What does it mean to be actively anti-racist?
- The first thing one needs to know is that engagement in antiracism work is a lifelong journey, that begins with deep introspection of one’s core values of who one wishes to be as a local and global citizen and the integral part race plays in that determination.
- Antiracism requires one to acknowledge that this work did not begin in 2020, during this recent movement. As such to be actively anti-racist, means knowing the history of race and racism in this city and Canada, and the many organizations, organizers and activists who have been mobilized in this work and providing support to communities for the decades past. For example, before there was Black Lives Matter in Toronto there was the Black Action Defense Committee; Take the time to read historical reports such as the Report from the Advisor on Race Relations to the then Ontario Premier Bob Rae, written by Stephen Lewis in 1992. The reasons that spark marches and protests may differ year over year, but – the deep-rooted systemic racism that has always existed in Canada – is the one constant that has not changed.
- So with that context I offer the following:
- One must actively determine their role and responsibility to Truth and Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. When is the last time you read through the document and enquired about the status of your organization’s efforts and accountability to the TRC?
- Identify the spaces of power that you hold – through your socially constructed identities and from other power sources including in your professional and social circles (social capital) – use that power actively and responsibly to create spaces of opportunity and eliminate barriers for Black, Indigenous and racialized communities – whether in employment, education, housing, health care, criminal justice system, media etc. Whether you are using your voice, your monies, your real estate, your decision making authority, whatever tools you have at your disposal, use them.
- Do not engage in this work with a sweeping brush. Racism is a disease that is impacting racialized communities differently. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted (once again) anti-Asian racism and the Asian community’s experiences with xenophobic comments and behavior. Moreover, whether in regards to policing, the education system or in health care, data has shown that Black and Indigenous communities are disproportionately impacted within these systems.
- Finally, be brave and do more. Putting up a social media post is not enough. Activate courage in your workplaces, in the classroom and in your homes, when you know you are hearing something that is just not right. We need interrupters of the daily cuts created by microaggressions. We need change-makers, who are willing to take a look at the make up of their teams or the images hung on the walls in their schools and say we need to make a change to make the environment reflective and more importantly welcoming, to Black, Indigenous and racialized persons.
2) I want to support the Black community, where do I begin?
- Supporting the Black community means understanding that the Black community is a community filled with a diversity of ethnicities, sexual and gender identities, Creed and spiritual beliefs, different abilities and many more individualities. One voice cannot represent the perspective of all communities and yet every voice is touched by anti-Black racism. #Blacktranslivesmatter #Blackwomenlivesmatter #Blackbodieswithdifferentabilitiesmatter
- Supporting the Black community begins with relationship building. Actions only translate into support when trust is present. That trust begins with ongoing engagement, dialogue and relationships with Black community.
- Supporting the Black community means allowing oneself to be willing to be held accountable, managing ones defensiveness and taking the steps to do better.
3) What local organizations can I support?
- There are several resources circulating online and on social media highlighting Black organizations and businesses that Torontonians can support ranging from organizations such as the Black Legal Action Center, Black Lives Matter TO and the Black Liberation Collective. I would also like to encourage folks to reflect on the varying businesses they frequent: restaurants, vineyards, florists, clothing stores, accountants, etc. and ask themselves – Is there a Black, Indigenous or racialized – owned business that provide these very services that I can access?
- Many institutions and organizations have associations and affinity groups that are Black focused – support them. Attend their events, engage in the learning forums, support their fundraising initiatives, if appropriate make donations, build the relationships and integrate these communities into your decision making – these are the ways individuals can provide support.
4) What do I need to know about racism in my city?
- Racism has historical roots and present-day, everyday manifestations. The work to eradicate systemic, institutional and individual forms of racism is a collective responsibility.
I sit here at the intersection of sadness, frustration and intense anger. The most recent murder of George Floyd may have occurred in America, but the impact of this loss of life is reverberating in the hearts and souls of Black people worldwide.
As painful as this reflection has been, I am called to put my thoughts to paper as I unpack what the placing of the knee on the neck of George Floyd has represented for me and what continues to drive tears from my eyes:
- That knee represents the pain so many Black bodies live through in the classrooms, workplaces, transit systems, hospitals and postsecondary campuses. The daily interactions Black employees have with their managers that devalue or discredit their work and render their contributions as invisible and invaluable; that knee represents the eye-rolling that follows after raising an issue of racism, or the passive aggressive comments from a manager or colleague that continuously communicates that you better “know your place” and the expectation that you will continue to “smile” and show respect.
- That knee represents the many times Black students are only called upon by their teachers/professors to speak to the Black experience within a lesson plan, but are not called upon for any other reason; it represents the disproportionate handing out of suspensions and expulsions of Black students within our school boards; it represents the low expectations set by some teachers and guidance counsellors and the streamlining of our Black children out of university opportunities; it represents having to learn and interact in school buildings filled with pictures of White leaders and with graffiti on bathroom doors filled (sometimes daily) with offensive racial slurs.
Racism is a system of beliefs that manifests into actions. A belief system that is so intimately tied to our way of life that when Black people try to call out racist behavior, we are made to feel like we are exaggerating, playing the race card or too sensitive. These belief systems are intertwined in the cultures of our workplace and learning environments. We need to spend more time thinking about and addressing the very cultures, organizational biases, and practices that make permissible racial cuts to be experienced daily and that allow for the “Amy Coopers” to be hired and wreak havoc in the workplace and classrooms on Black and racialized bodies.
EDI and Antiracism practitioners – let’s come together to share best practices, learn from one another and hold each other accountable as we work towards disentangling this system of beliefs in our respective environments. We must do better and I will not be silent.
