In the Mingling Area on March 21st, the Brandon University Multicultural Association (BUMA) organized a rally to promote the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The day was dedicated in 1966 by the United Nations, calling on the community, and the world, to increase its efforts to achieve the elimination of racial discrimination. This year, the day is dedicated to the obliteration of racism in sports, an area where discrimination is frequent, and, paradoxically, an area where racism can be fought.
The reasons for its commemoration are bloody. On March 21st, 1960, a crowd of South Africans gathered outside a police station in the township of Sharpeville, South Africa. While the level of docility in their protestation was debated, the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) liberation group was united in objecting to the government-approved “pass laws”, which severely increased the segregation of the non-white populace, and which were later broadened to include women. Initially, five to seven thousand people offered themselves to authorities for not carrying their pass books, required documentation. The crowd later grew to around 20,000, vastly outnumbering the fewer than 20 police officers occupying the station and prompting nearly 130 police reinforcements armed with sub-machine guns. Shortly afterwards, police opened fire. Sixty-nine people were killed and 180 severely wounded, including 8 women and 10 children; the protestors, violent or not, were armed with stones, if anything at all.
Newly appointed BU Arts Senator and Racialised Commissioner Manuel Godoy hosted the event, and indicated the necessity for Brandon University, as well as other campuses across the country, to acknowledge racial marginalization and promote radicalised identity for everyone.
Showcasing BU’s hidden talent, and oftentimes unappreciated multicultural scene, student Sarra Dziver opened the rally with a traditional Ukrainian song, and the Aboriginal drumming group Sweet Medicine Singers also performed, simultaneously celebrating International Drum Day (also March 21st).
Guest speaker Elder Frank Tachen addressed the racism and Aboriginal stereotypes present in Canada, and particularly Manitoba, recalling firsthand some of his own experiences in public settings. Firmly believing that the elimination of racism is impossible, the residential school victim attested that society can improve if people once again focus on what matters most in life: love and respect. By first loving and respecting ourselves, Tachen said, we can better see the value in others, re-establish our connection with one of the greatest sources of knowledge at our disposal, the environment, and regain notions of international equality.
Wrapping up the event, Latin dance group International Sensation got the crowd clapping, and BU’s Chinese Students’ Association (CSA) attracted onlookers and stunned the crowd with an impressive number involving isolation dance moves, and a dance to the enormously popular “Gangnam Style”.
In spite of poor attendance, with the exception of the CSA’s performance, the rally delivered easily applicable messages of tolerance and acceptance while offering the quieter, less publicized clubs within the university and the city a chance to showcase their talent and the diversity present. Individuals interested in experiencing a culture or tradition different from their own need not travel across oceans or spend extravagant sums, but simply look within their own community, and as BUMA proved, there’s no better place to begin searching than Brandon University.
Republished from The Quill print edition, Volume 103, Issue 26, March 26, 2013.