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Race: Can We Talk About It?

posted Jul 27, 2018, 3:54 PM by Ontario South   [ updated Aug 14, 2018, 9:19 AM by Noor El-Husseini ]
- Written by Noor E. & Olivia F.

“Racism is man’s gravest threat to man - the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason” – Abraham Joshua Heschel

     In my own experience, conversations about racial issues present themselves without warning. Racism happens in wildly forward ways, often referred to as overt or explicit racism. However, racism also occurs in subtle ways, otherwise known as covert or implicit racism. While the media sometimes covers stories of racism, the narrative is typically offered to the public as a singled-out, isolated event that generates, understandably, an overwhelmingly reactionary response. Dialogue and debate become secondary notions to opinion-driven conversations and the fuel of cyber-bullying, righteous condescension, or even hate-speech. Meanwhile, the chosen stories presented to the public become popularized, sensationalized and the buzz of any given day or week. I do not mean to suggest that they shouldn’t be. But what about the untold stories of everyday racism? What about the racism that isn't popularized enough by the media to have a seat at the table?

     Racism happens regularly – in broad daylight, through micro-aggressions, among friends and family, between colleagues and in groups, through the refusal of equitable treatment on the premise of difference and through both simple and complex acts of exclusion. How do we have conversations about racism that encourage us to open our minds and the minds of family members, colleagues, friends and neighbours who hold racist beliefs? How can we create room to challenge ourselves and each other, despite biases, privileges, assumptions, beliefs and political ideologies?

     As the Southern Regional Team Communication Officer, I have had the opportunity to look for organizations and community groups making strides to improve equity in our communities. I recently discovered London’s Community Forum on Racism held in September 2016. This event was run by the Diversity, Inclusion and Anti-Oppression Advisory Community in partnership with the London Mayor’s Office and the Centre for Research on Health Equity and Social Inclusion and the Canadian Labour Congress. The goal was to host conversations about identifying racism, interrupting it and creating actions for a more inclusive city. Fortunately for myself, and anyone else that missed it, the organizers prepared a resource that highlights key points and dialogue called “Anti-Racism Kitchen Table Conversation Guide Beyond London’s Forum on Racism”.

     What does racism look like, sound like, feel like? How should racism be interrupted? What are examples of individual racism? Systematic racism? This resource guides readers on how to navigate difficult conversations by sharing do's and dont's including: using current issues in the media, positive body language, paraphrasing counterpart's points, not belittling, blaming or undermining your counterpart, and not expecting one conversation to change their mind. It also suggests strategies to address pitfalls we may encounter in such conversations like the abuse of power, diminishing or minimizing the experiences of marginalized persons, white fragility and so forth. The Forum also offered definitions, guiding questions, next steps and recommendations in their Forum Summary.

     Conversations around racism are not easy, but they are necessary. I have found myself in heated debates where emotions run high and those involved feel targeted, helpless, or hopeless. More often than not, individuals may shut down or go silent, are shamed or put down, or simply block others out. In his talk "More Action Needed", Kevin Lamoureux (educational lead for the Truth and Reconciliation Committee) referred to the "mistake of omission" as being much more detrimental than the "mistake of trying to do something good" and being unsuccessful. Echoing his sentiment, I don't mean to suggest that there is a "tidy", simple approach and do recognize the process is likely to be a messy one. What I do know is that the greatest disservice to supporting and promoting equity and inclusion is to not have the conversations at all.
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