Rest in Peace: George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Regis Korchinski-Pacquet..and the many other Black lives lost…
Common terms that organizations genuinely wish to embrace; but are you committing to these terms effectively? Are you aiming to increase diversity in your organization? Or are you aiming to increase inclusion? …Yes, there is a difference.
5 tips to increasing diversity:
– Management must commit to the process
– Engage in a diversity gap analysis
– Audit recruitment practices
– Engage community stakeholders when job posting
– Measure organizational progress
5 tips to increasing inclusion:
– Management must commit to changing workplace culture
– Measure a candidate’s competency for inclusion and respect during recruitment
– Provide ongoing education and support to the team on inclusive practices and communication on topics such as race, gender, accessibility, to name a few
– Do not silence, dismiss or avoid addressing any concerns raised by team members
– Audit services provided to identify gaps in inclusive practices
Contact REACTCanada for your education and consulting needs!
(photo: Poster for workshop facilitated at York University Feb 2017)
Speaking on issues of race and racism is never easy, but identifying yourself as someone who is setting out to battle anti-Black racism is downright terrifying.
Do I sound too militant? Have I turned into the angry Black woman? Will I be hurting my career? Did I put myself in a box?
For a really long time, these questions provided me with a justification for not speaking up and working on issues that affected my reality as a Black woman. As I work in the field of human rights I got lost in the language of “diversity and inclusion”. Though it is essential to learn the language that allows stakeholders in organizations to feel COMFORTABLE; you quickly learn that comfort does not drive change and contrary to popular belief, neither does discomfort. The only element that produces change in organization is – COMMITMENT.
But how can I ask persons with power to commit to changing something I was too frightened to name?
Change needed to begin with me. I could no longer allow the fear of critique or labels dictate my commitment to identifying and working towards eliminating anti-Black racism.
This Black History Month I affirm that racism exists. I affirm that racism is real and is an act of violence. Anti-Black racism has historical roots in Canada and impacts the realities and experiences of Black bodies today.
To persons who are interested in or planning on establishing a career in human rights:
1. Identify your truths
2. Find your voice and speak up
3. Increase your knowledge in your passions
4. Learn from and give back to your community
5. Honor the wisdom of the past and contribute to the works of the future
Over the past 6 months, we have been plagued with experiences of anti-Black racism in the Ontario Schools Boards in the media. Beginning with the report by the Peel District School Board, We Rise Together: The Peel District School Board Action Plan to Support Black Male Students, and more recently with the highlighting of experiences with racism in the York Region District School Board, it is clear that conversations on racism in school environments have been brought to the forefront…yet again.
The issue of racism in schools is nothing new. Academics such as George Dei, Carl James, Henry Codjoe, Frances Henry and Carol Tator, have provided invaluable research into the existence of individual and institutional forms of racism at all levels of schooling in Canada. Over the years, in response to these issues we have adapted what I am calling the – Cycle of Concern:
(Step 1) Highlight the inadequacies and experiences of racism in schools
(Step 2) Showcase the issues in mainstream and social media
(Step 3) Make promises and commitments to promote and sustain ‘diversity and inclusion’
(Step 4) End Dialogue
It is time to break the cycle.
Real problems must be met with real solutions. Provided below are tips/reflective questions to support school educators and administrators as they work towards eliminating racism in their environments:
- The days for lumping are over. “Diversity”, “Minorities”, “Marginalized”, “Inclusion” – these terms all sound very nice, but nice does not effect real change. Time has proven that these terms have done little to address and eliminate the experiences of racism for Black and Indigenous teachers, staff members and students. Today, schools have found ease and pride in highlighting initiatives that address issues specific to the LGBTQ2S* students or students with disabilities. Yet that same comfort has not yet translated when speaking on issues of race. There is such a thing as “Black issues”. Though race is socially constructed, it has real impacts. It is time for school boards to have the courage to identify and address anti-Black racism in their environments.
SIDE NOTE – Though media attention has primarily been focused on the experiences of Black male students, we must not forget nor neglect the experiences of our Black girls/young women. Acknowledgment of the uniqueness of their experiences is a necessity in achieving real solutions.
- A teaching certificate (much like a police uniform) is not a magic wand. It does not magically remove a person’s racial biases and prejudices. Tools must be put in place at the hiring, retention and promotion stages of employment to evaluate teachers and staff members competency and capacity to work through their racial biases and to ensure that stereotypes and prejudices have not informed their teaching practices and attitudes towards students, particularly those who have been disciplined.
- Can you count on your hands the number of Black teachers and staff members that work within your respective school? If yes, you have an issue of representation and need to take a look at your recruitment strategy to ensure you are accessing the diversity that surrounds you. I need not share the countless research that highlights the importance of students being able to see themselves reflected throughout their schooling environments.
- What does racial discrimination and harassment look like to you? I have come to understand that individuals do not have a clear understanding of what constitutes racial discrimination and harassment in work and learning environments. School boards need to ensure that all employees attain continuous, mandatory trainings/workshops that reaffirm what behaviors and comments constitute racial discrimination based on the Ontario Human Rights Code in order to prevent such actions from occurring.
How prepared are you to teach and serve the diverse racialized communities that surrounds you? Acknowledging that race intersects with identities such as religion, gender identity, abilities and sexual orientation, it is incumbent for teachers and administrators to not approach these challenges with a one-size fits all solution. This will only continue the “Cycle of Concern” and I will have to write yet another blog.
REACT services is here to support education environments in breaking the cycle. Let’s Connect!