Industry Insights

Anti-racism: doing it right

As part of our commitment to anti-racism, specifically anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism we’re doing the work to engage in analysis, education, and action.

Jennifer Paukman

Categories: Industry Insights

July 30, 2020

As part of our commitment to anti-racism, specifically anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism we’re doing the work to engage in analysis, education, and action. To remain accountable, we’ve set-up anti-racism working groups to focus on three key areas: naming and eliminating barriers preventing Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) from entering and progressing in the advertising sector, diversifying our talent and suppliers, and ensuring our creative work remains free of stereotypes and bigotry. 

As part of our learning, we took the first in a series of ‘Courageous Conversations’ workshops hosted by our friends at Waking The unConscious (WTC). We’re also now certified by the Centre of Anti-Oppressive Communication thanks to Tenniel Brown’s workshop hosted by Pride Toronto. While we are all at different stages of our individual paths, there were many “aha-moments” that we all shared. Here’s what we learned through our anti-racism work thus far:

Most racism isn’t intentional

When we think of racism, we often think of single acts of intentional hate. We learned systemic racism is deeper than individual hate crimes; it is a system of oppression deeply rooted in and perpetuated by our society. For example, a study by the Conference Board of Canada found university-educated Black people earn 80.4 cents for every dollar earned by white peers, compared to 87.4 cents for all People of Colour. For Indigenous people, it’s closer to 66 cents. To create lasting change in our workplaces, we need to name, address; and challenge the systemic oppression that upholds the status quo. Because “what we cannot acknowledge, we cannot address.” – Dr. Marilyn Sanders Mobley

Understanding the cycle of oppression

Oppression starts with stereotypes and prejudices that become institutionalized and internalized over time. We learned the different types of oppression and how they work together to perpetuate the cycle of systemic racism. Oppression is:

  1. Ideological (a system of beliefs or ideas)
  2. Institutional (using laws, the legal system, the education system, public policy, media, political power, etc. to maintain ideology)
  3. Interpersonal (the idea that one group is better than another and has the right to dominate/control the other)
  4. Internalized (the oppressor doesn’t have to exert any more pressure, because the oppressed now does it to themselves and each other)
Chart showing the cycle of oppression
Image source: The Black Angry Queer

In order to break the cycle, we need to disrupt, question, educate, reframe, and take a stand.

Calling out microaggressions

Microaggressions are small, hurtful acts that can often go unaddressed in the workplace (or anywhere). They can take the form of verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults. While these acts or words are often well-intentioned by the person making them, they can communicate hostile, derogatory, and/or negative messages to the receiver based on their marginalized group membership. 

Microaggressions can feel like ‘death by a thousand papercuts’ because they demean a person’s heritage communicating they are ‘less than’ because they do not belong to the majority group. Some examples of microaggressions are saying “you are so articulate” or “where are you from?” to a person of colour. It’s the fried chicken-themed gift basket that gets sent to a Black staff member by an executive. Calling out microaggressions helps pinpoint and acknowledge blind spots to stop perpetuating the cycle of oppression. 

Don’t call them a racist

Want to speak up against racism? Here are the top tips we learned to address racist behaviour. 

• Before getting involved, ask yourself, is this person willing to listen? If the answer is yes, start from a place of understanding, use active listening, and try to have empathy 

• Understand your own limits and only take on emotional labour that you have enough patience for

• People don’t like to be called racist so do your best to address their behaviour directly and focus on what they did instead of who they are

• Recognize your own social location, power, privilege, and how it might impact the person you’re talking to

• Be patient with yourself and examine your own defensiveness during the conversation

• And lastly, always be open to learning.

Are you interested in taking a (virtual) anti-racism workshop at your company? 

Contact Nicole McKinney and Sybil Allen at Waking The unConscious or Tenniel Brown at the Centre for Anti-Oppressive Communication.


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