British Columbia

White people have to step up to identify systemic racism in Canada, labour expert says

The burden of identifying systemic racism and oppression shouldn't fall on people of colour, says a Vancouver-based labour relations specialist, who adds white people need to also take responsibility.

Acknowledging white privilege is an uncomfortable but important step toward change: UBC assistant prof

A peaceful demonstration against anti-black racism in Vancouver over the weekend drew thousands of people. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The burden of identifying systemic racism and oppression shouldn't fall on people of colour, says a Vancouver-based labour relations specialist, who adds white people need to also take responsibility.

"As a black woman, I know, and for many of my black [and] Indigenous friends, we are frequently required to offer our existence and knowledge as learning tools," said Natasha Tony on CBC's On The Coast. 

"We're rarely thanked for this work, and it becomes a question when we talk about this emotional labour: Do I self-sacrifice for the greater good of our community, our workplace, or do we now stand up and prioritize our own wellbeing?"

It's a question that's received renewed importance after the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in Minneapolis sparked huge protests across the United States and Canada. 

Around 3,500 people gathered on May 31, 2020 to join rallies across North America to protest police violence after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. 1:39

Tony says white people need to show up to conversations about race and be prepared to listen without centring their own experiences. 

"It is about listening and not centring yourself in the conversation where you say, 'oh, that's never happened to me,' or 'I've never seen that happen so I don't think it could be that bad,'" she said.

"Admit that you don't understand."

Then it's about doing your homework. Make an effort to learn about the Canadian history you weren't taught, she says, and start naming things as racism and hate.

Michelle Stack, an associate professor in educational studies at the University of British Columbia, says we're taught from a very early age to privilege whiteness and look at the world through a white perspective.

"I didn't hear anything about Indigenous people. I was told that Canada was this great wild land with nobody rather than being told that it was actually stolen land and still is," Stack told On The Coast host Gloria Macarenko. 

A woman attends a demonstration in Montreal on Sunday calling for justice for George Floyd, who was murdered by a Minneapolis policeman in May. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

She says the reason white people may get emotionally triggered or uncomfortable when there's any discussion of racism is because of this underlying myth that Canada is a meritocracy. 

"The evidence is — and there's really substantial evidence on this — that white people are given privileges, a lot of them, and black people, Indigenous people aren't," she said.

She says being able to look and confront these ideas — even with discomfort — is the only way to make change. 

"It causes a lot of discomfort. But I often say to students when they're uncomfortable [that] discomfort doesn't kill, but white supremacy does."

With files from On The Coast

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