When they came to power in 2015, the Trudeau Liberals promised to ‘build a government that looks like Canada.’ Now those words have slowly been transformed into actions

Nice profile of a former IRCC colleague and her leadership in anti-Black racism both within IRCC and more broadly.

The percentage of visible minority executives is incorrectly stated at 4.6%, not the 11.1% in the latest employment equity report (for the numbers, see https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/october-2020/what-new-disaggregated-data-tells-us-about-federal-public-service-diversity/):

As she watched the George Floyd story and anti-Black-racism movement unfolding worldwide last summer, Farah Boisclair emailed her colleagues at Canada’s immigration department and called a town-hall meeting to talk about racism.

“I was going through a lot of emotions showing up to work. There’s a global movement and it was plastered all over the media, but no one was talking about it at work,” says Boisclair, director of the anti-racism task force at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

“Part of me saddened, part of me frustrated. Why isn’t anybody saying anything? That’s when I woke up and said, ‘You are a leader. You have the power. You have people who work with you, who look like you and who may be feeling a certain way, like you.”

With the blessing of her boss, she made her first presentation to more than 300 of her colleagues on topics such as experiences of microaggression, white privilege and racism.

Boisclair, whose mother is Haitian and father Guyanese, is now a member of the Federal Speakers’ Forum on Diversity and Inclusion, a platform where public servants share their lived experience with colleagues and management.

Trying to have a conversation about race and racism is tough, let alone at work in a professional setting. However, it’s one of the many initiatives the federal government is banking on in its attempts to make strides in creating and promoting a diverse and inclusive public service.

Earlier this year, with little fanfare, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat unveiled the government’s priorities to increase diversity in hiring and appointments within the public service — a commitment that was reaffirmed in the federal budget in April.

Collecting and breaking down its employee data by disability, ethnic backgrounds and executive roles, and ensuring the statistics are made public;

Launching the Centre for Diversity and Inclusion to lead and keep track of departments and agencies in their efforts to address systemic racism and boost diversity representation through collaboration with diverse community groups;

Revamping the government’s existing mentorship program and starting a sponsorship program to groom civil servants from under-represented groups into leadership and executive roles in their organizations; and

Setting up a speakers’ bureau, to help raise awareness about diversity and inclusion within the public service through a roster of speakers who share their experience across departments and ministries.

“There is good momentum across the government and a desire to make significant progress on diversity and inclusion,” said Paule-Anny Pierre, executive director of the new Centre for Diversity and Inclusion.

“Our actions will help ensure that decisions, initiatives and programs across the public service foster and promote a workplace that is respectful, diverse and inclusive, that represents the population it serves and that enables each employee to feel valued and contribute at their full potential.”

There’s a lot of work to be done to boost diversity in the public service, especially among those in the leadership roles. The latest government data shows visible minorities made up only 4.6 per cent of all executives and Blacks accounted for 1.6 per cent in those roles. [Note: Correct figure is 11.1 percent]

The 2020 Public Service Employee Survey, its results released in May, also added new questions to measure employees’ perceptions of anti-racism in the workplace.

Almost 80 per cent of the 188,786 respondents said they would feel free to speak about racism in the workplace without fear of reprisal and felt comfortable sharing concerns about issues related to racism in the workplace with a person of authority.

Born and raised in Ottawa, Boisclair said no one around her worked for government. However, a co-op opportunity with the federal government while studying finance at the University of Ottawa opened the door for her.

In her 13 years with the government, she has worked in various departments, including Industry Canada (now Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada), Natural Resources Canada and Infrastructure Canada.

On many occasions, she said, she would find herself one of the few or the only person who was a visible minority in her teams.

“I felt hyperaware of myself in these environments. I was constantly like, ‘Be careful what you say, be careful what you do, be careful how you interact.’ With that, I think, I held myself back a lot (in terms of) speaking up on my ideas and my thoughts,” said Boisclair.

“It’s very much like: ‘I’m here to do a job. They’re going to tell me what to do and I’m going to do it.’ … I knew I was different from the others. You don’t want to stick out too much. You try to go along to get along.”

