Five Good Ideas
Five Good Ideas for racial justice change-making
Published on 25/03/2021
How do we best address growing colour-coded inequality – for Indigenous peoples and peoples of colour, including Black Canadians? What are the institutional, structural, and systemic impacts of racism, faithism, and related inequality in education, housing, justice, health, and employment? How can individuals, groups, and organizations engage in effective trust-building, ally-ship, partnership development, and advocacy – to build on our successes, maintain hard-won gains, and bring about needed change? By highlighting examples of the real economic, health, and social impacts of racism and faithism, Lesa Francis, Avvy Go, Samya Hasan, and Shalini Konanur break down five good ideas for better “walking the talk” on racial equity and delivering more effectively on racial justice in Ontario.
This Five Good Ideas session was organized in partnership with Colour of Poverty – Colour of Change.
- Download the session handout with full bios
- Download the Colour of Poverty – Colour of Change handout: How do we ensure fair and equitable life chances, life opportunities and life outcomes for all?
Five Good Ideas
Collect disaggregated race-based (and other socio-demographic) data.
Incorporate a racial equity and racial justice lens in the development and evaluation of policies, budgets, programs, practices, and cultures – both internally and externally.
Adopt an intersectional approach to your anti-racism and racial equity and racial justice work and apply it in the hiring and promotion of staff, as well as in the recruitment of board members.
Build effective ally-ship among and across peoples of colour, Indigenous Peoples, and others, as it is critical in the promotion of racial equity and racial justice in all of our partnership building and advocacy, within and across organizations, communities, and society.
Lobby governments for systems level changes that promote racial equity and racial justice, and build internal organizational capacity to actively advocate for and support such change-making efforts.
- Colour of Poverty Fact Sheets (2019)
- Count Me In – Collecting Human Rights Based Data (OHRC)
- COP-COC Disaggregated Data Collection Survey Tool-Template
- Measuring Health Equity – Demographic Data Collection in Health Care
- Employment Equity 101 (COP-COC)
Note: The transcript has been edited for clarity.
Elizabeth: Now, while everyone seems to be dialing in from across Canada and even beyond, I’m speaking to you from Toronto. I would like to begin today’s session by acknowledging the land where we live and work, and recognizing our responsibilities and relationships where we are. As we are meeting and connecting virtually today, I encourage you to acknowledge the place you occupy.
I am, and Maytree is, on the historical territory Huron-Wendat, Petun, Seneca, and most recently, the Mississaugas of the New Credit Indigenous Peoples. This territory is covered by the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, an agreement between the Haudenosaunee and the Ojibwe and allied nations to peaceably share and care for the lands and resources around the Great Lakes.
Today, we’re going to talk about how to best address the growing colour-coded inequality, for Indigenous Peoples, peoples of colour, Black Canadians. What are the institutional, structural, and systemic impacts of racism, faithism, and related inequality in education, housing, justice, health, and employment?
We are living in a time of heightened awareness and heightened public discourse on these issues, and they have never been so important. They have always been with us, it is just our attention is laser-focused at this time, so it is the time to have this conversation, perhaps overdue.
How can individuals, groups, and organizations engage in effective trust building, allyship, partnership development, and advocacy to build on our successes, maintain hard won gains, and bring about needed change? In today’s session, our four presenters will break down five good ideas for better “walking the talk” on racial equity, and delivering more effectively on racial justice in Ontario and on racial justice in our organizations.
Our guests today are Lesa Francis who is the Interim Director at the Black Legal Action Centre. Avvy Go, who is the Clinical Director at the Chinese and South Asian Legal Clinic. Samya Hasan is the Executive Director at the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians. And Shalini Konanur is the Executive Director at the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario.
They are all also members of the Steering Committee of Colour of Poverty, Colour of Change which is an Ontario-wide social change network. For their full bios and details about today’s session, please download the handout which Aretha has posted in the chat room. On the handout you will also find today’s five good ideas and resources. It is now my pleasure to welcome Avvy, Lesa, Samya, and Shalini; please, over to you.
Avvy: Thank you. And thank you very much Maytree for inviting us here today. Police killings of Indigenous and Black people have been happening in Canada for a very long time but it took the killing of an American – Mr. George Floyd, in May 2020, to open the eyes of Canadians to the painful reality of racism that Indigenous Peoples, Blacks and other racialized communities have lived with in this country for more than a century.
In Canada, Indigenous Peoples and Blacks are disproportionately represented amongst fatalities caused by police. They are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, the child welfare system, and the prison population.
