Guest post by Shan Dhaliwal.
Shan is a student at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) completing his Bachelor of Business Administration with a major in Marketing. He is also attending the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) for graphic design.
Shan works at the South Asian Studies Institute at UFV as a Marketing Research Assistant where he marketed, planned and designed the ‘We Are Hockey’ exhibit. He also had the opportunity of writing a research paper called “We Are Hockey: An Analysis of Social Media Comments and Responses,” for which he was awarded UFV’s “Undergraduate Research Excellence Award.”
The “We Are Hockey” exhibit was curated and opened by the South Asian Studies Institute (SASI) at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) in March 2019. The exhibit expresses a deep and resonant Canadian story not just from the perspective of the exhibit content, but from the setting of the exhibit as well. The exhibit is located at Gur Sikh Temple National Historic Site’s Sikh Heritage Museum in Abbotsford, British Columbia. The space’s positive spirit is built into the foundation and walls of the building, adding to the total effect and ambience of We Are Hockey’s bright, eye-catching display.
This exhibit is a vibrant, inclusive and counter historical account of Canada’s most beloved sport: Hockey. Centred on the experiences of peoples of colour, this exhibit challenges singularly racial perspectives on the meaning of hockey as Canada’s nationally loved sport while negotiating the often ambivalent, yet very relevant interrogations of race and ethnicity. Although many would easily recognize that the sport of ice hockey is iconic to Canadian culture, the greater emphasis of its impact has been on the promotion of racial whiteness in the sport.
We Are Hockey highlights historic and persistent racially unequal representation within public discourse in the game of hockey. In particular, the timeline showcases the experiences of peoples of colour in the sport and through it increases the viewer’s access to a personal and collective evocative hockey history. The exhibit interrogates who the “we” is in Canadian hockey and the particular meanings of a very personal engagement by attaching its iconic status to culturally distinct and diverse Canadians across the country. The exhibit works on the premise that by ignoring hockey’s racial history, we miss out on the opportunity to celebrate some of Canada’s heroes.
Stories about historic players such as Willie O’Ree, Larry Kwong and Robin Bawa relay the barriers and hardships they faced while they played in the NHL, pursuing their dreams at a young age. More recent stories about players like Jarome Iginla and Jujhar Khaira are highlighted in the detailed biography panel portion of the exhibit.
My experience as a Marketing Research Assistant for the SASI was like no other. SASI brought the story of diversity in the game of ice hockey to life, and with the many perspectives from the SASI curatorial team, it was executed in a way that appeals to all age groups. Opening day saw people from all age ranges attend the launch. Everyone was intrigued by the stories of hockey players of colour who played in professional leagues, that they had not known. Smiling faces, curious conversation and a robust one of kind community engagement sums up the amazing opening night of We Are Hockey.
My position provided me with a huge learning experience not just through the work, but with the content I was reading and designing. For example, I had no idea that Robin Bawa even existed, but I learned that his presence in hockey was a huge milestone for South Asian fans all around the world. I wrote a research paper entitled, “We Are Hockey: A Social Media Analysis,” which shed light on how individuals think it is acceptable to post racist remarks on social media. As I analyzed these comments, I was able to relate back to past stories about players highlighted in the exhibit, and corroborate the fact that racism in the sport continues to exist. Some of the main themes that I pulled from the social media comments revolved around white fragility and white privilege, where individuals felt the need to defend themselves against questions of (under)representation and had a difficult time acknowledging their power and privilege in society.
As I learned and familiarized myself with the concepts of critical race theory, I began relating them to my own experiences. As children, my friends and I would play all kinds of sports, whether that was soccer, hockey, football, basketball etc. – we were playing day in and day out. And, it wasn’t only us playing but we talked about sports, collected trading cards, and cheered our favourite players on when they hit the floor. Looking back on this, I never once imagined myself making it to the big leagues. Skill and talent play a huge factor in this of course, but I also realized that I was being limited by what I saw around me.
When I was cheering on the Vancouver Canucks, I saw how the ice was full of predominately white males, the referees were white, and the coaching staff was white. Because of this constant exposure to a sport that had a very limited number of players of colour participating, I believed that hockey was not available to me as a player, just as a spectator. Unpacking my own subconscious beliefs astounded me; just imagine how a simple thing like watching Hockey Night in Canada could have such a huge impact on the future capabilities of a minority audience. To think that some child in the world may be limited by who they see (or don’t see) is unbelievable and heart wrenching.
However, against all odds, some minority youth looked past this huge barrier and pursued a professional career regardless of what they saw around them. We Are Hockey captures the amazing stories of current and past players, showing what they had to face in order to get where they wanted to be. The exhibit is open to the public until March 31, 2020 when it will start touring Canada. I encourage everyone to go see it if they can – there is much to learn about the sport and its treatment and representation of players of colour.