It can hardly be disputed that Black people celebrate just about everything, and we don’t just celebrate, we brand it – Black love, Black success, Black business, Black education, Black fatherhood, Black motherhood, Black girl magic, Black television, Black music, Black literature, Black everything. As you read this, you may be thinking, “Okay, we get it.” If that is your reaction, then perhaps you don’t. Perhaps you do not understand why we celebrate as we do.
One of the most off-putting questions I have ever been asked is, “Do you consider yourself to be Black?” To say that I was flabbergasted would be an understatement. The irony is that the question was asked in the midst of the individual communicating to me how much they detest racism and microaggressions. In response, I inquired why they would ask such a question. They proceeded to say, “I don’t consider you to be Black. I consider you to be Brown.” My struggle in the moment was that I knew that the individual meant no harm.
Growing up in a predominantly white town, I was the only Black girl in my school. To add to that, my family and I were the only Black family in the town. To be completely frank with you, I barely saw any Black people other than myself and my family. I recall Black History Month never really being celebrated or even acknowledged in the schools I attended, and I did not see it in our history books. Lucky for me, I was exposed to the richness of Black culture and history at such a young age through books, television, and movies.
Call it a job perk? As a workplace investigator, I not infrequently get questions from friends, family, people I’ve just met, about whether Situation XYZ may be an example of discrimination and/or harassment. A recent discussion about digital blackface led me to think of other possible examples of how anti-Black stereotypes and microaggressions can manifest in the modern workplace.
Racial discrimination can often be subtle and difficult to detect, particularly in fluid and dynamic situations such as those involving law enforcement. But as a recent Ontario Human Rights Tribunal decision indicates, police action that is ostensibly intended to maintain public safety can nonetheless amount to race-based discrimination.
In a recent blog, my colleague Katharine Montpetit discussed three pivotal human rights cases involving anti-Black racism. These cases demonstrate an advancing awareness of how anti-Black racism manifests in the workplace; arguably, this awareness has grown and changed even since some of these decisions were released.
Last week, my colleague Dana Campbell discussed the difference between racism and racial discrimination, and the ways in which racial discrimination can manifest in the workplace. In the spirit of her article and her quote from Clarence B. Warren – “Everything can be improved” – we review here three human rights cases where anti-black racism occurred in the workplace, what the law told us then, and considerations for how the application of some of these legal principles may evolve going forward.
We are living in a time when racism and racial discrimination are at the fore globally. The world is being awakened to an issue that is by no means new but has not necessarily received sufficient attention. There is now a global call for radical institutional and systemic changes which acknowledge the equality of racialized persons. While the focus is in many cases on the justice system, it is imperative that the systemic changes, if they are to be effective, must permeate to the core of every society at all levels, including the workplace.