As COVID-19 has spread across North America, so has a virus of anti-Asian racism. Opportunistic politicians on both sides of the 49th Parallel blamed the Coronavirus on an entire race and thereby unleashed an unprecedented level of hate, which results in harmful and, as we have seen recently, deadly consequences on people of Asian descent.
These are some of the ugly facts of racism that many Canadians are now being forced to confront. It would be wrong if all we learned from the past year is that there are people who harbor hate and racist views towards Indigenous Peoples and people of colour, while ignoring the very deep-seated and entrenched forms of systemic racism in all of our institutions in government, laws, policies, and programs.
This has resulted in equally devastating consequences for racialized communities as those caused by individual acts of racial violence. People of colour are two to six times more likely to live in poverty in Canada. We experience systemic racism and intersectional discrimination on the basis of sex, and other forms in the labour market. As a result, we have a higher unemployment rate, despite having a higher labour market participation rate.
Racialized men are 24% more likely to be unemployed than non-racialized men, while racialized women are 43% more likely to be unemployed than non-racialized men. The gender divide has grown that much more over the last year, but just as before it’s women of colour who are bearing the brunt of the pandemic trigger job loss.
Racialized people are also more likely to be working precarious jobs, earning less income, and working part-time. COVID-19 has exposed an exacerbated pre-existing racism that has long robbed racialized folks their sense of dignity and their opportunity to be the best of who they could be.
The pandemic has shown the light on the place of some of our most marginalized in our society, including migrants and others with precarious immigration status, who put their lives on the line so that the rest of us can get fed, and carry on with our lives in the safety of our home.
At this moment of collective awakening, it is incumbent upon all of us to look deeply into our hearts and mind, reflect upon our own actions, and ask ourselves how can we make the difficult but necessary change to truly build back better. For those of us who work in the non-profit sector and provide services to some of the most disadvantaged among us, we also have the added responsibility to make sure that the institutions that we work with are fully committed to dissent, dismantling racism and oppression, both within our agencies and in the broader society.
To that end, we are offering five ideas to help build community capacity to work towards racial equity and racial justice. With that, I’m going to ask Lesa to take us to the first idea. Thank you.
Idea 1: Collect disaggregated race-based (and other socio-demographic) data.
Lesa: Thank you so much Avvy. I appreciate that. Canada is an extremely diverse country. It’s becoming increasingly diverse. Ontario is very culturally dynamic.
When I was in high school, we were documented in the local newspaper as having one of the most diverse populations in the Toronto District School Board at that time. We had representation of something like 90 different countries represented in that particular high school. I was very used to seeing and interacting with people from all walks of life. I met people from countries that I had never even heard of until I first met them. It was kind of refreshing to be honest.
Looking back now, I think that my high school may have been ahead of the game by collecting that particular data. I don’t know if that was their goal at the time in order to deal with racial and ethnic disparities, but I do know that by having that information it could certainly have been helpful in responding to, and adjusting to, the community needs.
Avvy pointed out some well-documented statistics in the labour force. I’m sure, from these, we can conclude that eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in the labour force is an issue worth looking into. It certainly would help to improve the equity and the quality of life for racialized people, especially those who are more highly overrepresented in precarious work, such as migrant workers and minimum wage earners.
If it’s important to make and measure progress toward addressing racism, racial disparities, and employment, we will need some systems in place to gather indepth, reliable, and consistent data. I think there’s more needed than just data collection itself. For instance, collecting desegregated data.
I think what we really need to take a look at is our ability to identify the nature, the reasons, and the extent of the disparities. We ought to be able to quantify and then qualify the level of improvement efforts and monitor the progress of change towards more equalization.
Most of the disparities, I believe, exist because of systemic racism. Anti-Black racism and colonization, including supremacist attitudes, provide for institutionally-created ideas, and also reinforce comfortable spaces for the dominant culture to thrive at top-level executive positions. Meanwhile, the so-called minority dwell at lower-level, entry-level roles with very low glass ceilings.
I really can’t think of any labour market industry, or even professional field, which is not managed and controlled by members of the dominant culture and, in particular, white men. If we think about why we even collect aggregated race-based and other socioeconomic data, and why it’s important, why we’re even having this conversation, it’s because we intuitively and factually know that things are simply unfair.
I was in a webinar last week, a panel discussion, in which Avvy mentioned a statistic that was interesting to me. Racialized women earn something like 58 cents for every dollar that non-racialized men earn. Systemic racism is really the reason behind institutional biases, and in the policies and practices. This provides a certain level of privilege to some, but creates barriers for others.
