Racism in Canada. “Message from a Canadian black teacher to educators”
3.5%. This percentage represents the black population of Canada. It is a young, diverse, growing population. What then explains the obvious differences between blacks and the rest of the Canadian population in terms of employment and education? A recent study by Statistics Canada has indeed highlighted these disparities. Here are some examples:
About 1 in 5 black adults live in low income
The unemployment rate among holders of post-secondary diplomas was 9.2% in 2016 against 5.3% for the rest of the population and
The employment rate of black people aged 25 to 59 is lower than in the rest of the population: 78.1% compared to 82.6% for men in 2016.
What does these figures show? How do the realities they illustrate live on a daily basis? What are the effects on our society and on youth?
After The troubling murder of a Georges Floyd, the black community all over the world decided to break the silence and raised the voices loud concerning the ongoing injustice and specifically racism that still persist in our communities. It’s in this sight that Eric Keunne, Teacher and Department Head with the Halton District School Board made a speech during a staff meeting on June 4th. Here below some abstract of the very inspiring speech he made.
My name is Eric Keunne, for some of you I am a friend, for others just a work colleague and for many others hopefully, a human just like you, who also has the right to dignity, respect and certainly not pity.
Whatever category you put me in, it doesn’t really matter! Besides, who am I to dictate the look that everyone should have on me? All I’m convinced of is that I’m black, day and night and proud of being black, but after all, I am just someone like you: A human being …
You must certainly be wondering what my blackness would have to do with my speech at the moment….
Well, this term has its place. It resonates both as a glorification of my being in comparison with other human beings like me (you for example) and it is sometimes tinged with inexplicable discomfort that follows me every day.
This discomfort sometimes even tracks me down to my safest spaces, including my home. As you may know, I did not choose to be born black, just as you did not choose to be born white, Asian, Indian, etc…
So the question that I constantly ask myself, as I am sure many like me as themselves, is why on earth is it that in the 21st century, our skin colour, our gender, our sexual orientation, our accents, our way of living, should constitute an avenue for rejection and discrimination rather than constitute an opportunity for mutual enrichment, learning from one another and for more inclusion in our society?
Have we not learned from our history as Canadian citizens and as human beings? The wounds of residential schools are still gaping. It is taking us a long time to understand those truths and the road to reconciliation is still long and winding …We are a long way from having reached a level of equity and equality after so many years of denial of the reality that surrounds us. We also need to acknowledge the truth that: yes anti- black racism is so prevalent in Canadian society…
While we have barely healed the wounds left by COVID 19 pandemic that rages so brutally and paralyze us all with the corollaries on our mental health, on our workload, on our social lives and on our ability to be operational for our students, parents, and the entire educational community, the deeply troubling acts of anti-Black racism that we have seen in the past weeks in the US serve as an important reminder that the work to protect and uphold the rights and dignity of all people is imperative, and that we all have a responsibility to build more equitable and inclusive communities.
These recent troubling events remind us of the fragility of the social fabric that was built in the past and bequeathed to us voluntarily or involuntarily. Yet, the current generation of educators keep struggling to find appropriate answers to any questions that may arise from these events unfolding across US & Canada and day after day the frustrations continue to grow.
I would just like to remind us once again of the eminently important role of educators that we are in the midst of this storm. We have to break a cycle… You have to do it…
As Martin Luther King Jr. so well said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Changes are taking place in our society as many people are working towards ending the many injustices we see on a daily basis, and it is important for each of us to take a stand. My question to you is: Where do you stand??? You do not need to answer this question right away….
One concept of historical thought which should guide our reasoning at this time is certainly that of its causes and consequences by asking the questions how and why. These two important questions open the way to the search for causes: what were the actions, beliefs or circumstances that led to these consequences?
In history, we are constantly reminded that we must take into account the human factor. People, alone or in groups, play a role in promoting and designing change, as well as in resisting it.
So the ultimate question I ask us today: Together as ONE Educator family, how are we going to use the opportunity provided by the extremely painful reality to engage in meaningful conversations with our students, friends, families, community so that what is currently unfolding could serve as the foundation for establishing a more inclusive educational community and society as a whole, a community where everyone feels valued despite the differences that set us apart?
I would like to close my remark by stating unequivocally that silence is certainly not an option! In fact, It was never an option but now more than ever! I also want to remind us that the substantive work of equity and inclusion at a basic level requires engagement on a human level: acknowledging and responding to pain and trauma and collectively navigating a way through to healing.
All too often, when we see injustices, both great and small, we think, ‘That’s terrible, but we do nothing. We say nothing. We let other people fight their own battles. We remain silent because silence is easier. Qui tacet
consentire videtur is Latin for ‘Silence gives consent.’ When we say nothing, when we do nothing, we are consenting to these trespasses against us.”
― Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist
While we continue to condemn anti-Black racism in our communities by engaging in meaningful conversations with our students, friends, and colleagues, let us remember that as educators, we are held in higher regard. We have a shared responsibility to uphold and promote the values of dignity, belonging, respect, equity, diversity, and inclusion. As educators, we must make this commitment and accept this call for action. It’s a learning journey for you and I and together we MUST continue to work for a better future for all of us and for the generations to come. We MUST never give up and WE ALL MUST DO BETTER.