This afternoon on the TTC I happened to be reading the news screen. At one point it featured the profile of a suspect Toronto police are seeking for a shooting. Among his characteristics was his skin colour, which isn’t unusual in and of itself (especially if the suspect isn’t White).

What struck me was the description: he was described as “light-Black”.

Light-Black?!

As opposed to dark black? Or “just” black? Or what?

Who made up this term? And what makes someone light-Black instead of, say, brown?

Take me, for instance. I’m biracial. I have a black parent and a white parent. Am I light-Black, brown, or dark-White?

And what would decide? My features? My nose? My hair? My lips? My accent? My attitude? Where I was born? What I eat? What music I listen to…?

On a lighter note, my partner’s response made me chuckle. “Light-Black!” she said. “Isn’t that grey?”

See more.

 Copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder
author, speaker & facilitator on issues of diversity & inclusion


 
 
In today's Toronto Star, Ashante Infantry writes about the longest running human rights case in Canadian history (23 years). It has finally been settled, but the plaintiff has not won.

Despite the fact that the Ontario Human Rights Commission ruled in his favour 3 times over the past 23 years, the directives were ignored by his employer and Michael McKinnon has had no relief. In fact, his supervisor, the ring-leader of the racial taunts against McKinnon for being Cree, has been promoted with a salary increase during this time. McKinnon, by contrast, is on anti-depressants.

It's a sad reality that racism (and all the other "isms") are still occuring in our society and workplaces. Sadder still is that directives from the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) can go unheeded.

The images we see, the news we read, and the stories we here - as well as those we don't, by omission in schools, media, family and communities etc. - all teach us who has value in our society.  When we don't challenge these messages and assumptions, they are allowed to continue  - and escalate.

Not heeding a OHRC directive speaks of how pervasive these beliefs must be in the jail that McKinnon worked at, for management to not even be swayed by a human rights ruling. It also speaks of a work environment that is poisoned - not just for McKinnon and other First Nations or Aboriginal peoples (and possibly for other "minority groups" as well), but also for their colleagues who may have wanted to speak up, but didn't (or couldn't).

Michael McKinnon is a broken man, because he proudly celebrated his cultural heritage at his wedding, and invited colleagues he thought were friends. For 23 years he has been fighting for his right to dignity, respect, and a safe workplace. No one should have to endure that.

Many of us take a safe and respectful workplace for granted, and can't even imagine what that is like. It is our vigilance, and willingness to speak up, that can make a difference for those for whom work is not a safe or respectful place. Hopefully Bill 168 will help to ensure that happens more and more.

Fingers crossed.

See More.

copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder

 
 
 This morning I was listening to Molly Johnson on CBC radio. She was being interviewed by Michael Enright; an old show from last year.
It was lovely to hear her voice as she sang song after song over the airwaves. It was also great to hear her talk about being biracial.
Her parents didn't have it easy as an interracial couple in America in the 1940s. They eventually came to Canada. 

I loved the interview, but what I want to talk about is the term I heard today - "Obama Black". Molly enthusiastically used it when she spoke of being mixed race.
I haven't heard it before. I have no idea if she made it up. But it struck me.
Obama Black.

I’m not sure how I feel about being Obama Black.

It's liberating and confining at the same time: on the one hand, being biracial just kicked it up a notch to presidential status. Woot! On the other, it feels weird to be considered in reference to someone else.  Now I'm not just biracial, I'm "Obama Black".
It suggests, of course, that we (including Obama) are not Black. If we were, we wouldn’t need a qualifier. That’s not a new idea. Being biracial is not Black or White afterall – it’s neither and both. But you can’t pin us down, because we all look so different. So many different shades, and features. It’s confusing, exotic, enticing, cute, frustrating, lonely….

I’m not surprised that we are not considered Black. But it’s almost like, just in case someone does (and that someone would likely be White, because Black people wouldn’t make that mistake) there is something to suggest you should think again.

Not Black – Obama Black.

It’s like making sure you have the right paint chip in the hardware store.

Not red, Napoleon Red.

The shade matters – in paint, and in skin colour.

 

 

 
 
I attended the Pride Community Advisory Panel (CAP) consultation with Racialized communities at the 519 Community Centre last night, and I can’t shake the frustration.

There is so much wrong with this situation.