So we need to be talking about disparities not only on the basis of race, being Black or Indigenous, or otherwise racialized. We also need to talk about gender roles and other societal factors and biases that make it a lot harder for people. For instance, people with disabilities who are also transgender, or people who are classified in other types of minority groups, to keep them out of long-term and top-tier roles.
Colour of Poverty has a resource which I believe may be provided to you as part of this presentation, which talks about some interesting provincial stats. People of colour, for instance, make up over 40% of sewing textile and fabric industry workers. 36% of taxi and limo drivers are racialized. Over 42% of racialized people are factory workers. Racialized people make up only 3% of executives and 1.7% of organizational board of directors.
Those disparities seem quite evident to me. I’m not really sure why there seems to be a level of discomfort in talking about, or even documenting, data that we know anyway. We already know and see how many men are in executive roles, how many women are nurses. How many South Asians work in the field of IT? How many young Black people work at Walmart? We see these things on a regular basis. We know them to be true, whether or not we have the exact data.
I think we need to just do better and know more, collect more information to better understand what’s going on in our society. Where could our tax dollars be more effective? How government funding priorities best be allocated? We need to be more mindful and have more thoughtfulness go into collecting information about the things that influence our opportunities and our access in every system, every institution, and every industry. These drive our workforce and shape our society. In particular, we need to take a deeper look at how policies are written, and, really importantly, how practices are put in place. This would allow us to see what priorities exist in how programs are created, especially programs within the non-profit sector.
When we’re talking about aggregate data, we really need to take a look at how collecting data can lead to an understanding about providing more fairness and equilibrium in allocating jobs, and maintaining certain leadership roles. Maybe then we can spread the love in the workplace and have everybody eat from that piece of the pie where there aren’t huge disparities in which some people are overprivileged and others are just so underserved.
Idea 2: Incorporate a racial equity and racial justice lens in the development and evaluation of policies, budgets, programs, practices, and cultures – both internally and externally.
Avvy: Thank you. So I will talk about the second idea and I will build on what Lesa has already said. One of the key points that Lesa made is that, like a lot of the practices, policies that are within our institutions may not be obviously discriminatory, so there are a lot of hidden biases. Often that’s how systemic racism occurs. When institutions have hidden biases that privilege one group, and disadvantage another, we need to understand how this works, and what it looks like, in order for us to dismantle it.
The second idea, which is related to the idea of the collection of race-based, desegregated race-based data, is that we need to incorporate a racial equity and racial justice lens in the development and evaluation of policies. These would include programs, practices, and internal and external institutional cultures.
For instance, in non-profit settings we could make sure we have a lens to ensuring that programs are delivered in a way that does not create any artificial barriers to access for racialized groups, or any other marginalized groups. Of course, you need to collect race-based data in order to track the impact of your policies and programs, with related performance measures and assessment, in order to make visible any colour-coded inequities and disparities. Then you can address them.
Having a racial equity lens would also allow you to review, for instance, as Lesa pointed out, who are among the decision makers at your agency? Whose voices are being heard and whose opinions count the most? Having such a lens will also allow us to ask, are we spending more time serving a certain population because that’s always been the case, or because these are the people who need our services the most?
We also need to ask, in the design of our policies and practices, if we have considered the impact of these policies on racialized folks. Are there intended or unintended consequences that will exacerbate any pre-existing disparities? How does unconscious bias enter into the decision-making process? Not only at the management level, but also on the front line. And do we have a process in place to provide a regular evaluation, to make sure whatever programs we set up to promote equity are actually doing the job they are intended to do?
These are just some of the questions and issues that we can examine through a race equity lens. There are a lot of tools out there for this kind of assessment, so I’ll give you a random example. The Racial Equity Impact Assessment Tools was created by Race Forward. It’s a US-based centre for research and action to promote racial equity. It’s also home to the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, which is a national network of local governments working to achieve racial equity for all. So even though GARE is a US-based network, the Ontario government, or at least the anti-racism directorate, is actually a member of GARE. The founder is John Powell, with the Othering and Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley, so I would strongly encourage you to find this assessment tool on raceforward.org.
So I’m now going to turn it over to Shalini.
Idea 3: Adopt an intersectional approach to your anti-racism and racial equity and racial justice work and apply it in the hiring and promotion of staff, as well as in the recruitment of board members.
Shalini: I want to talk to you about our third idea, which is about intersectionality in your anti-racism and race equity work. I know nowadays that we use that word intersectionality a lot in our work, but truly, it is critical to take an intersectional approach to anti-racism work. What does it really mean? What does it mean for us?
For me, intersectional discrimination or oppression arises out of the combination of various oppressions, which together produce something unique and distinct from any one form of discrimination standing alone.
