In response to recent and shocking acts of racism against an Indigenous woman from Winnipeg firefighters, the City of Winnipeg announced all city employees will undergo mandatory anti-racism training. In response, Niigaan Sinclair wrote, “It’s not enough to talk about [racism]. Take action - identifying, recognizing, and addressing racism and discrimination in whatever form it takes.” Certainly, racism and discrimination go beyond the individual acts of these firefighters and instead reflect generations of power imbalances from Canada’s history of colonialism.
Research from Harvard University shows that remedial diversity training, often implemented in response to bad PR, simply doesn’t work - and often ironically leads to negative outcomes such as pushback from employees and discouraging people from speaking up against acts of discrimination. Shallow initiatives such as these also rely on the emotional labour of BIPOC employees to advocate for themselves and ‘prove’ racism. Instead, anti-racism initiatives must be implemented at the foundation of organizational policies and authentically embraced by leadership.
This is not to say that action against racism and discrimination is a lost cause. Anti-racism initiatives must be absolute, that is, embodied by strategic leadership as well as employees. Research shows that anti-racism training must be ongoing and empirically tailored according to individuals’ experiences and circumstances, and extend to hiring practices, policies and practices, as well as overarching organizational values.
As I’ve discussed in a previous blog post, at MARL, we take the approach that in order to spark substantive change, anti-racism training must be necessarily bound to human rights. Conversations around racism are necessarily challenging and uncomfortable and require critical dialogue and acknowledgement of social power imbalances and racial violence. This critical reflection is necessary to arrive at a point of empathy and understanding. In addressing acts and attitudes of racism and discrimination, it is crucial to look beyond the individual and engage in uncomfortable self-reflection on the unearned benefits of privilege. In this way, diversity and anti-racism training is not a box to check, but an ongoing practice in systemic change.
Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash