“One of them was relating a very racist story, and they were all laughing.”

Primary Media
Portrait of Diane Dwarka
Credit: Diane Dwarka
Published On: October 26, 2023


I immigrated to Canada from the island of Trinidad in the Caribbean about 50 years ago and first settled in Ottawa, where most of my in-laws lived and still do. While in Ottawa at that time, people used derogatory words to describe me, and others, as a Brown person. The comments bothered me and I tried to ignore them. Deep down, though, I think I was starting to internalize most of this racism without even realizing what I was doing.

With some encouragement from my sister, we later moved to Winnipeg to be closer to my family. I attended a new United Church congregation. Even though I felt immediately welcomed there, I still continued to encounter racism in the church and in the community. I am aware that some people think that racism is not an issue within the United Church, but I have several personal experiences of racism.

For example, one evening I walked into a room where a few members of my church board had gathered and were chatting. One of them was relating a very racist story, and they were all laughing. Then, one of them realized that I was standing there listening and made a sign to the others. There was dead silence. The storyteller, whose back was to me, turned around, saw me, and said, “Oh, I was not referring to you; you are one of us.” Really? He probably didn’t realize that he was actually claiming me as his “(insert the “n” word here).” It would have been better for him to just stop talking. I did not have the courage to speak up, so I just internalized what I had heard and moved on. In hindsight, I should have addressed the problem right at that time.

Another example happened when I was representing a former presbytery at a congregational meeting. Almost everyone else at the meeting was White. When I arrived, I introduced myself, told the greeter why I was there, and asked if I could meet with the person to whom I was to connect. I was totally ignored and left to stand there by myself as the greeter was immediately distracted by  a couple of White folks who appeared to be visitors. They received a very warm welcome. Meanwhile, I was still just standing there. After a while I made my way into the sanctuary and asked around to find the person I was supposed to meet. I may be wrong, but I think if the colour of my skin was different or my accent was different I would have been more welcomed. During the service I noticed that I was the only Brown person in the church. I participated in the service and then conducted the task I was supposed to do and left. It seemed to be unimaginable to the congregants that a non-White person could be in a position to lead or conduct a congregational meeting.

Here is another example. I was involved with my local United Church congregation almost from its inception. I taught Sunday school, chaired many committees, and sat on some significant committees such as the building committee. I also headed search committees over the years, but when I became Chair of the Board a few White men from the former Winnipeg Presbytery questioned the fact that a woman of colour was chair of the church’s board. Over the years, as a member of the congregation, I have been generally well accepted and thanked many times for my contribution not just to our local church but to the wider church as well. I have also endured much discrimination and some painful moments. I hope that as time moves on that many of us of colour who choose to be members of this church will be fully accepted and not treated as guests or visitors.

Faith Reflection


Loving and gracious God, I give you thanks for this country that is filled with immigrants from many places and of many races and colours and yet, because of systemic racism, many of us are forced to suppress our feelings. Give us, we pray, courage to speak out, to give voice to our feelings, those of us whose skin is not White or whose name comes from somewhere else, whether we are immigrants or born in Canada.

Living It Out

At one time, I introduced a series of talks by community members about different races and faiths. This was an opportunity to explore, to learn, and to share. The series was well attended and well received. Are there opportunities for you to learn and share about race and racism with your community of faith?

Diane Dwarka (she/her) is a retired librarian and passionate community volunteer whose activities cover social, legal, human rights, educational, community, and religious/spiritual issues. She has served on local, provincial, and national organizations and has been president of many organizations, including the Council of Caribbean Organizations of Manitoba, Community Legal Education Association (CLEA), Manitoba Association for Multicultural Education (MAME), Canada Council for Multicultural and Intercultural Education (CCMIE), the Women’s Inter-Church Council of Canada (WICC), and Chair of Red River College Alumni. Diane has served The United Church of Canada locally, regionally, and nationally. Among the many awards she has received is a Public Legal Education Award, the YM-YWCA Women of Distinction Award, the Red River Distinguished Alumnus Award, the Premier’s Award for Volunteerism, the Community Champion Award from the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, the B'nai Brith Human Rights Award, and the Manitoba 150 Award, was 2014 Folklorama Ambassador General, and was humbled to receive an eagle feather.