Abbotsford woman co-opts KKK tactic to celebrate diversity

Abbotsford woman co-opts KKK tactic to celebrate diversity

Bags of multi-coloured rice thrown on doorsteps

Bags of rice containing pamphlets have landed on Abbotsford doorsteps three times in the last five months.

On the first two occasions, they contained white rice and racist notes from the Ku Klux Klan, recruiting for the white supremacist group (in October 2016) and disparaging civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. (in January).

The most recent batch of plastic bags landed on local stoops in April and brought an opposing message: white, red, brown, black and wild rice with a note stating “Celebrate diversity.”

Kristine Heinrichs and her husband Akol Kuol spread 70 of the anti-racist messages in east Abbotsford one evening in mid-April. Heinrichs drove her car, while Kuol tossed the bags. They tried to mirror the same route as the “night riders” who spread pamphlets calling King a “communist pervert” on his birthday in January.

One evening a few days before, Heinrichs and Kuol hosted a “rice gathering” at their home where friends and family came and mixed the rice, with which they filled the bags along with the notes.

Heinrichs led the scheme as part of a project for her “socially engaged art” class at Trinity Western University, where she has just graduated with a major in international studies and a minor in art. The class bridged the gap between art and activism, she said.

“I throw bags from my window to the doors of east Abbotsford. I know that tomorrow they will stumble on a message of celebration, of non-dualism,” she wrote in her artist’s statement.

She said the KKK literature was just one example of systemic racism in society.

While many locals expressed shock when the racist notes were spread in Abbotsford, Heinrichs said Kuol – a South Sudanese refugee who has lived in Canada since 2008 – and other non-white residents were less surprised.

“Not everyone was shocked,” Heinrichs wrote. “The language of protecting the white race, angry messages, segregated language are all too familiar to ethnic minorities across Canada.”

Heinrichs said her husband has been the target of several racist incidents in Abbotsford. She said men have thrown food at him from a moving vehicle and yelled, “Go back to Africa!” And she said he has even encountered a man wearing a KKK outfit in an Abbotsford gas station. (Kuol was not available to be interviewed for this story.)

The project’s goal was to spread a counter-message of inclusion against the bigotry and discrimination, Heinrichs said.

“I totally think I’ve succeeded in my goal,” she said.

 

Ako Kuol (left) and Kristine Heinrichs (right). John Yoo

Ako Kuol (left) and Kristine Heinrichs (right). John Yoo