By PATRICK HUNTER
To be sure, Black History Month (Afrikan Heritage Month) has always been busy ever since we decided to adopt it here in Canada. Even before it became officially recognized by the federal government. But, remarkably, the quality of BHM 2016 has shown some marked improvements, beyond just cultural performances.
A lot of the credit, to begin with, probably has to do with the increase of activism prompted largely by the battle against street checks, better known as carding. The powers-that-be appear to be waking up.
I have reported on Progressive Conservative Party Leader Patrick Brown’s overture to the community through media. Since then, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath also had a luncheon with community members to discuss some of our issues. The sessions were brief, as one would expect, but hopefully they indicate the start of something good.
Premier Kathleen Wynne made a couple of announcements this past week that caught many of us by surprise. First out of the box was an announcement that the government will be “introducing mandatory Indigenous cultural competency and anti-racism training for every employee in the Ontario Public Service (OPS) and implementing mandatory learning expectations in Ontario’s public education system curriculum”. Credit also goes to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations.
The Premier then followed up with the announcement of the establishment of the Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate, under the leadership of Minister Michael Couteau who adds minister responsible for anti-racism to his tourism and culture portfolio.
Now, let us be clear: These are announcements of impending developments. We are a skeptical community because we have been burned so many times before where the announcements have been more substantial than the actual activity.
To begin with, how is this massive undertaking of educating the public service, which is certainly in need of this, to be done? Who will be the educators? What are the timelines for this undertaking? How will outcomes be measured – in other words, how will we “see” improvements as a result of this educating measure? Perhaps most significantly, what are the penalties for non-compliance, or missed targets, that can be and should be imposed on deputy ministers? I sincerely hope that Cabinet Secretary Steve Orsini takes these questions seriously and understand that the public is watching and expect to see positive results.
Next, the Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate (OARD). The announcement was short on details beyond: “Increase public education and awareness of racism to create a more inclusive province and, apply an anti-racism lens in developing, implementing and evaluating government policies, programs and services.” I expect that more details will be forthcoming as community consultations, administrative templates and strategic goals are developed – and I certainly hope consultations are built in.
Timelines are a factor here as well. Getting the mechanism in place following announcements like these is traditionally a government tactic to do nothing in the end. A case in point – the directorate comes 10 years after the legislation to set up a secretariat was passed.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission, in conjunction with Osgoode Hall Law School held a conference this past week to explore ways of stamping out racial profiling.
Also happening this week was the first annual Akua Benjamin Lecture and Anti-Black Racism Conference at Ryerson.
The lecture was more of an honouring of some of the activists that have brought us to this point in our struggle in this province and country – Dudley Laws, Marlene Green, Gwen and Lenny Johnston, Charley Roach and Rosie Douglas.
Regrettably I was unable to stay for most of the sessions at both conferences but what I saw was encouraging. Young people were very much involved and hopefully encouraged to carry on the struggle with renewed enthusiasm and determination.
I would like to encourage presenters, especially the academics, to be more plain-spoken in their presentations. It is one thing to use opaque language if all around you are academics. But if you want to get your ideas across to a cross-section of an audience, deflate your language. I am not suggesting that you speak down to people. One of the good things about the English language is that one can use simple words to get ideas across.
And just when you thought the announcements may be over, the University of Toronto announced earlier this week that it will collect race-based students’ data. No word on a survey of the faculty.
All of this is, to say the least, encouraging. More than 20 years after the first governmental recognition of anti-Black racism in the province, we appear to be inching towards that point again. Call it over optimism but they are now talking about anti-racism. Now we have to “convince” them that anti-Black racism is real. Mind you, all they have to do is take a look at the carding debate.
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