It allows us to see the distinct, different, and disproportionate ways in which anti-racism impacts different people in racialized and Indigenous communities. Without taking that type of approach, we will miss in our work the ability to respond in a more significant and nuanced way to anti-racism.
For example, what are the specifics for First Nations, Inuit, Métis, and Black women? As we think about recovery from COVID, an intersectional approach would allow us to plan our anti-racism work by really drilling down into who has been hit hardest. Not all people impacted by racism are impacted in the same way, and that is why an intersectional approach to raced equity must form the framework of our practices in things like hiring, advancement, board recruitment, and organizations.
Internal anti-racism policies in our organizations that don’t account for intersectionality are not going to reach the most deeply impacted parts of our spaces and workforces. At Colour of Poverty, we believe a key tool for building a fair and equitable workplace is creating strong employment equity policy, rooted in intersectionality within your organizations.
We have volumes of data in Canada to confirm significant race inequity at all levels and almost all workplaces. Even now, in our own legal clinic system, we are having conversations around the desperate need for employment equity. We cannot make the mistake as not-for-profit sectors in thinking that we are progressive on this issue because we see time and time again that the data is not bearing that out.
Our sectors are not immune, and in many cases, we have failed to be at the forefront of ensuring employment equity. Quite frankly for me, pledges, statements, commitment documents, and EDI programs are simply not enough. We need to move forward. Workplaces must make employment equity a mandatory framing for hiring, promotion, and board recruitment, starting from the ground up, with a clear policy at your workplace and by seeking out examples. I have looked, for example, at the City of Toronto Employment Equity Policy.
Set accountability measures to measure yourself by, and ensure transparency. Part of that work will be collecting dis-aggregated data on who you serve, and, internally, what does your organization look like from the top down? Who is working there and who do you serve? What are the pay scales? What are the wage gaps? Who is advancing?
While organizations are now placing anti-racism at the heart of their external work and looking outwards, they have to look inwards at their own workplaces. Your credibility in advancing anti-racism advocacy also rests on what you do internally in your own spaces.
Finally, I want to say that externally our organizations should also take up any opportunity possible to advocate for strong employment equity legislation federally, provincially, territorially, municipally, and centre intersectional employment equity in our own workplaces and spaces.
So I’m going to pass it on to Samya.
Idea 4: Build effective ally-ship among and across peoples of colour, Indigenous Peoples, and others, as it is critical in the promotion of racial equity and racial justice in all of our partnership building and advocacy, within and across organizations, communities, and society.
Samya: Thanks so much Shalini. So I’ll just take a few minutes to talk a little bit about something that we’ve been hearing a lot about over the last couple of months, especially since the killing of George Floyd.
There’s a lot of talk about allyship, and what that looks like, and how that can be practiced in a meaningful way. I was just part of another panel yesterday, and somebody brought up the terms transactional allyship versus relational allyship. The points that I’m going to make today are going to all be pointing towards what relational allyship looks like, and we want to stay away from transactional allyship.
So the first thing that we should do as organizations, or even at an individual level, is to find out where Black, Indigenous, and other racialized communities need our support, instead of guessing, or trying to come up with ways of supporting on their own, without even looking at the needs of communities that need that support, how they would like to be supported, whether or not they would like to be supported, and what kind of supports are they looking for.
All of this information, has been documented and is widely available from both racialized communities and Indigenous communities, for non-racialized and non-Indigenous, non-Black folks. One of the things that we’ve been hearing and encountering is that people who want to practice allyship are asking racialized people to teach them about historical inequities and harm experienced by their communities, and to teach how to be supportive.
The burden of education shouldn’t be on the shoulders of people who have already faced these harms and inequities. It should be on the shoulders of people that are trying to practice allyship.
The second thing that I would mention is that if you’re a non-Black, racialized, or non-Indigenous person or organization, you have to stop practicing being a model minority. I would say this for people who are non-Black and non-Indigenous, one of the things that happens when we practice being model minorities, we don’t realize but it comes from a colonial system. We are judged based on our proximity to Whiteness.
On this basis, we are pitted against each other in seeing who is more White, and who is the model minority. So it’s important to not play into that system, to be working in solidarity. If you are a racialized organization or a racialized person, make sure that you’re looking at working in solidarity, without buying into the system of Whiteness and being pitted against other racialized communities.
Once we have these two principles set, then it’s up to us to show up, to act, to endorse, to support and to connect. Shalini mentioned something really important that gets on the nerves of racialized communities, Black individuals, Black communities, and Indigenous communities. When we see statements being put out without any follow-up action, it is annoying. Statements are great. They show solidarity, they show support, but what actions are you actually taking to support them?
