Combatting “Everyday Racism”
March 23, 2023
Tuesday, March 21 was the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The date marks a solemn anniversary, commemorating the police massacre of South Africans who were peacefully protesting against apartheid laws. While the apartheid regime has since fallen, the vision of “the elimination of racial discrimination” remains a long way off. A recent study shows the significant amount of work still to be done close to home.
As the CBC recently reported, research from the Toronto Foundation and Environics Institute for Survey Research, released in a report called Everyday Racism: Experiences of Discrimination in Toronto, found that around 76% of Black Torontonians report experiencing racial discrimination multiple times every month.
The discrimination often takes the form of microaggressions: everyday, subtle, often unconscious or unintentional behaviours that communicate a bias toward members of equity-seeking groups. Microaggressions are repeated small indignities that suggest the target doesn’t belong, isn’t good enough, or can be defined by group stereotypes. As these indignities add up over time, they can have serious negative impacts.
The Everyday Racism report, for instance, found twice as many Black as white Torontonians experience people acting afraid of them at least a few times a month. Similarly, twice as many Black as white Torontonians report people treating them like they’re dishonest at least a few times a month. Black people in Toronto are also much more likely than whites to report that others often act like they’re better than them. These are not overt forms of racism with violence or slurs. But over time, regularly feeling that others are afraid of you, mistrust you and think they’re better than you can take a significant psychological toll.
The report also found significant rates of microaggressions against Torontonians of South Asian descent, who, for example, were more than twice as likely as white Torontonians to report receiving poor service in restaurants and stores.
The workplace is an important context where people need to feel respect, dignity and belonging. It’s essential for employees, who spend many hours each week at work, and for employers, who are better off when teams work together respectfully and the psychological damage of discrimination are avoided. Here are a few starting points for employers to tackle “everyday racism”:
- Sweat the small stuff. Microaggressions might seem small, but they can have a “macro” impact. Address any incivility or indignity immediately.
- Educate managers, supervisors and employees about microaggressions. Training should be done in a way that doesn’t suggest the participants are hateful or guilty, which only provokes defensiveness over behaviour that is often unintentional. Instead, encourage participants to avoid even unintentional harmful impacts and to intervene when they witness microaggressions, and build their awareness with those goals in mind.
- Try perspective-taking. Writing a few sentences from the point of view of a person from a different demographic, or watching a video of a microaggression and discussing how the person might feel, can help improve awareness while reducing the unconscious biases that drive microaggressions.
- Collect data. Both qualitative (descriptions of employees’ experiences, for example from interviews) and quantitative (numerical) data can help you identify what kinds of everyday issues your employees are experiencing and where, so you can better target your interventions.
- Consider supporting employee resource groups. These are voluntary, employee-led groups that allow employees from particular backgrounds to talk about issues related to their members’ experiences in the workplace, support each other, and offer recommendations to management.