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A more diverse Sarnia encountering racism’s ugly face

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Cathy Dobson 

 “The only thing that should be separated by colour is your laundry.” – Guest speaker Leroy Hibbert at Sarnia Lambton: Let’s Stand Up Against Racism.

The arrival in Sarnia of Syrian refugees and internationals students in recent years is giving rise to more incidents of racism, say researchers at the Sarnia-Lambton Local Immigration Partnership (LIP).

“Unfortunately, it’s happening here and everywhere,” says research assistant Aruba Mahmud, a married mother of one who was born and raised in Sarnia and wears a hijab.

Aruba Mahmud

“I can say I have experienced it personally with insults and even threats to my face,” she said.

Mahmud was among the speakers at a recent public forum to discuss an anti-racism art program that provides an outlet for local kids subjected to racism.

“Bullying, because of racism, is a real issue,” said Dane Hansen, another LIP assistant researcher.  “We talked to one brown-skinned little girl who was teased by her classmates and called poo face.

“The more we bring anti-racist education into our schools, the better,” he said.

About 75 Syrian refugees have moved to Sarnia-Lambton since 2015 and all but one family has stayed.

At the same time, Lambton College has attracted about 1,000 international students, and many continue to live here after graduation.

“People choose Sarnia because it’s a quieter city and good for raising children. It’s perceived as safe and comfortable,” said Hansen.

Dane Hansen

But that increasing diversity coupled with fear about world events is resulting in racist behavior that needs to be addressed, said Mahmud.

“When people see something new that they may not understand, it can cause uncertainty,” she said. “In most people, it just leads to curiosity but sometimes it is fear about ‘What if they turn on us?’

“A lot of hate crimes go unreported,” Mahmud said. “It may be a hateful comment online or worse. I have a friend in Sarnia who was physically attacked because of discrimination. It’s not rampant, but it does occur and we need to do better.”

Stephanie Ferrera

Stephanie Ferrera, LIP’s project co-ordinator, said an anti-racism art challenge started in 2017 has engaged more than 200 local students at 10 schools and is a powerful way to combat racism.

The students in Grades 7-12 collaborate with local artists and submit paintings, writing, video productions and other multi-media works that reflect diversity and an anti-racism message.

One poster, for instance, read, “We all bleed the same colour.” The work has been displayed at Northern Collegiate and at Artwalk.

The project’s funding is almost gone but a diversity and inclusion committee has been struck to keep the anti-racism project going.

The Sarnia-Lambton ‘Let’s Stand Up Against Racism’ forum was held at the Best Western Guildwood Inn and attended by about 45 social service workers, police, newcomer settlement workers and refugee sponsor groups.


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