photos: At right, Vancouver's decidedly Caucasian council


Director's Corner: The persistent whiteness of power was reflected on election day in Vancouver

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From the ballot box to the newsroom, I’ve recently been reminded of the persistent whiteness of power.

In Vancouver, a city where 51 per cent of people identify as coming from a racialized minority, municipal election day on Oct. 20 left us with a city council that is 90 per cent white.

In the wake of that election, Sunny Dhillon, longtime reporter for The Globe and Mail, quit his job at one of the most reputable journalistic outlets in Canada after being directed by his supervisor to focus on the high number of women elected as opposed to the dearth of racialized people.

“How many battles do you have in you?” he asked in his blogged reflection upon leaving the Globe and Mail.

It’s a question people whose identities don’t line up with the straight, white, male version of power we’re accustomed to may ask themselves often. (Dhillon is a man of South Asian descent.)

How many small affronts? How many dismissals? How many compromises? The calculation becomes one of wondering
if your presence as a minority voice is important enough to justify the battles.

As a woman, I’m familiar with those calculations. But as a white woman, I’m also complicit in the structures that lead others to ask themselves the same questions.

In other measures of representation, such as gender, both cities fared better, with women making up 60 and 80 per cent of the new mayor and council in Victoria and Vancouver respectively. But while we laud that progress, we ought not lose sight of the persistence of whiteness in positions of power.

Who holds power in our governments, our media and yes—our non-profits, too— matters because it is those with power who ultimately decide which interests are advanced and what stories are told.

In the case of the media, quite literally. To all those who fight battles in  their everyday lives to be heard, recognized and respected, we see you and we know we must do better.

Our elected officials, and indeed, all those who hold power in our communities— including me—have a responsibility. We must use our platforms to make space and offer resources to people who don’t look like the white majority in power, to listen carefully to communities not represented, and to always question our own unconscious bias. We’ve got to do better.

Jessica Hannon is the executive director of Megaphone Magazine.

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