Once you’re ready for allyship, a couple of things to realize is to acknowledge that we’re not being allies to take over that space from racialized communities or Black communities or Indigenous communities, but we’re there to provide support.
Once you are ready to provide support, you may face rejection because Black, racialized, and Indigenous communities may not be ready to welcome you into the spaces that they’ve created. Sometimes we need spaces for our own communities and for our own selves, so be prepared for rejection if you’re not being welcomed to those spaces.
Oftentimes rejection comes from historical inequities, so the question becomes – where were you 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago? These inequities have been happening for a very long time, for hundreds of years, and so there is a feeling that we could have been supported those communities a long time ago. Right now it seems to be on trend to support these communities, so many organizations, corporations, and individuals are jumping on the bandwagon.
Really examine your intentions, what are they? What are your actions and how are you going to actually, physically, and meaningfully support racialized and Indigenous communities?
Here is an example to illustrate what I’m saying. In an organizational setting, an allyship shouldn’t only mean that you’re being allies with your own racialized or Indigenous staff, that isn’t enough. It should include people external to your organization. It should be demonstrated in things you’re doing to support communities.
I know we’ve already talked about doing things internally, but once you have done things to support your own staff, your organization needs to examine how it supports racialized and Indigenous communities externally. So it should extend even from the people that benefit from your services. So people that are not benefiting from your services, people that you may be profiting from, what are some ways for you to give back to those communities that you’re profiting from?
Think about ways that you can create programs and policies to support the well-being and prosperity of the communities that benefit and generate profit for your organization. One example of this would be to create mechanisms to distribute resources and profits created by your organization. Many companies have made billions of dollars in profits over the last year, even during the pandemic, while at the same time we’ve seen racialized communities really suffering economically. We’ve seen that for South Asian, Black, and Indigenous communities, unemployment rates are skyrocketing. The rates at which people from these communities are employed in precarious labour is disproportionate to their overall representation in our society.
What are ways for organizations that are invested in allyship and in supporting racialized and Indigenous communities to allocate those resources, those billions of dollars that you’re making in profit, to the communities that need it most? Thank you.
Idea 5: Lobby governments for systems level changes that promote racial equity and racial justice, and build internal organizational capacity to actively advocate for and support such change-making efforts.
Shalini: I’m going to end us off with our fifth good idea. This is something that sometimes can be a little bit scary for not-for-profit organizations, and that’s lobbying governments for systems-level changes.
Over the past two years, we’ve obviously been having a more robust conversation in Canada around race equity. Our last good idea is that we want organizations to take up the challenge to advocate for systems change. Many of us on this call, and who will watch this later, are on the ground, working with people in communities who are most deeply impacted by racism.
As a sector, we should be at the forefront of advocacy on systems-level changes to address systemic racism. While governments continue to fund projects and communities to address racism, hate, and push the work outwards, the reality is that systems-level changes that must be made cannot only happen through projects funded in community.
Communities cannot solve systemic issues related to racism on their own. It just doesn’t work that way. We don’t have the power to fix the race wage gap, to legislate employment equity, or to ensure that racialized people, with no or precarious immigration status, have access to income supports. We can’t enforce employment discrimination in the law, or to immediately address the continued appalling treatment of Indigenous people and children in Canada.
I could go on and on with a list of systemic racism that happens throughout Canada. These are systems changes. But what we have collectively is the ability and the responsibility, in my view, to lobby governments to make those changes, and to advocate on the issues that are connected to the work that we do.
I know it sounds scary, in particular for organizations that are funded in ways where they are told expressly that they cannot do advocacy as a piece of their funding, or because of their charitable status. But if you peel back the layers of those limitations, and I’m having that conversation on a board I’m sitting on at a not-for-profit right now, our proposal is not to do political advocacy, it is to advocate on race equity as it connects to our work.
In so many cases, we are in the best position to push out the stories of the communities that we work with, to push out the data that we collect on what is happening, the research that we are doing, and to engage in all of those opportunities to advocate. But the question then becomes how do you figure that out? It can be really overwhelming.
I have to say that when I started at SALCO, it was very hard to understand the landscape of how advocacy works in Canada, and how to get involved. To be frank, I still don’t fully understand it. We have a very confusing way in which you have to insert yourself into these conversations.
One starting point is to try to reach out to organizations like Colour of Poverty, Colour of Change to get information on opportunities in which we may be able to educate with which you can engage. Look at the work of the Federal Anti-Racism Directorate, the work of the Provincial Anti-Racism Directorate, and your own municipalities in racism or equity and diversity departments. Look at the opportunities that come out to speak up on those issues. Look at the things that come out in media that may concern the work that you do.
