By Lincoln DePradine
Acts of discrimination and racism against people of African descent are often excused as nothing more than “unconscious’’ bias.
However, human rights lawyer Anthony Morgan is unconvinced that the behaviour is as “unconscious’’ as often claimed. He argues that it’s rooted in “institutionalized and systemic racism’’ and the “socio-economic marginalization’’ of Black Canadians.
Slavery, an “institution of violence’’, was instrumental in shaping the society’s “collective consciousness’’ of Black people, Morgan told participants at a conference on Tuesday.
“Look at the lack of representation of Black people in spaces of media, politics, business, government, policy making,’’ said Morgan, one of the City of Toronto representatives to address Tuesday’s online event that discussed anti-Black racism.
“As unconscious as we like to say it is, there’s a level at which it’s somewhat disingenuous,’’ Morgan said. “It’s just that people are not actually using their common sense when they look at the disparities that exist, or they have come to believe in racist stereotypes and ideas about Black people; to suggest that Black people are not good enough, not qualified enough; they simply do not have what it takes to be able to ascend to different spaces of leadership and authority.’’
Tuesday’s virtual ” Economic Empowerment and Anti-Black Racism Conference’’ was organized by the City of Brampton.
It brought together representatives from municipalities across the Province of Ontario “to listen, share, support and collaborate with one another as we identify and strategize to break down barriers for the Black community,’’Brampton officials said.
“We can’t have a powerful and fruitful nation, if we don’t allow everyone to be able to participate,’’ City of Brampton’s Gwyneth Matthew Chapman said in welcoming remarks. Chapman is senior advisor in the city’s Black, African and Caribbean Social, Cultural and Economic Empowerment and Anti-Black Racism Unit.
Brampton’s Mayor Patrick Brown said the city, in ongoing efforts to address systemic racism, is “serious about implementing ideas’’ generated from the conference.
Apart from abuse and denial of rights suffered under slavery, Black people – from 1910 to the 1970s – “were actively banned from freely migrating into Canada,’’ Morgan said.
Policies also have been adopted in Canada that “systemically disadvantaged’’ Black people, who face more “enforcement, monitoring and surveillance’’ than other groups in society, he added.
“There is something dramatically amiss as it relates to the Black socio-wellbeing, inclusion and equity,’’ said Morgan who is manager of the Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit of the City of Toronto.
The unit was establish following the city’s 2017 adoption of the “Toronto Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism’’.
According to Toronto officials, “anti-Black racism has had detrimental impacts on the life and work of Black people in our city’’. Toronto, they say, “recognizes its responsibility to create a city that works for all residents’’.
Morgan drew on statistics to demonstrate how Black families, including children, are negatively impacted by racism and hate crime.
“Despite being only some 7.5 per cent of Toronto’s overall population, almost half of Black children live in low-income households,’’ he said. “When it comes to police reported hate crimes for, at least the last decade, Black people are the number one targets within Canada. Eighty-five percent is the rate of hate-crime victimization experienced by Black people. This is a conversation that we don’t have enough within Canada.’’
Morgan said programs to help Black people overcome systemic barriers are possible under the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“The challenge we find is that there is an incredible amount of hesitation, resistance, frustration and suspicion when it comes to extending – what we’ve already done for other groups – to Black people. Within the law, it is completely acceptable to have programs that are focused specifically on supporting the advancement of Black people on the basis of Section 14 of the Human Rights Code. A parallel provision you can look to is in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.’’
Brampton City Councillor Charmaine Williams encouraged those attending Tuesday’s conference to “share your ideas, your thoughts and let’s see us grow and make change’’.
“Black economic empowerment to me is everything. It ensures growth and sustainability of wealth and talent amongst entrepreneurs and businesses, communities, families and individuals,’’ said Williams,
“ And I hope this conference will be the first of many and eventually will lead to the development of a national coalition of cities to address anti-Black racism,’’ she added.