As a Black woman, Boisclair said, she has experienced microaggression at work many times and felt invisible in board rooms.

“I will be joined by a white colleague, a woman around the same age, same group in level, both managers from the same team. I remember the treatment of my colleague when I was working with her for three years, it was very different,” she recalled.

“When we’d go to meetings together, I felt like it’s her race and even the standard of beauty in the North American context, she got very different treatment, more eye contact, more interaction with her. It’s hard and you don’t want it to get into your head.”

The experience, she said, made her feel less important and less valued.

Although the faces in the rank and file of the federal public service are changing, she said all her managers, until now, were predominantly white.

Periodically, Boisclair would have a mentor in her department but only recently was she assigned a Black woman as her official sponsor at work.

“It’s really important to have mentors from different groups and genders, because they each offer different perspectives and each can relate to you on different levels,” she said.

“I have had mentors who professionally give you really good advice but when it came to some of those deeper conversations about race and my identity in the workplace, that’s a bit tough with the white mentors,” she noted.

Dahabo Ahmed Omer, a policy development and employment equity expert, says mentorship/sponsorship and speakers’ bureau initiatives are important tools in building understanding and trust in order to create awareness and cultural change within the organization.

A former human resources specialist with the federal government herself, Ahmed Omer said government mandates, strategies and practices are set by senior leaders who play a key role in the building of an inclusive public service.

“There’s the history of slavery, anti-Indigenous racism. You build trust by listening actively and by implementing solutions that directly come from the community,” said Ahmed Omer, now the executive director of BlackNorth Initiative, an effort led by the Canadian Council of Business Leaders Against Anti-Black Systemic Racism.

“The voices of the most marginalized have to be at the forefront.”

Organizations must pick the right mentors, give access to as many mentees as possible and make sure the under-represented groups have opportunities to apply what they’ve learned so they can seize those opportunities when they arise at work, she noted.

From reviewing staffing plans to budget priorities and resource allocations through a diversity lens, Ahmed Omer said the effort must be “deliberate” and she is liking the federal plan she has seen so far.

Boisclair said she is grateful to have a sponsor at work, who gives her pointers in her career development, sends her articles to inspire and equip her, expand her network and champion her in the immigration department, which had 8,500 employees in 2020.

Last year, after seeing her anti-racism presentation with her staff, her sponsor invited her to speak to a couple of dozen deputy ministers from different departments in October. Since then, she has done about 25 townhalls within the federal public sector to share her experience and stories.

These conversations are difficult, said Boisclair, because they are “too raw” for a lot of people.

“You are talking about deep, deep, deep emotions, trauma and, in a lot of cases, some people just don’t know how to deal with emotions in the workplace. When some of the people are sharing some of the more intimate experiences, it’s hard,” she said.

“A lot of people don’t want to deal with the feelings of guilt. People don’t like to get uncomfortable,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense for them. Why would I put myself in an uncomfortable position?”

The experience from these candid conversations has also been refreshing and empowering.

“At the time, I was feeling like, I’m just tired of putting on a filter. I need to show my lived experience as a woman, as a Black person, as a Canadian, the full essence of who I am. That doesn’t often happen at the workplace for racialized people,” said Boisclair.

“I have had these dialogues for many, many years in close circles at home. You would never, never have these conversations at work. For me, it’s time to open people’s minds up to the reality of systemic racism and the harmful impacts of it.”

While these conversations, along with the mentorship/sponsorship program, can drive awareness of racial understanding and organizational cultural change, Ryerson University professor Wendy Cukier says disaggregated data can provide the barometer to identify gaps and measure results.

“We need good data to tracking things like what works and what doesn’t work. We need to apply the same gender and diversity lens to how government spends money and who it’s serving. There’s the inward piece but also the outward reaching piece,” said Cukier, founder and academic director at Ryerson’s Diversity Institute.

“It’s not that anybody deliberately puts up bars or gates, but you need the data to see if certain segments of the population are applying for jobs in my department and what I can do to increase engagement.”

