As Regina workplaces diversify, Black professionals reflect on discrimination in the office
‘Whenever I face discrimination, I speak to it and move on,’ says retired psychologist
Over the course of Black History Month, we are hoping to learn more about the rich dynamics of the Black experience in Regina through the stories of people from different backgrounds and professions.
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Dr. Jane Ekong says that when she arrived in Regina 38 years ago, there were so few Black residents, "we were kind of a novelty."
The retired psychologist, who is originally from Nigeria, said many of the Black people in Regina were professionals: physicians, business owners, football players and others.
These Black professionals made a mark on the community. This includes Ekong, who served as a trustee on the Regina Public Schools board, co-founded the Saskatchewan African Canadian Heritage Museum and currently runs a charity called Amakon Women Empowerment Non-Profit Corp., which caters to women and children.
Despite this, she and fellow members of Regina's burgeoning Black community encountered racism in the workplace and in their day-to-day lives.
"I heard from some people that they had problems getting a place because people did not want to rent to them," Ekong said.
Nearly four decades later, the Black population in Saskatchewan's capital city is still small, but is growing. Black people made up three per cent of Regina's population in the 2016 census and a larger portion of the professional sphere.
Ekong said she is happy to see a lot more people of colour in Regina in recent years, but that discriminatory practices still exist in workspaces throughout the city.
Racism in the workplace
Obianuju Juliet Bushi can attest to the continued existence of discrimination in the workplace.
Bushi moved to Regina in 2007 from Grande Prairie, Alta., after transferring to the University of Regina to continue her studies. She found her career in education after discovering she would not be able to practise medicine as an international student because, at the time, she needed to be a citizen or permanent resident to do so.
She's now a sessional lecturer at the First Nations University of Canada and a board trustee at the Regina Catholic School Division.
Prior to finding her passion for teaching and a job that she thoroughly enjoys at the university, Bushi had many experiences in other places that she describes as "horrible."
The one that left her the most hurt came at a Crown corporation. She remembers what she described as incessant discrimination starting after her manager transferred her to a different department and she was offered a position that she was overqualified for.
She had previously been in a temporary position, which was coming to an end. If she didn't get another internal position, she'd be out, so she took the offer despite it only requiring a diploma when she had her Master's degree.
She said it was "the worst idea."
Bushi remembers being frustrated by her manager, who she said micromanaged her and once called her "a slow learner."
She said her colleagues also gave her a tough time.
"My coworkers would have meetings and not include me and whenever I asked my manager about it, she would say, 'You're new so it's easier not to include you.' There was no training provided for me. I was asked to job shadow two of my coworkers leaving the department and they were very bitter about it," she said.
Bushi recalls an incident when she turned around to find one of her colleagues making faces at her while she was asking questions.
"I remember thinking 'Oh my God, I need help,'" she said.
Bushi ended up leaving the position after her manager reviews prevented her contract from being renewed.
Building a positive community
Michael Ifeanyi has had a very different experience with a Saskatchewan Crown corporation. He joined SaskPower in 2018 as a customer service representative and within nine months he was promoted to the position of project resource planner.
Ifeanyi, the only person of colour on his team of six, said he has yet to have a racist encounter in the office in the three years since.
"My team was welcoming and over the years we've got to know each other very well," he said.
Ifeanyi credits team bonding exercises with helping him come out of his shell and do his best work. For him, sharing and hearing personal experiences from teammates has built a community and a safe place at work.
Making lemonade out of lemons
Ekong has made a habit of addressing racist comments and calling out racist behaviour when it occurs, but also refusing to dwell on them or let them distract her.
"Whenever I face discrimination, I speak to it and move on," she said. "If I let it fester in my mind and spirit, it does me no good. It will make me become like the person who perpetrated that against me."
She also seeks opportunities to educate people and make them realize that "we are all human and we all hurt the same."
Her advice to young professionals in the city who are facing racism is they should not bottle up the anger and they should make themselves indispensable wherever they are found.
"If you are good at what you do, even though people may not like your face and they may not like your accent or your colour, when they need something in your area of expertise they are more likely to swallow their pride and come to you."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.