The other thing I want to talk about is more of a contextual switch, and that is to really centre advocacy as a fundamental part of your organization’s work, which leads to a change in thinking about the way things come across your desk. What has changed for me in my own practice, is I serve clients directly with legal service, but now when I see cases and I see the same thing happen over and over again, I am thinking about systems change.
For example, my own case work in gender-based violence over the past year has increased by 35%. I am now thinking about how under-resourced and underserved racialized women are in our gender-based violence sector. I continue to work of these types of cases, but I am thinking about systems change. I think that is only possible for me because my organization mandates advocacy as part of my work plan.
All of our organizations must try to build internal organizational capacity to actively advocate for support and change-making efforts. We are not going to see progress on racial equity and racial justice, unless we collectively, loudly, and strongly choose to take the responsibility to include advocacy within our work.
I want to just end by saying that I am hopeful that you are going to take these five good, in my view, great ideas back to your own spaces, and that you will have meaningful conversations about putting them into action in the work that you do in your own workplaces and organizations. Thank all of you for sharing your time and your energy with us this afternoon.
Elizabeth: Well, I want to thank you. That was remarkable. The richness of the ideas, I agree, they’re great. You’ve gone beyond, you’ve surpassed the five good ideas, but they also are so integrated. They are so part of one another, and they build on each other. And I think that it provides a bit of a roadmap for those who want to engage seriously on this in their organization, in their work, and in their own advocacy. We’ve got a number of questions coming in. I’m going to go back up to the beginning.
There were a few questions on data and some, then it moves down a little bit. I think an interesting one on data, which was a conundrum when I think going back, Lesa, when they were collecting race-based data when you were in high school. And the question is, some of our program participants are offended when they’re asked about their race and economic information, and they’re distrustful of how the information will be used. There has been debate about how race-based data gets used. Do you have any concerns about this kind of data collection? Are there any cons to collecting, or how do we mitigate against that?
Lesa: Yeah, I think it’s delicate for some, and I do understand that. I know that even at our own clinic system, where we serve Black Ontarians, we’re mandated to do that. We still ask, we have to sort of verify, because it’s part of our mandate. I frankly have had people who were a little offended by it, and they want to know, well, but not so much offended about the question about race but, it brings up a little bit of… I’ve interacted with people for whom it brings up a little bit of trauma surrounding race and nationality, and they bring up the fact that we’re stolen peoples from lands across the sea.
These are some of the issues that have come up when we collect race-based data. It might not seem like it would be an issue for someone from a Black community to ask another person from Black community about how they identify racially, but it does happen. If you then consider somebody outside of the client’s own race asking that same question, the challenge is greater.
I think race in general, in Canada, is somewhat hard to talk about. We have all kinds of reasons why that is, historically, contemporarily, it’s not the easiest thing to ask somebody where they are from, what is their race? It brings up fears for people, I get that.
When we ask for this information in our organization, we explain it’s needed to better serve our clients. If we understand the dynamic of the people that we’re dealing with, the people who are calling us, then we can better create programming.
I’ll give you an example. As I already said, I work at the Black Legal Action Centre and we deal with Black Ontarians, who are in low-income categories, and who are in need of legal assistance based on having an anti-Black racist experience. I had a call from somebody one time who asked me – well, how do you serve people who are in the LGBTQ community or transgender people? I told the caller that we don’t do anything differently. As long as they identify as Black, we support them. If they have an issue that’s related to anti-Black racism, we support them. We don’t have anything differently than we do based on that.
But then we got to questioning: exactly how many people who are transgender or in the LGBT community do we serve? I actually do have that data, because we have collected it, just internally. We considered that maybe this was something we should know, but we would only know if we collected the information. Once it’s collected and it’s considered, then we can go forward.
So there are some of the explanations that you have to give people – we collect the data, we ask information, so that we can better serve you. We can understand your needs, the community’s needs, the provincial needs, and then the global needs. If we don’t ask the questions we don’t know. We just we can’t make assumptions. Samya has already alluded to the fact that sometimes we make assumptions about how, where do we allocate resources, if we don’t ask the proper questions?
And we don’t have to always reinvent the wheel and we can always go to those who do have the information. We don’t have to necessarily collect it all ourselves, we can ask. We can reach out to Colour of Poverty and ask if they have the information, and then use that internally. Just explain that to people, that if we don’t ask these questions, they may seem a little uncomfortable but it’s just a natural conversation, and we want to better serve the public. To do that we have to ask these questions, and we need you to help us.
