By PATRICK HUNTER
The very moment you introduce the idea of a program designed to assist and support the Black community is the very moment the worms start crawling out of the woodwork. Suddenly, the commentators discover all sorts of arguments why such a program goes against the concept of equality.
The latest salvo comes in the form of an editorial from the Toronto Sun last Sunday: “Hiring on the basis of race, gender is wrong”. The opening sentence of the editorial: “Someday, politicians and bureaucrats may realize that job descriptions whose message is ‘only black people need apply’ or only women need apply’ are as morally repugnant as those that used to say ‘only white people need apply’ or ‘only men need apply’”.
The Sun’s editorial, a paper which I still have a great deal of difficulty reading because of its traditional anti-Black sentiments, comes as a reaction to a new program designed to support Black women in progressing from the administrative support roles in which they are in abundance within the Ontario Public Service (OPS).
This is a pilot program which is being introduced based on a few facts. An employee survey conducted in 2011 found that 26 per cent of Black employees in the OPS are found in administrative/clerical positions. Other outcomes of the survey show that Black employees outstrip all employees and administrative employees in job dissatisfaction, by almost two to one. The same ratio also holds for dissatisfaction in career progress and job.
In other words, the jobs that many of them are doing are below their qualifications and opportunities for upward mobility are severely limited.
One of the reasons for the Sun’s attack on this program is because Premier Kathleen Wynne has voiced her support for it. In a separate article in the Sun, Wynne is supposed to have said she is “100 per cent” supportive of the internship program.
This is not the first time I have talked about the barriers faced by Black employees in the Ontario Public Service. The Black Ontario Public Service Employees Network (BOPSers) has been pushing these issues for some years now. Although that fight precedes the now famous “ghetto dude” affair, a cabinet office employee’s reference about a young Black male intern applicant, BOPSers became more formal after that. It has met with senior officials of the OPS, including cabinet secretaries, to seek changes that respected and reward the abilities and work of Black employees. This is one of the first really concrete steps to come from those contacts, even though there have been many promises which, in effect, amounted to “further study”.
On seeing the Sun’s editorial, one employee sent me a note saying: “We cannot be silent about this. We have worked too hard to get this.”
This was the kind of thinking around the introduction of the Employment Equity Act in the early 1990s. The Progressive Conservative Party under Mike Harris, along with many like-minded supporters, launched a campaign that projected that Act in the most negative light. For example, one rationale was that unqualified people would be hired. That of course suggests that if you are Black, there is no way you could be qualified.
Here is another quote from the Sun’s editorial: “But the problem comes when governments restrict jobs or promotions to particular groups of people out of misguided notions of promoting equality.
“Inevitably, when this kind of hiring instruction is uncovered, those behind it stubbornly insist they always hire on the basis of merit.
“They refuse to acknowledge the plain meaning of the words. They insist what are euphemistically referred to as hiring ‘targets’ are not ‘quotas’, which is exactly what they are.”
But one of the most telling statements of the editorial is this: “The problem with employment equity regimes is they breed resentment among workers who aren’t part of the designated groups…”
White males were the only non-designated group. We just can’t afford to upset them, I guess.
The Sun, and the many supporters of that opinion, refuses to acknowledge the many years of outright discrimination that prevented Black and other racialized people and women from being hired and progressing in the workplace. This is a recognized special program under the Ontario Human Rights Code provisions in that it recognizes that these racial barriers existed and this would be a legitimate effort to try to correct a historic wrong.
It is worth looking at other groups who faced barriers and objections to their hiring over the years and see how they have fared. The Japanese, Chinese, First Nations, Italians and so many others have received apologies and, in some cases, compensation for the wrongs committed against their people. African Canadians have never received an apology for enslavement, and barely an acknowledgment that slavery existed in Canada.
We have seen this kind of reaction as recently as the debate over the Africentric schools. It only reinforces what we have come to expect – a knee-jerk objection to anything that seeks to advance the status of people of African descent in Canada. It will probably never end, and it is painful to admit it to ourselves. Nevertheless, it is worth reminding ourselves that Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela and so many others never gave up the struggle.