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Zero tolerance

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Jody Vance's conversation with former NHL star Georges Laraque about racism, and how to create change.

This column will reference racism and Black Lives Matter, so allow me to begin by taking the important step of checking my privilege. As a white woman, it’s impossible for me to know what it’s like to be judged by my skin colour.

A big part of the social pivot we’re all experiencing is to LISTEN, and really open our ears to the lived experiences of Black people.

Longtime NHL player, author and all-round great human Georges Laraque enlightened me recently during a discussion which dug deep into his visceral, life-defining memories of being a target of racists.

Outspoken on Black Lives Matter issues, Georges gave me carte blanche to ask any and all uncomfortable and naive questions about dealing with racism. This conversation changed my perspective on what societal next steps should be, as well as what I personally should not do.

Georges is an incredibly articulate man, fearlessly honest in his story telling. Listening to him reflect back to having the worst of racist slurs tossed at him, regularly – at just 7 years old – is horrifying. His parents couldn’t come to the rink; they simply couldn’t stomach hearing it.

Still, he begged to continue playing.

Georges weathered years of racist abuse, as a kid honing his hockey skill set. Rather than let the racists (and complacent bystanders) win, Laraque turned it into motivation. I could paraphrase — but honestly, you should listen here.

When I helplessly — and somewhat exasperatedly — asked “what I should do when faced with a racist?!” – so as to not be a bystander – he said without pause: “Nothing.”

He was quick to add that as a woman, I might find my life in danger. He was very matter-of-fact: “you won’t change their mind, and you don’t want to risk getting hurt.”

In the name of standing up to racists, I could find myself on the receiving end of an outmatched bout. (In my head, I’m much bigger.)

I asked, “alright, then what?!”

“Meet it with love,” he said. When it’s in your circle of friends or family – when it is in your house – meet racism with love and clear direction to listening and learning.  Have a clear boundary with friends and family who choose racist views and let them know that they can’t be around you.  It’s a no-go.

When it comes to witnessing racism out in the community we can help, “Record everything, the cameras in our phones will change the world, they are the accountability that cannot be ignored.”

Record it. Gather evidence and call for backup.

The most poignant part of my discussion was what Georges thinks needs to happen in order to truly make change.

“Zero tolerance is the only way.”

Laraque feels that from government and business alike, there needs to be zero tolerance for racism.

Racist words with proof, fired. In private life or public, be a racist and you are out of your job. Done. Finished.

No training or programs to keep the job — FIRED. The training programs and such come to re-enter the workforce without the blemish of being a racist. Listening and educating is what’s needed.

Being openly racist cannot be qualified with “there are good people on both sides” — society must put it with the worst of the worst of wrongs. No mulligans. No massive paycheque nor fancy degree, stock portfolio or political power, should offer protection from seeing racist acts go unpunished.

This is the moment. A time where someday we reflect back and wonder “how did we let it go on for so long?”

Let’s learn, together. Be anti-racist.

Jody Vance is a born and raised Vancouverite who’s spent 30 years in both local and national media. The first woman in the history of Canadian TV to host her own sports show in primetime, since 2011 she’s been working in both TV and radio covering news and current affairs.

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