This CAP was not commissioned by Pride Toronto. They are a group of community members and allies committed to hearing the communities’ voices and helping to create change. This is amazing, and they are doing good work. However, organizational change has to happen from within. The people inside have to be up for it – recognize that it’s needed, want to change. I’m not seeing much evidence of that, and this worries me. The CAP was formed outside of Pride Toronto, and Pride Toronto agreed. I would argue that they agreed because their back was against a wall. The last 8 months have not been pretty. Rightly so, there were many questions raised in the room last night about where this will go, if our input will be heard, and what happens next.  Beyond the report and the recommendations – then what?  It’s a good question – but I have to say that I think it’s a question we should be asking ourselves and our communities, not Pride Toronto.

As I listened to many people speak passionately and thoughtfully about the history of disrespect, lack of engagement, and disregard that Pride Toronto has shown Racialized communities and community organizations, a few things strike me.

First, there is such a long history. This is not a new problem. This concern did not rise up this year. There is a traceable history with Blockorama and Blackness Yes and many community organizations that have seen their place at Pride go from (literally) within the centre to the margins. Obviously Pride Toronto doesn’t “get it”. 

Secondly, Pride Toronto has grown from a grass-roots, community-based organization based on resistance and struggle for rights to a corporate entity. This means that money is the bottom line. Getting it - and getting more next time. This is a red flag; there is no room for community engagement when you have sponsors to worry about. 

When you combine corporate mentality with the history of disrespect and disregard, why are we surprised that no one is listening? That no one cares? That the voices that spoke up in the Spring are still speaking, after more of the same occurred again this past Pride?

Let’s not forget that (although we don’t like to talk about it) systemic racism is woven into the fabric of our country. Add that to the mix and our worries about “will this round of talks make a difference” is an even bigger question mark. 

That’s plenty to make me angry, but here is the thing that has me particularly upset: When will we say “enough”?

We are strong people and a strong community. And we know what we want. I sat in the room, listening to calls for justice, understanding, humility, apology, and to make it right. And something nagged at me. The anger boiled up and I thought, why are we still here? Stamping our feet and talking about all the wrong that has been done and what we would like to see to repair it – when it’s been going on for years!  In April at the meeting with Pride Toronto about Blockorama, the theme was “the fire this time”. That fire is fueling the passion at these talks, but I hope that’s not all.

Marginalized groups are the ones who fight for change. I understand this. We are the ones affected and we fight to make things better for ourselves and others. Part of this is raising awareness about what is wrong, because if it doesn’t affect you, if you don’t feel it, then sometimes you can’t see it and you need some help. So we speak up. Sometimes we have allies. Often it works. But there are many effective ways to create change, and I can’t help but wonder how long we are going to rattle this cage until the people inside “get it”.

We know what we want. We are very clear about what Pride means to us, and that Pride Toronto is not living up to that. We are clear that we – the community - are Pride; that Pride is ours. Why does it feel like we are asking (and waiting) for recognition from an entity that is not representing us, and seems like it could care less about us, instead of breaking out and creating the change we want to see?

Last night's meeting was a good forum (if you missed it, or any of the other 5, check out www.communityadvisorypanel.ca and send in your thoughts)  I have confidence that our voices were heard and that our concerns will be reflected in the recommendations to Pride.
And then what?
What happens if there is no significant change, or hint of movement towards it?
What does "the fire this time" look like then?



 

 

 

 

 
 
I’m listening to Austrian Radio. The show is called Moment – Leben Heute (Life Today)  Today’s topic is the mosque in Vienna and the public opinion that surrounds it.

It’s worth noting that these are not solely Austrian opinions that I am hearing on this show.  I also hear these arguments in Canada (and I can safely assume one would hear them all over the world) about immigrants and people that are “not like us”.  There is a name for this: xenophobia. In this case, we can also call it Islamophobia.

The complaints about the Mosque, it seems, are not about religion, but about the things that accompany it: congested streets, lack of parking, noise.  In particular they mention the Eid celebrations with firecrackers and the lack of street parking during Ramadan. It occurs to me that these are the types of things we pick at because we don’t want to show our intolerance and racism. At one point a bus passengers complaint is shared as the bus stops to let a large crowd of Mosque-bound people cross the street. His fellow passenger replies “My God, they are just going to pray. We’ve been doing that for ages.” And I have to smile. Because in a predominantly Christian country, I’m sure there are parking issues at Easter and Christmas (and maybe every Sunday, depending on the size of the town), and I can imagine there are firecrackers at New Years. And I wonder who complains then.  You see, it’s not about that. It’s about the fact that we as a human race continue to have trouble accepting difference – and seeing the common humanity beneath it.
See more. Be more. 
    
© Annemarie Shrouder 2010
 

(c) 2011 Building Equitable Environments