Political platitudes do nothing for Black Canadians stuck at back of the bus

    Feb 3, 2021

    CALGARY—Malcolm X once said, “The white man will try to satisfy us with symbolic victories rather than economic equity and real justice.”

    This has been the strategy of the Liberal government since their 2015 majority win, but they’re not the only performance in town. Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole, in an effort to look more inclusive, tweeted, “February is Black History Month which is an opportunity to honour Black Canadians who have contributed immeasurably to the successes and dreams of our country. I encourage all Canadians to celebrate this vibrant part of our heritage.” And NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh proposed a motion seeking to have the Proud Boys designated as a terrorist group. It passed. Racism is now over.

    These empty gestures and symbolic victories are crumbs. This Black History Month, after the year Black people have had, the performance is not only insulting, it’s exhausting. And many of us have had enough.

    Last September, the African-Canadian Civic Engagement Council (ACCEC) released a study on the health and economic impact of COVID-19 on Black communities in Canada, and the results are abysmal. “The study found that compared to the Canadian average, Black Canadians report far worse health outcomes related to COVID-19. They are more likely to report symptoms, say they sought treatment, and nearly three times as likely to report knowing someone who has died of the virus.” The report continues, “poorer health outcomes for Black Canadians may be explained by greater exposure at work to the virus. Black Canadians are much more likely to report their job requires them to work with people face-to-face.” This is where economic justice and racial justice intersect to influence health outcomes and none of the aforementioned leaders have identified these racial differentials. In fact, they’ve barely acknowledged the devastation of COVID-19 to migrant workers, essential workers, prisons and detention centres, all of which contain a higher proportion of Black people in their membership. In fact, these outbreaks are ignored, and as usual, Black people are used to prop up society, but are rendered insignificant when it comes to recognition in policy or government support.

    Happy Black History Month.

    While COVID-19 is devastating our communities, we’re still expected to carry on silently and not make any waves—we are supposed to be invisible until non-Black Canada is ready to dust us off once a year to make themselves feel better about their diversity and inclusion. Unfortunately for us, as the recent class-action lawsuit by Black federal employees demonstrates, we are also attacked with anti-Black racism at work, which adversely affects our economic position and advancement and our mental health. The City of Ottawa commissioned a report on the contributing factors to health inequalities. The findings, as reported by CBC Ottawa, concluded that “racism, police brutality and daily microaggressions are among the factors that negatively affect the mental health of Black people, while stigma and a fear of being judged prevent many from telling others about their struggles.”

    Why doesn’t Bell Let’s Talk address that? Because in Canada, Black people don’t count, which is why they don’t count us.

    The Treasury Board Secretariat’s response to the outcry to eliminate anti-Black racism last summer is to propose diversity and inclusion initiatives, which do nothing to solve anti-Black racism. For decades, the federal government has had visible minority (we need to eliminate “minorities” when referring to people) networks for diversity and inclusion, yet the problem persists. These networks have done nothing for Black people. As I wrote in the Globe and Mail, “Treasury Board Secretariat’s own data show that Black employees’ salary ranges coalesce at the lower ends of the spectrum compared to those of other racialized groups and white employees, with minuscule representation at the higher ends, which would indicate management levels.” Other racialized groups don’t have the same relationship with racism or its history as Black people; our experiences are unique and distinct, yet we are left at the back of the bus, even within the “people of colour” category. As usual, the erasure of Black people within the diversity and inclusion framework being relied upon as a solution—not only by the federal government, but by corporations and organizations across the country—does nothing to alleviate anti-Black racism.

    The Clerk of the Privy Council’s effort fares no better: it’s a diversity and inclusion endeavour, dressed up as anti-racism. Devoid of an accountability framework, it makes no tangible effort to interrogate the systems that perpetuate racism.

    If organizations aren’t amending their policies, procedures, and processes to eliminate anti-Black racism to build equitable, inclusive workplaces, then Black people will continue to live sub-optimal lives due to the colour of their skin, trapped in the systems that devalue us.

    Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.