the cause. I often feel that the most powerful position to take is not just to condemn the conscious racism we see, but also to learn – and to unlearn – what makes us unconsciously discriminatory.

This is not only a unique opportunity for those of us working in the culture and heritage sector to lead in this way of thinking, but this is also an opportunity for us to see our roles as both teacher and student of culture and heritage. When we see ourselves as both teacher and student, we can better accept that we don’t know as much as we think we know.

And this is the powerful position of learning.

Vincent Kwan
Executive Director, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
Heritage BC, Director

Situated in the heart of Vancouver’s historic Chinatown neighbourhood, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is an oasis of tranquillity and reflection amid the bustle of urban life. Modelled after the Ming Dynasty scholars’ gardens in the city of Suzhou, it became the first authentic full-scale Chinese garden built outside of China upon its completion in April 1986. (Learn more.)

At Heritage BC, we have aimed to contribute to a broader discussion of heritage so that it is more inclusive and much richer, infused with an increasing diversity of voices, histories, and perspectives. Yet, as horrifying events have shaken not just international centres but also our BC communities, we are confronted with how much more there is to learn and how much work is still needed to break down barriers and to build up new relationships.

As an organization that anchors its work in history and heritage, Heritage BC has a role to play. In addressing and facilitating the conversation on systemic racism, Heritage BC has much to learn and we require input from the community to help shape the conversation. We want to hear from those of you who see opportunities for Heritage BC and the sector-at-large to do better. Please contact us – we would love to talk with you.

We all need to have a hand in writing a new chapter.

The Reality of Inclusion when Collaborating and Partnering with Indigenous Neighbours

Friday, September 18 at noon. Register here.

This illustrated presentation details how the Ktunaxa finally became the tellers of their own story in the Fernie Heritage Strategy, an 18-month journey that resulted in a remarkable and unprecedented collaboration of voices and stewards in the Elk Valley. The presentation will touch upon some of the unique aspects of the project process and shared lessons both presenters have taken away.

Elana Zysblat, Ance Building Services
Janice Alpine, Business Development Officer/Tourism Engagement, Ktunaxa Nation

Funding Opportunities

MAP COVID-19 Emergency Support Fund Now Available
The Museums Assistance Program (MAP) – COVID-19 Emergency Support Fund for Heritage Organizations provides financial assistance to organizations to allow for continued care of heritage collections under these exceptional circumstances so that they remain accessible to Canadians.

This is a new granting process, so even if your organization does not typically qualify for MAP grants, you are still encouraged to review the new criteria to check your eligibility. Smaller, seasonal community museums will be happy to hear that Canadian Heritage will be adjusting the sliding scale to be able to provide grants below $5,000 that are proportional to these budgets.

The deadline is September 1, 2020. Learn more.
Community Gaming Capital Project Grant program
The Community Gaming Capital Project Grant program provides $5 million annually to not-for-profit organizations throughout BC, to support the completion of inclusive, accessible capital projects that meet community-identified needs and priorities. Not-for-profit organizations can apply for a grant (up to a maximum of $250,000) between June 19 and August 14, with decisions communicated by the end of November 2020.

The program has been adjusted this year to address some of the financial challenges that organizations are facing due to COVID-19. Applications from all eligible organizations are encouraged; however, funding for 2020-21 will prioritize applications from organizations that are facing increased demand for services due to the pandemic as well as organizations that need to make modifications or purchase items to support physical distancing and/or virtual delivery (e.g. installing protective shields and barriers, kitchen reconfigurations, renovations to expand hand-washing, computer hardware, etc.). The Province is also increasing the amount it covers from 50% to 80% of the total cost of eligible capital projects directly related to COVID-19.

Learn more. Questions about the Community Gaming Capital Grant program can be directed to CommunityGamingGrants@gov.bc.ca or 250-356-1081.
Helping First Nations bring ancestors, belongings home
The B.C. government will be providing $500,000 to the BC Museums Association to provide a range of grants to support communities at different stages of the repatriation process. First Nations communities and organizations will be eligible for grants to support repatriation planning, building capacity to take on repatriation projects, and encouraging collaboration with cultural organizations. Applications will open on September 8, 2020. Learn more on BCMA’s website.

Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s Yosef Wosk Publication Grant Cycle for 2020-2021 is now open. The deadline is September 30th, 2020. The Yosef Wosk Publication Grant page includes application guidelines and a budget template. Learn more.

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