The latest statistics on employment equity populations published by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat provide a glimpse at the diversity representation of the federal public service:

Overall, visible minorities made up 656 or 4.6 per cent of all executives;

Black people made up 96 or 1.6 per cent of all executives;

Indigenous peoples made up 239 or 4.1 per cent of all executives;

There were 1,387 persons with disabilities working in administrative support, which was 7 per cent of all these employees; and

People who are blind or visually impaired made up 767 or 0.4 per cent of all employees.

“Leaders have to represent the people they are leading, otherwise they are not going to be very effective. When organizations have leaders who look like the people they are leading, they have higher levels of engagement,” said Cukier.

“People tend to associate with people who look like them. If you’re from a racialized population, you are less likely to have a social network that will help you understand the unspoken rules that will mentor you and promote you at work.”

Cukier said the dominant group in the workforce should not feel threatened fearing that the progress for their under-represented peers will be made at their expense, given the civil service is full of boomers, many of them will be retiring in the near future.

“There is a huge challenge in digital and technological transformation in the public sector, which has one of the most acute skill shortages. This is not a question of new people pushing the established group out, this is a question of meeting concrete need for skills and new thinking,” she said.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to rely on the same kind of people if your goal is to drive transformation. We know there’s a strong link between diversity and innovation.”

Quebec MP Greg Fergus, parliamentary secretary to Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos, agreed.

“You don’t make this a ‘I win, you lose’ kind of equation. It’s not an ‘either or.’ It’s a ‘both and.’ We all benefit by growing the pie. We’re better together,” said Fergus. “This is not about cutting anybody’s career short. This is about building a more resilient public service.”

Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2021/05/23/when-they-came-to-power-in-2015-the-trudeau-liberals-promised-to-build-a-government-that-looks-like-canada-now-those-words-have-slowly-been-transformed-into-actions.html

The Whitelash Next Time

Of note despite treating all white Americans the same:

Two months. That’s how long it took for white Americans’ support of Black Lives Matter—which climbed to an unprecedented peak in June after the brutal police murder of George Floyd—to tumble back toward preprotest levels. Over the same period, surveys show, declining numbers of white respondents cited anti-Black racism as a “big problem” in American society. An NPR/Ipsos poll from late August found white people are the racial group least likely to report taking even the most minor “actions to better understand racial issues in America” since protests began sweeping the country. Just half of white Americans concede “racism is built into the American economy, government, and educational systems.” And 49 percent believe America has already done enough “to give Black Americans equal rights with white Americans.”

It’s always true that most white folks are unbothered and unmoved by anti-Black discrimination and violence; the steadfast endurance of American institutional racism proves that. It is also clear from history that white anti-racism has always had a dangerously short shelf life. Ignore the barrels of digital ink spilled lately about white people’s new willingness to reckon with structural racism. When the pendulum swings toward Black equality and full citizenship, white supremacy mounts a counteroffensive.

Cornell University historian Lawrence Glickman notes the word “backlash” gained circulation during the civil rights movement in 1963 as a shorthand for the “topsy-turvy rebellion in which white people with relative societal power perceived themselves as victimized by what they described as overly aggressive African Americans demanding equal rights.” The term summed up the most reliable white reaction to Black rights dating at least to Reconstruction, when the mere facts of Black emancipation and voter enfranchisement were construed as provocations for justifiable white racist terrorism. Between 1865—when six former Confederate soldiers founded the Ku Klux Klan—and 1950, nearly 6,500 Black men, women, and children were lynched for affronts that included bumping into a white woman and not using “Mister” when talking to a white man. “The more I studied the situation,” wrote Ida B. Wells, “the more I was convinced that the [white] Southerner had never gotten over his resentment that the Negro was no longer his plaything, his servant, and his source of income.”

Refugees of the Great Migration, the mass movement of African Americans to the North and West to flee that terror, were subjected to yet more white violence. Enraged by Black folks seeking equal employment and housing, as well as returning Black World War I veterans’ demands for the rights at home they had fought for abroad, white mobs in at least 25 riots around the country—including in Chicago; Syracuse, N.Y.; and Washington, D.C.—killed over 250 African Americans during the Red Summer of 1919. Those murders foreshadowed anti-Black pogroms in the thriving Black enclaves of Tulsa, Okla., in 1921 and Rosewood, Fla., in 1923.

