How anti-oppression and cultural inclusion training can help people be better allies
'The information we gain from anti-oppressive work is information we all need'
As many people focus on continued efforts toward demonstrations, resource sharing on social media and signing petitions to call for justice and racial equality following George Floyd's death, some may have heard about anti-oppression and cultural inclusion training and wonder what they are and where they fall within allyship.
"Anti-oppression is really about thinking about the power that exists in the world and how it creates room and benefits certain people at the expense of others and reflecting on that reality," said Carmel Farahbakhsh, a board member of Everyseeker, a community organization in Halifax that fuses art and music programming and anti-oppression education.
"So thinking about what privileges do I have, what space do I feel safe in, what space do I feel seen in, what space do I feel valued in and also what does that mean for me? What are the responsibilities that exist in there?"
Farahbakhsh, a second generation Iranian-Canadian and a member of Halifax's Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) community, facilitates roughly five anti-oppression workshops each month, mainly for community organizations and post-secondary institutions, which last about two hours at a time.
'What we can do within our communities'
The goal is to help members of the community gain skills in navigating allyship and complex conversations that can involve race, privilege and power dynamics.
The workshops, Farahbakhsh said, provide resources for further education and guide people through important terminology that might be new for them.
For instance, emphasizing the difference between equality and equity and why spotting the difference is important.
"Equality is the idea that everyone has access to things equally and while I understand that that's an important ideology, it just isn't factual because that's not the reality of the world. We don't all have the same access to things, we have different experiences like race, class, gender identity that affect the way that we have access to certain things," Farahbakhsh said.
What are our responsibilities locally, personally, interpersonally and then how do we apply that?— Carmel Farahbakhsh, Everyseeker
"Instead of thinking about giving everyone the same equal things … what we really want to offer is meeting people's needs where they're at."
The workshops also try and get people thinking about what they can do closer to home to tackle things like racism and discrimination.
"What we can do within our own communities locally and also what does it look like to be a player in a global movement? What are our responsibilities locally, personally, interpersonally and then how do we apply that?"
While Farahbakhsh is happy to continue providing anti-oppression workshops, the hope is to one day have the training incorporated in school curriculums, professional settings and government bodies as well.
"I really truly feel that the information we gain from anti-oppressive work is information we all need to exist in the world and create a better future for generations to come," Farahbakhsh said.
"When we have access to education that challenges us in gentle and loving ways and compassionate ways, then we can hopefully create social systems that are more representative of the change we want to see in the world."
Racism does exist and we all have a role to play in taking a stand against it.— Lisa Dollar, P.E.I. Association for Newcomers to Canada
On P.E.I., Lisa Dollar, who is not a part of the Island's BIPOC community, helps put together cultural inclusion workshops with the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers to Canada for local businesses, post-secondary institutions and community groups.
Cultural inclusion training, Dollar said, looks to help people talk about culture more broadly, understand how culture impacts how people behave and improve how people communicate with each other when it comes to cultural differences.
"There's many immigrants coming to P.E.I., and this is their new home. They are new Islanders, they're entering workplaces, they are joining as students in schools, they are living in our neighbourhoods and they are a part of this community."
In addition to cultural inclusion training, for the past 10 years the association has provided free anti-racism pledge cards to businesses, schools and community groups on P.E.I.
The idea is that staff, students and community members who participate fill out the cards and place them on a prominent wall, "so that they're reminded that racism does exist and we all have a role to play in taking a stand against it," Dollar said.
"If growing up 99 per cent of the people around you are acting, thinking and doing the same things as you, we often think of that as the universal way of doing things. And it's not.
"It's not until we're that fish-out-of-water that … we see that there's all kinds of ways to do things."
While the association has seen some regular interest in participating in the pledge card initiative over the years, within the last week they've heard from about a dozen businesses and community groups requesting cards, Dollar said.
"Some are gas stations, some are restaurants, you know, everyday workplaces that are realizing, 'Yeah, racism exists," she said.
The association, Dollar said, has also applied for funding from the federal government to add anti-racism educators to the organization's programming and are waiting on a decision.
"This education has been needed for some time on Prince Edward Island," she said.