Elizabeth: It also gives you the evidence to do the advocacy that Shalini was talking about. I mean it’s all tied in together.
Lesa: The advocacy, writing the grants, and getting the funding, all of that.
Elizabeth: And to be able to say when change hasn’t happened. We’re 25 years into, I think of Black high school dropouts, the number hasn’t changed in 25 years.
Lesa: No, no.
Elizabeth: So if we hadn’t collected the data, we wouldn’t be able to say nothing has changed in 25 years.
Lesa: But again, it’s not just about collecting the data, it’s about what you are doing with the information.
Elizabeth: Exactly, no, absolutely right.
Lesa: What’s changing? We have to, if the practices are not changing.
Lesa: The data is the same.
Elizabeth: Yes, totally agreed.
I have another question related to data and it’s open to anyone. The province is currently moving forward with race-based data collection in the areas of justice, child welfare, education. How can we get them and other key actors to adopt an all of government institution, service provider approach to race and other equity-based data collection? So this taps into the advocacy piece as well.
Avvy: Colour of Poverty was instrumental in making sure that the province adopted the anti-racism legislation. We did the draft, and send it to them, and pushed for the creation of the secretariat. But interestingly, when the act was first adopted, the Ministry of Health was exempted from the data collection.
As we know, since the pandemic, even the Ministry of Health has come around and acknowledged that we must collect race-based data. If the Toronto police, of all people, are now collecting race-based data, then there’s no reason why any other ministry or department will not do so. Like health, police, criminal justice, child welfare, those are really the toughest ones, right? To get them to agree, right? So I think that it’s really a question of trying to get the government to make sure the legislation, because they started with these agencies, but they supposedly will expand to other areas as well.
So I think it’s just a matter of time. The problem is that we just learned the budget has given the secretariat 1.6 million, and Samya you may want to add your comment but you know, it may not be enough to do the work that is needed.
Samya: Yeah, just to add to that. We were just talking about this earlier today, and I actually was confused if it was a million or a billion, because I thought it was a typo, to be very honest with you. I think it was just tokenism, to be honest. It’s not nearly enough.
Elizabeth: So here’s a question that builds on that note, in terms of knowing that something has happened, when you have evidence and nothing happens. Knowing that racism was investigated and documented at the HWDSB trustees committee and school board, in your professional opinion, how do we hold them accountable when they refuse to hold themselves accountable? We as a community find this so disheartening, can you provide some advice? So it’s out there, we have the evidence and, Shalini to your point, where’s the path toward accountability here? How do you navigate that?
Shalini: I mean, that is a huge frustration, probably, for all of the panelists on this call, because we have a lot of evidence already, and a lot of non-action as Lesa has said, right? There are different ways. Some of the more pragmatic approaches that we’ve tried to take in our own work have been through the use of social media and media.
There are mechanisms now for public, I don’t want to call it shaming, but it’s like public pressure that seemed to be a lever to push people forward. I live in York Region, and it was the public pressure, using media and social media, that got movement on the York Region District School Board. Those issues had been going on for decades and longer, right? So that’s one piece.
As lawyers, we think about ways in which the law can be used as a tool to push issues forward. There is potential for using the levers of the law to bring test cases to challenge the way decisions are made. Those, of course, are more complicated, and take a lot longer, but sometimes will be able to have the impact that we want them to have.
One of the things that I think is the hardest for all of us is community organizing. To be truthful, the most success I’ve had is when I think about the Forced Marriage Campaign that SALCO did, an on-the-ground grassroots community organizing to raise the voices of the people impacted. We ask them to stand in front of decision makers at every possible opportunity, which takes real bravery on their part, to be able to sit in such a vulnerable position and speak. Those are the things that worked the most for me.
Elizabeth: This question asks – how do we do this as an organization? We’re running an organization, like many non-profits, we are trying to do good work in the community, but inside there’s work to be done – and a number of your comments spoke to that.
This person asks a question, and I think it can be generalized. Do you have any advice for a non-manager staff person who is concerned about how the leadership and HR team are embarking on what they call an equity, diversity, and inclusion journey? Any tips for getting through to people who aren’t doing the work on how they need to take this journey as an organization? So how, and it’s difficult because then you get the power relations, right? If you’re a junior member of the team or, and you’re trying to influence, what you don’t see as an authentic process that the organization’s taking.
Lesa: So I think if there’s some level of discomfort of dealing with equity issues, or you’re not sure how to deal with them, I would say don’t force it on yourself. Don’t make yourself more uncomfortable than you have to be.