The white backlash is typified by what Glickman identifies as “its smoldering resentment, its belief that the movement [for Black rights is] proceeding ‘too fast,’ its demands for emotional and psychological sympathy, and its displacement of African Americans’ struggles with its own claims of grievance.” Case in point: Just months after passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, The New York Times reported pervasive white anger over “inverse discrimination.” Then as now, backlashers maligned Black protests and uprisings, insisting property destruction canceled out Black deservedness of human rights. In one 1963 survey, 73 percent of white Southerners and 65 percent of white Northerners said civil rights demonstrations “hurt the Negro’s cause for racial equality,” and multiple white New York City dwellers told the Times in 1964 that “nonviolent civil rights demonstrations had hurt Negroes’ chances” (my emphasis). Historical revisionism has attempted to erase the fact that 75 percent of white folks disapproved of Martin Luther King Jr. in early 1968. In the 1960s, when he was leading protests, a survey found that just 36 percent of white Americansthought he was helping “the Negro cause of civil rights.”

“The trigger for white rage, inevitably, is black advancement,” Carol Anderson wrote in her 2016 book White Rage. That rage helped ardent segregationist and presidential candidate George Wallace winfive Southern states in 1968 and five primaries in 1972, including Michigan and Maryland. Promises to send “welfare bums back to work” and to defend white home sellers’ right to “discriminate against Negroes” propelledRonald Reagan to California’s governorship in 1966 and later to the Oval Office. It is right to call the 2016 election of Donald Trump a white backlash against the first Black president—one so fervent, it won poorly educated, college-degree-holding, and young white folks alike—but it is also critical to recognize it as just one white backlash among many. Trump’s presidency is no anomaly but a confirmation of America’s pattern of Black political progress and white retaliation.

Source: The Whitelash Next Time

The crisis of anti-Black racism in schools persists across generations

One of the elements that I find most interesting is the extent of anti-Black racism in Peel, a very diverse area with many visible minorities and where about 60 percent have a mother tongue other than English. Not just a white-black issue:

Recent reports of the schooling experiences of Black students in elementary, middle and high school in Toronto tell a story of negligence and disregard. This disregard includes a lack of access to appropriate reading materials and supportive relationships with teachers and administrators.

In conversations about their school life, Black students talk about adverse treatment by their teachers and peers, including regular use of the “n-word.”

These issues contribute to alienating and problematic school days for Black students. And none of this is new: racism in Toronto and Ontario schools has been ongoing for decades.

Twenty years ago, former politician Stephen Lewis was appointed to advise the province of Ontario on race relations. The appointment came after a “stop anti-Black police violence” march turned into an uprising in Toronto. Lewis spent a month consulting with people and community groups in Toronto, Ottawa, Windsor and London and then presented a report on race relations.

He wrote:

The students [I spoke with] were fiercely articulate and often deeply moving…. They don’t understand why the schools are so slow to reflect the broader society. One bright young man in a Metro east high school said that he had reached [the end of high school] without once having a book by a Black author [assigned to him]. And when other students, in the large meeting of which he was a part, started to name books they had been given to read, the titles were Black Like Me and To Kill and Mockingbird (both, incredibly enough, by white writers!). It’s absurd in a world which has a positive cornucopia of magnificent literature by Black authors. I further recall an animated young woman from a high school in Peel, who described her school as multiracial, and then added that she and her fellow students had white teachers, white counsellors, a white principal and were taught Black history by a white teacher who didn’t like them…

More than two decades later, reports continue to show that school boards do not meet the educational needs and interests of Black students and parents.

Two years ago, I led a study to examine the schooling experiences and educational outcomes of Black students. We surveyed 324 parents, educators, school administrators and trustees. We talked to Black high school and university students in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) who participated in the five community consultations we held in four school districts.

