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Rights + Justice
Photo Essays

‘I Know What It Feels Like to Be Rejected’

Anti-racist marchers in Vancouver explain why they came to protest.

Alec Jacobson 6 Jun 2020 | TheTyee.ca

Alec Jacobson is National Geographic Explorer based in Vancouver, B.C. This photo essay was done with assistance by Felipe Fittipaldi, Shenise Sigsworth and Joleen Mitto.

“There are 8,000 people here,” said Jacob Callender-Prasad, smiling as he surveyed the crowd he’d helped gather around the Olympic Cauldron in Vancouver’s Jack Poole Plaza to protest racism. Chants of “Black lives matter” echoed off the downtown buildings.

Callender-Prasad watched the energy levels swell and then continued on a walk around the perimeter with a team of volunteers, working to keep protesters off a patch of decorative grass on the roof of a Cactus Club restaurant.

The protest began at 4 p.m. with a moment of silence for victims of racial violence, including George Floyd, a Black American who was killed by a white police officer on May 25. Passions ran high through the afternoon, but organizers called for peace and the demonstration remained calm as speakers shared their own experiences with racism in Canada.

Feven Kidane, Vancouver

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“I was 16 years old and I got invited to a party. I got there but the host said I had to leave. I was going down the stairs and two of her friends came after me. They punched me while they called me an n-word.”

Helen Proskow, 26, Vancouver

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“The kids in school didn’t want to do my makeup, because they didn’t want to mix the colours to get my tone. I just want people to think that we’re not going to steal from them or we’re going to hurt them. When I go to a store, I have to deal with them racial profiling me and watching me, even if I’m in designer brands.”

Sheriff Jaiteh, 26, Surrey

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“Coming to Vancouver, people say racism is not a thing here. I have come to realize that it may not be overt most of the time, but there are microaggressions. Black people are not the only people affected by things like that. You look at the Indigenous community in Vancouver. You look at the Asian community in Vancouver.”

Jacob Callender-Prasad, 21, Vancouver

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“When I was 17, I went down to the corner store to get groceries for my mother. There was a gentleman in the background who I didn’t recognize. I left, but I forgot something in the store, so my mom sent me back. As soon as I came around the corner, that’s when the weapons were drawn on me. They were police. They took their guns at me and said, ‘On the ground.’ I got pinned to the ground. I got arrested and I got handcuffed in my neighbourhood. They had me on the ground for 30 minutes. When I was crying, asking, ‘What did I do?’ they wouldn’t tell me what was going on. The handcuffs tightened on my arm and it hurt so badly. It was one of the most painful things I’ve gone through. They said you’ve been a victim of mistaken identity. The person they were looking for did two attempts of murder. If I had run, if I had reached in my pocket, I could have been dead. That is the reality of Black youth in this country.”

Feven Haile, 19, Vancouver

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“If I go to a job interview with my curly hair, I won’t get the job.”

Gabriel Lucky Gbeneyei, 22, Vancouver

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“I came here when I was 16 from Nigeria. My third day in Canada, I got lost. I asked this white man if he could help me out to find my way home. He said he does not talk to Black people, so I just left him alone. On my first job interview, I got a job as a dance teacher and I was about to teach the kids how to dance. And the moment that we started, the friend who got me the job heard them say, ‘Why is the Black teacher teaching the class?’ They felt as if their kids were not safe with me. And that really hurt me. They feel that their kids are not safe with me all because of the colour of my skin? I am a Black, queer man, and I know what it feels like to be rejected.”

Issa Braithwaite, 30, Vancouver

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“This was 2010. I was playing football and going to school at Ohio University. My girlfriend’s sister went to Marshall. So, we go to drive from Ohio to West Virginia to the hospital to go support her. On our way, we get pulled over. The police officer says, ‘The light above your taillight is out.’ Which is bullshit, it wasn’t out. He asked for her licence and registration. I’m in the passenger seat and he asked for my licence. I said, ‘I’m not driving, so you don’t need my licence.’ He says, ‘Yes, you do. Or you want me to take you to the station?’ He asks us, ‘How do you guys know each other?’ We’re wearing matching Ohio athletics attire. She says, ‘That’s my boyfriend.’ He asks her to step out of the car. I was anticipating this was going to be like Crash. He walked her to the back of the car, and he asked her, ‘Do you really know this man? Are you okay? You can blink to let me know if you’re not okay?’ In the process, she starts to understand what’s going on and she starts to cry. The police officer says she can get back in the car. We wait for the police officer to drive off. I end up driving because she was too hysterical to drive. I’m not surprised. It just shows how delicate those times are, because that could have changed my whole life. You know he was probably scared. Me, I was very scared. Just one millisecond, everything could have flipped.”

Luna Hussini, 21, and Kabir Qurban, 22, both from Surrey

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Hussini: “I would say I’m white passing, I don’t get anything that outwardly racist to me. We’re originally from Syria. We were going to the States a couple years back. We had our Canadian citizenship, everything was fine. We were stopped at the border for four hours. The officer who was doing our thing told my mom, ‘It’s because you guys were born in the wrong country.’”

Qurban: “I’m Afghan. If I’m around my Muslim friends who are visibly Muslim, we get pulled over very often. Just in one trip, I got ‘randomly’ selected three times. I’ve been told to go back to my country.”

Ahpunii Derange, 20, Vancouver

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“Chantel Moore. Why does a mother of one, why does she get to be killed? She was from the Island, so a lot of my family knew her. A lot of these things with Indigenous women are swept under the rug.”

Amar Bek, 22, Vancouver

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“Every time I go back to the high school I went to, a teacher looks at me like, ‘Oh, you’re better, but you’re still you. You’re still Black, you’re still not gonna do shit, you’re never gonna be shit.’ That’s how I feel. That’s how she made me feel.”

Denis Agar, 30, Vancouver

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“I grew up in a place where the high school I went to had one Black kid. The racism that’s inherent in Canadian settler colonial society, I was so blind to it. I’m ashamed to talk about the fact that it took me having a deep and committed relationship to a Black person for so long for me to really start to figure it out. We’ve been married for almost five years and dating for almost 10. My wife has put in a lot of unpaid, hard work.”

Paneet Singh, 30, Burnaby

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“The first thing I want to say is that this isn’t about me. I’m here in solidarity with Black lives and the Black community. Being here is the least that we can do. I have been thrown off airplanes because of the way I look, I have been detained at airports because of the way I look, I have been asked where my parents are from because of the way I look. I can empathize through the Black community. I can’t say that at this time my struggles are equal or at the centre of the story.”

Madison Mah, 25, Coquitlam

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“I started straightening my hair at 12 years old because the girls use to make fun of me for having me Black hair. It’s taken me since then to be comfortable having my hair natural and to be comfortable with it.”

Nicole Sawchyn, 25, Edmonton

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“I used to get called a terrorist. I used to be told that I was a bomber and I was with Al Qaeda.”

Mckenzie Verdon, 25, Edmonton

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“Likes and retweets is not enough anymore.”

Winston Heron, 52, Vancouver

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“The change we need is in our school system. Education is an institution. We need to start there.”

Orene Askew, 37, Vancouver

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“I’m mixed. It’s a new saying, I’m learning it now, Afro-Indigenous. I’ve been sitting waiting for a friend, going to a workout and asked for my licence and registration when I’m legally parked in the street. I’m tired of that happening to me.”  [Tyee]

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