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Keeping Anti-Black Racism Initiatives on the Front Burner

May 12, 2021

The events of 2020 are far from being an old topic of conversation. One of the events was the tragic murder of George Floyd which refueled Black Lives Matter protests around the world. The movement could not be ignored, and institutions of all forms made statements against hate and racism, with some specifically naming anti-Black racism, and their commitment towards working towards bettering their workplaces. It forced us to have the conversation about what anti-Black racism looks like in Canada and within the workplace.

In Ontario, 2020 also saw the release of a report on anti-Black racism in the Peel District School Board which revealed the disproportionate impacts of racism on Black students. Around the same time, students in the Halton District School Board disclosed incidents of systemic discrimination particularly when it came to enrolment in academic classes versus applied classes of Black students. This highlighted the fact that anti-Black racism is experienced at all levels and people of all ages.

These events led to employers investing money and time into racial bias and diversity training for employees. While that is a vital step, more follow through is needed. Employers cannot put the issue on a back burner until the next incident which enlivens the issue again.

Employers too often dismiss concerns of anti-Black racism or general systemic discrimination, believing that having a merit-based system for hiring and promotions eliminates the chances of discrimination, or that providing mechanisms for reporting incidents is sufficient to bring forward and address any issues. This approach misses that these processes have systemic biases ingrained within them. The merit system might unintentionally put greater weight on attributes that people of certain groups have less opportunity to demonstrate. The reporting mechanism may have little uptake because to report, employees needs to feel that the employer has the foundation to understand the issue. Employers should also be aware that they can be held liable for the unconscious bias of their employees.

Here are some best practice suggestions for additional steps you can take to combat anti-Black racism in your workplace:

  • Ongoing training for human resources and managers: since most anti-Black racism incidents in the workplace happen through microaggressions, an employer has to be aware of what those look like to a Black employee. Ongoing training initiatives for the people who made decisions in the organization, and the people who vet complaints, will help interventions in the early stages.
  • Create Safe Spaces: even though it isn’t front page news right now, employers need to continue to work to create a safe space for employees to have difficult conversations. People are often scared of saying the wrong thing, especially in the workplace. Safe spaces would mean that employees feel they can openly discuss and explore their unconscious biases and how they may be negatively impacting their Black co-workers.

Using an external facilitator can be one way of allowing people to feel they are not being judged by someone in their organization and allow them to be candid.

  • Workplace cultural assessments: it’s hard to change when you don’t know the problem. Employers should consider conducting internal surveys or workplace culture assessments to identify issues their employees are experiencing. From there they can determine what changes are needed to curb the effects of unconscious biases in hiring practices, performance evaluations, promotions and compensation decisions which may be leading to anti-Black racism.

No doubt these are complex issues but the commitment to create positive workplaces that are diverse and inclusive must include active and tangible measures to keep accountability to employees and communities.

To learn about similar issues, read Suhaib’s post on anti-Indigenous discrimination and Asha’s post on anti-Asian racism.