Participants echoed what students said 20 years ago in the Lewis report. Black students say they are “being treated differently than their non-Black peers in the classrooms and hallways of their schools.” They say there is still a lack of Black presence in schools. There are few Black teachers, the curriculum does not adequately address Black history and schools lack an equitable process to help students deal with anti-Black racism.

Students spoke about their teachers’ and administrators’ lack of attention to their concerns, interests and needs. They told of differential or “unfair” treatment, and they noted their teachers’ unwillingness to address complaints of racism.

Participants said they perceived a more punitive discipline of Black students. They also said they observed the “streaming of Black students into courses below their ability level.” They said Black students were discouraged from attending university.

Last year, I conducted another study with Black elementary, middle and high-school students in the Peel District School Board (PDSB), a multiracial district in Ontario. This study produced the same list of concerns.

Not belonging

Students reported being called the “n-word,” as they put it, by “people who are not Black.” This use of racial epithets adds to an already alienating educational climate for many Black students.

One middle school student said: “People are getting too comfortable with saying that n-word.”

A high school student shared his reaction to being called the n-word:

“I recall one time where I almost slapped this guy [for using the n-word]; but I was like: ‘Nah! I’m not going to let this happen or let him disturb me like that.”

Like Black students before them, their experiences contributed to their “sense of un-belonging” and a schooling environment that made learning problematic, tough and challenging.

Beyond Toronto, Black students and their parents are similarly complaining about the use of the n-word across Canadian public schools: Several news reports tell of parents in school boards in York, Ottawa, Montréal and Halifax.

One Montréal mother told CTV news that in an argument with his classmate, her son was called “the n-word” by a white student. The mother went on to say: “I’m at war with the systemic racism that occurs at the school.”

CBC Kids News published a story about two Black Grade 12 students in Nova Scotia who gave presentations to their peers across the province about being called the n-word. One of the presenters, Kelvin, said the word is commonly used to “hurt” and put him down.“ He said the word and its implications had not been taught by teachers in any of his classes.

Some parents and educators have connected this ongoing racism to a health and safety epidemic for Black students in Ontario schools.

That the “n-word” brings health and safety implications as well as deep consternation to Black students should be a concern that teachers take up. Teachers need to examine course materials for their content and impact on students’ learning.

Could a good reading list help?

Based on my research, I recommended the Peel District School Board evaluate their curriculum and assess the usefulness of old texts. Some of these texts repeatedly use the the racial epithet, “ni–er.” As an example, I said the 1960 American novel To Kill A Mockingbird could be re-examined as a core book taught in classrooms.

These are texts that Canadian students might find difficult to relate to their lives. These texts become especially problematic when it is the only time that the lives of Black people are mentioned in class.

All teaching material must be continuously re-assessed in relation to historical, political and social contexts. Materials must also be evaluated for their ability to pertain to the realities of Black students in today’s classrooms.

The experiences of all students must be centred and the knowledge, needs and aspirations they bring into the classroom considered.

This is the same recommendation Stephen Lewis made in 1992.

Responsive learning spaces

As Poleen Grewal, associate director of the Peel District School Board pointed out, it is not just about the texts taught. Teachers who use uncritical texts as a way into discussions about racism are unlikely to benefit Black students already aware of racism. Grewal said teaching must be accompanied by the ability to create “culturally responsive learning spaces.”

Educators need to be aware of how structures of inequities like racism, classism, homophobia, xenophobia and Islamophobia operate in educational institutions to obfuscate student interest in learning.

Recently, a number of school Boards have initiated programs that they claim address anti-Black racism, including anti-racism workshops for teachers. Will these measures help to change the inequitable and racist contexts of Canadian schools and the racism students experience?

Other places have been pro-active with curriculum. In Nova Scotia, To Kill A Mockingbird was removed from the curriculum in 1996, and replaced with the 1998 novel A Lesson Before Dying by African-American writer Ernest J. Gaines.

School boards need to value and draw upon the cultural and intellectual capital of Black students. To do so, they need to encourage the university aspirations of Black students, address racism experienced by students, and use educational materials that enable a relevant and responsive learning environment.

Source: The crisis of anti-Black racism in schools persists across generations