Anti-racism week has come down to its last day in Portage. Several efforts have taken place to spread the understanding that our community includes people with different cultures and backgrounds that may seem strange to us, but things that should not cause us to dislike any given person. 

Portage Local Immigration Partnership Program coordinator Mitch Tilk explains what it's all about, and gives insight about some things that it seems are not really so well-known about the issue.

"Everybody has a general idea of what racism is," notes Tilk. "I think people maybe sometimes don't understand exactly what anti-racism is. Anti-racism is sort of a mindset where you're trying to undo the harms that have existed in our past in our communities for a long time. For whatever reasons, in general, it's because this is going to be good for our whole community. Cultures coming together is going to benefit all of us and there is actually nothing lost when two cultures come together. Nothing has to be taken away or destroyed by appreciating another culture or anything like that."

He explains it's appreciation and the spirit of humility that says our culture might not necessarily have all the answers that other cultures might have. They might have some information that you don't have, and that you know their ways of doing things might be better than the way that we're doing them. 

"It's just being able to have an open mind and explore that as a possibility," continues Tilk. "I think it really just starts with humility and trying to understand that if we're doing so great, then why are things so bad here? So, I think there's a bit of a misconception, too. When the process of colonization started, I think there's an underlying sentiment that it was bound to happen because Europeans were somehow superior, but that is an incorrect assumption. The reality is that at that time, every culture that existed in the world was as equally evolved as all the other ones and they were adapting to the environments that they had, and they were doing it very, very well."

Tilk says it's all about opening up that appreciation and awareness that there is a lot of understanding about our world and reality that we're lacking. 

"If we keep our own traditional cultural beliefs and refuse to accept any others, that makes no sense," notes Tilk. 

He adds some do not know they hold racist beliefs. Tilk explains people forgive themselves for things that we refuse to forgive others for doing, and it doesn't necessarily mean we're bad people. 

"We're all just products of the environment that we're brought up in," continues Tilk. "A lot of people don't even realize some of the harmful assumptions they make with other people comes from racism. Things like assigning characteristics to a whole group because of one person in that group is just ridiculous. Intellectually, it falls apart immediately when you start to analyze it, but people still cling to those types of things. Everybody is aware of their own thoughts in their head and they can they forgive themselves when they do something wrong, but we never do that for other people."

He notes we're always looking at things through our own lenses and carry ourselves in a certain manner as a result, and yet the same things don't make sense when we apply them to other people.

"We can take the bad actions of a person and say, 'Well, that's because they're a bad person. I'm going to apply that to the group that they represent.' But for ourselves, even though we might fit in with some groups, our own bad actions get forgiven by ourselves, and we don't assign that to the larger group that we're a part of," says Tilk. "There are logical inconsistencies in racism, which shouldn't surprise people. It's an inherently flawed way to look at the world. Race, itself, actually doesn't really hold any water as a concept. The characteristics that we assign to race are arbitrary. We actually have much more in common with each other than we do differences, and the differences we do have are just a matter of degree, not anything that actually separates us. So, it's all just kind of made up. It's kind of foolish to want to harm other people based on information that's basically made up."

There's just the human race, anyway, says Tilk. He adds the manner to see if there is any racism in our thoughts begins with introspection.

"Humility is a big step," continues Tilk. "And it's not just trying to participate in other cultural activities,  although that is good, but to try to get to a point where you can truly appreciate those other cultures for what they're doing. It's appreciating that those differences are actually a benefit to our species and we should do everything we can to try to come together, and recognize that we have a lot to offer each other. A lot of the things that we're taught about race is not true."

He adds there are outright racist things of which everybody is aware, but the subtle things people do that are racist are often unrecognized.

"If there's somebody in a position of power, for example, hiring might just subconsciously put less credence on a resume of someone with a certain last name over a more Western last name, and that sort of thing. It's insidious and keeps us locked in these cycles. I think it's safe to assume that if you're brought up like I was, chances are you were taught some racist things and we've all grown up in a racist system. And that's not really our fault that it's made us racist. We can all forgive ourselves and each other and really try to fix those systems that are the real problem."

Tilk explains that if you're engaging in stereotyping and assigning one negative characteristic of somebody to the whole group because of the experience that you had, that's a characteristic of racism.

"It doesn't make sense," says Tilk. "You would never do that to yourself or other members of your own group. That definitely happens a lot in our community."

Announcement for today's Anti-Racism March in Portage:

Please be informed that the planned Anti-Racism Week March from the Residential School Museum to Stride Place today (Friday) from 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. has been changed due to construction on the walking path on 18th street. The new route will be up to the construction, then back to the Residential School Museum for the speeches and feast. PRRC apologizes for the last-minute change of plans and inconvenience.