The Black should demand: “Nothing about us without us”

By: Dave D’Oyen

Minister of Education Stephen Lecce

Recent incidents of anti-Black racism at the Peel District School Board prompted Ontario’s Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, to announce a review “to address concerns about equity, including anti-Black racism, and serious issues related to governance, leadership and human resources practices in the board”. He appointed two reviewers: Suzanne Herbert, a former public servant with senior positions across the provincial government, and Ena Chadha, a human rights lawyer and mediator.

To the surprise and dismay of the Black community, neither of the reviewers is an individual of African descent with the necessary lived experience to contextualise the anger, frustration and downright injustice that will be described in submissions and public and private consultations.

Consider the following precedents where individuals with lived experience were considered pertinent to the body’s work:

  • Independent Civilian Review into Missing Person Investigations: The community advisor and some members of the community advisory group identify as members of the LGBTQ2S+ community.
  • National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls: The four commissioners were Indigenous.
  • Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Two of the three commissioners were Indigenous.
  • Review of the Roots of Youth Violence: One of the two co-chairs was of African descent.
  • Stephen Lewis Report on Race Relations in Ontario: Three of the eight members were of African descent.
  • Race Relations and Policing Task Force: Three of the five members were of African descent.

In “Race, Representation, and Trust: Changes in Attitudes After the Election of a Black Mayor”, F. Glenn Abney and John D. Hutcheson, Jr. wrote, “…one way to increase trust in city government among blacks is to provide opportunities for representation…” Absent the inclusion of a qualified member from the Black community, this review will not enjoy credibility.

Below are some ideas on how to proceed:

Minister Lecce should appoint a third or additional reviewers, one of whom is of African descent and qualified to provide subject matter expertise relating to anti-Black racism. There exists a plethora of related experts, most notably, Dr. Carl E. James, Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora at York University, who has done extensive research — 33 years to be exact — about the experiences of Black students in the education system.

If the number of reviewers must remain at two (there is no statute limiting the number of reviewers), Minister Lecce must rescind one of the appointments and appoint someone of African descent. Alternately, one of the reviewers may voluntarily step down. With the growing prevalence of “being woke”, event organisers are careful to avoid “manels” or “whanels”, that is, panels that comprise men only or White individuals only respectively. Some panellists who find themselves in a similar situation, assert that they will not participate should the panel proceed without a diversity of speakers. The reviewers should consider same.

Given the gravity of the issue, Minister Lecce should appoint a reviewer with sufficient funding to hire a team of experts to comprehensively investigate the pervasiveness of anti-Black racism. The government has shown itself willing to invest in priorities such as reducing Ontario’s deficit by allocating $7.35 million for municipalities to conduct third party audits.

Members of the Black community, quite frankly, refuse to participate. There is an old saying, “Once a task is just begun, never leave it till it’s done. Be the labour great or small, do it well or not at all.”

The government remains fixated and hyper-focused on growing the economy, making sure Ontario is open for business and seeing a new day dawn. The Black community shares the very same ambitions, but racism, particularly anti-Black racism, remains an impediment and has a deleterious effect on the economy. The report “Rebalancing the Opportunity Equation” by United Way Greater Toronto says, “Incomes for racialized groups have not increased in 35 years and the income-gap between racialized and white groups has increased… For every dollar a white person in Peel earns, a racialized person in Peel earns 69.2 cents.” If the government is committed to the above goals, they must take action to address the broader impacts of anti-Black racism including the specific instances concerning the Peel District School Board.

The Black community ought not to take comfort in the dynamics of political theatre. The prepared speeches supporting inclusive schools — many of which are in fact banal — are a repetition of platitudes. The Black community must demand: Nothing about us without us.

Dave D’Oyen is a diversity and inclusion consultant and sits on the advisory board of Marigold Capital.