Talk it out, go externally and hire somebody, or consult with somebody who does do this work on a regular basis, who does understand, and who can come into your organization, sit with everyone and talk. When we’re talking, for instance, about anti-Black racism, Toronto has a Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit, whose job it is to work with organizations, talk them through, and walk them through strategies. They will help organizations understand what anti-Black racism looks like, sounds like, what it is, and how to manage, deal with, and implement it within your policies and practices.
Have an expert or consultant come in and work with you. If that’s not an option, at least to try to get an external person, who’s more subjective, who’s outside of what your agency’s doing, but could take a big picture look.
Samya: In addition to that, I think what I’ve heard in other discussions, is to look at other organizations that are similar to yours that have done anti-racism work, building the foundation of anti-racism in their organization, as opposed to hiring one person to do the diversity and inclusion work, and how they’ve done it. Talk to those that organizations and use their best practices in your own work.
Avvy: Yes, I think these are all good ideas, but also look for potential allies. Are there people within your organization who will be sympathetic to your position, who may be in a better position to raise concerns without the same level of fear of reprisal as you? If there are allies from within, maybe speak to those people as well.
Elizabeth: So that leads to a couple of, there were three or four questions on allyship. I think you sparked something in those comments, which is great, because a term that gets thrown around, and it’s important to put meaning to it. I think you did a good thing in separating between transactional and relational. Someone wanted to hear a bit more about what transactional means. Like how do I navigate the difference between that?
Someone else asked this question, which I think is important, which is that recognizing that BIPOC communities and experts don’t actually owe their time, ideas, or support to organizations seeking to develop an anti-racism action plan. We’ve heard a lot about the importance of developing relationships to make sure that our allyship work is a reflection of community need, can you talk or speak a bit to what might be required of a potential ally as they start to build those partnerships?
Samya: Sure. I can start with the first part, and then if anybody wants to, they can take a stab at the second part. I think the very traits of a transactional allyship are really apparent. It’s allyship that is done, that is very self-serving. It is temporary in nature, so you just find a moment where there’s an immediate need, we saw that last year in the summer.
There were a lot of rallies and things happening, and people just went and showed up and that was it, right? So there’s nothing beyond that. Then what happens is you require racialized people or Indigenous people to explain to you what their problems are. You listen to their problems, you’re just there, but then there’s really nothing that comes out of it.
It may just be a checkbox solution, if it’s an organization, for them to put out a statement and they check that box and say okay, we’re supporting racialized and Indigenous communities. I know there was another question asking if there are any options of transactional allyship which can be beneficial? In my personal opinion as a racialized woman, I would rather not have any allyship at all than to have a transactional allyship. It’s just self-serving to the people who already have privileged positions, just to make themselves feel good. So why have the burden of trying to educate people, trying to explain your struggles, if it’s just to serve themselves?
Elizabeth: Are there any final comments from the four of you? You’ve done such a spectacular job of navigating this, and shaping the conversation. For people who work in the non-profit sector, and given ideas and things that they need to work on, and through, are there last comments?
Avvy: I think we’re certainly open to doing a follow-up session if that proves necessary.
Elizabeth: I think one of the absences here is that we did not include an Indigenous perspective and I think that needs to be here as well, fundamentally. It’s a foundation, the colonial experience of Canada has shaped so much of what we are working through here, so I think that is perhaps the next step of the conversation.
Shalini: I really want to encourage everyone who’s here today to think about the ways you can take iterations of these five ideas back into your workspaces. I want to acknowledge also, I sit as the executive director and a manager, so I’m in a position of privilege and power to make those changes in my organizations. I want to acknowledge that that’s not always the case. I’ve been an employee too, and I know what it feels like to be in spaces where people don’t want to hear about the issues around racism, in particular. I want to acknowledge that, but in any way that you can bring those conversations back to your boards, in ways that are safe for you to do, so I really want to encourage people to do that.
Elizabeth: And that is officially the last word. Thank you Shalini, thank you Avvy, thank you Samya, thank you Lesa. That was absolutely terrific – more than five great ideas.
Lesa Francis is the Interim Executive Director at the Black Legal Action Centre, which is a specialty legal aid clinic in Ontario that works to develop access to justice and combat individual and systemic anti-Black racism.
Avvy Go is the Clinic Director of the Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic and a founding steering committee member of Colour of Poverty – Colour of Change.
Samya Hasan has been working with the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA) since 2015 in different capacities including as a Project Coordinator and Project Manager; she has been the Executive Director of CASSA since 2017.
Shalini Konanur is the Executive Director and a lawyer at the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario (SALCO). She has worked in Ontario’s legal aid clinic for the past 20 years and is actively involved in several areas of poverty law reform.