Charla Huber: Starting a conversation on diversity and representation

Over the past few weeks, there has been significant movement and space for conversations regarding race, equality and representation.

My friend Deanna Bhandar reached out to me and shared some images in an email that had been bothering her. She felt the images showed a lack of diversity in various promotional materials and publications here in Greater Victoria.

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“Now is the time for these conversations to happen,” said Bhandar. “It’s not just people of colour who are saying that change needs to happen.”

Bhandar is of South Asian decent and has two young children.

“Over the past few years, I have taken my kids for various recreation programs and spent a lot of time in the halls waiting while their lessons are underway. It gave me some time to really look around and one of the things I noticed was a huge mural depicting kids in various activities — all white. Then I really started to pay attention to the images that we see in our community and the lack of diversity was concerning to me.”

There is a long history of cultural diversity in Victoria and the Island, but often that history isn’t fully understood or acknowledged.

“My dad was born and raised here in Victoria, and when he was young, whether legalized by statutes or not, many parts of the city were de facto segregated spaces,” Bhandar said explaining that these parts of history aren’t often talked about today.

When we do things that have always been done, sometimes it is hard to notice the biases that are present. Bhandar and I are hoping that you, the reader, can take a second look at some of the marketing materials you see and note if there is diversity present.

A few months ago, I wrote about a statement in a textbook regarding Indigenous people that I thought was inaccurate and it didn’t have any sources cited for the statement. I questioned how many people had read the book and not stopped at the statement.

“As your previous article on unconscious bias expressed, we all need to do some work to identify these biases that we have as individuals. We also need to look at institutional and organizational biases — understand their historical roots — and start leaning into some of these more difficult conversations in our community,” said Bhandar.

Being inclusive and displaying a better representation of people here in Greater Victoria can go a long way in creating space for everyone.

Bhandar’s family has lived in Victoria for generations, although she moved away for a number of years. Upon returning to Victoria, she finds it concerning that there continues to be stifled progress when it comes to diversity and representation here in Victoria.

As we talk about being inclusive, it is really important to me that people do this in a meaningful, respectful and authentic way. No one wants to be a “token.” If I am included in something, I want it to be because I am smart, capable, kind and that I might have a different perspective to add.

I am a big supporter of mutually beneficial relationships, and I know that when you create opportunities that benefit everyone, chances are you are being respectful in the process.

When I started working at M’akola, I wanted to use photos to demonstrate M’akola’s clients and add a relatable lens to Indigenous affordable housing. I am a photographer and I attended events for M’akola tenants and residents offering to take portraits that would be given to the participants and also used by the society. Many people took the opportunity and continue to allow M’akola to use photos and they were gifted a portrait in return.

I’ve been asked many times how M’akola has “stock photos” of Indigenous people and I am always told how hard it is to find stock photos of Indigenous people. The answer is we took a different approach and a respectful approach that was mutually beneficial and that’s why it worked.

“Diversity and representation is part of a bigger conversation,” said Bhandar. “We now have this moment where internationally, the overt and covert ways that white privilege has shaped our lives is being exposed.

“It’s time for Victoria to embrace these difficult conversations and do the hard work that is needed to dismantle racism.”

Charla Huber is the director of communications and Indigenous relations for M’akola Housing Society.

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