“Just as many young people will continue to advocate for policy change and fight against racism, so must we all. Only with everyone working together to advocate for change at every level will we achieve a truly equitable, non-racist society.” — Larry Brown, NUPGE President
Ottawa (21 March 2021) — Created by the United Nations, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed annually on March 21. This date was chosen to commemorate the 69 people who lost their lives and the 180 others who were injured in Sharpeville, South Africa, in 1960 for participating in a peaceful demonstration against apartheid.
The theme for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 2021 is “Youth standing up against racism.”
Black Lives Matter and the summer of 2020
In the summer of 2020, after the brutal killing of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement gained new traction around the world. Much of the momentum was carried by Black youth. Young people standing up to racism is not a new phenomenon. Students and other young Black people helped push for change during the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Indeed, students and young people have been at the heart of many protest movements globally, including anti-racism movements.
But as encouraging as it is to see youth rise up to fight for their future, it’s also heartbreaking. It shouldn’t fall to the next generation to clean up the mistakes made by decades of adults that came before them. Young BIPOC shouldn’t have to learn about racism at such a young age, yet they’re forced to. They hear it on the news, experience it first-hand, or are told about it by their parents out of necessity to keep them safe.
Youth are the future, but that doesn’t give the current cohort of adults a free pass to continue perpetuating white supremacy and institutionalized racism leftover from colonialism. We must take action now to dismantle the systems that continue to harm BIPOC in Canadian society and around the world.
Racism in Canada
In the recent Newfoundland and Labrador provincial election, Elections Newfoundland and Labrador failed to provide election materials and ballots in Indigenous languages such as Inuktitut, Innu-aimun and Mi'kmaw (CBC News). This failure to accommodate is disenfranchisement and institutionalized racism.
Topics like slavery and residential schools are important to teach in school. But stories of BIPOC success are equally as important. Teaching only a version of history that victimizes people who are BIPOC perpetuates racism. Teaching history from textbooks written only by white academics perpetuates racism. On top of it not being the responsibility of youth, it’s unreasonable to expect the next generation of youth to end racism when we fail to give them the tools to do so.
BIPOC in Canada are faced with explicit and covert racism. In Calgary, white nationalist groups use the cover of COVID closures and anti-mask rallies to march through the city carrying Tiki torches — a clear reference to the 2017 Charlottesville white supremacist rally where anti-racism protestor Heather Heyer was murdered. Covert racism can be difficult to identify or combat, but it exists in society, in workplaces, and in unions. And as trade unionists, we must do better.
Unions and anti-racism
In 2020, Health Sciences Association of British Columbia (HSABC/NUPGE) released Confronting Racism with Solidarity: An analysis of the 2020 HSA Workplace Racism Survey. The report stated that “44.6 per cent of respondents reported experiencing ignorant, insensitive or arduous comments about their race, culture, or religion” in their workplace.
A union cannot effectively serve its members if it does not serve its BIPOC members. It is imperative that unions become more inclusive and actively fight for racial justice. BIPOC members need to see themselves reflected in all levels of unions: in steward roles, staffing roles, elected positions, and on executive boards. We must identify and remove racist barriers in the workplaces where our members work, and within our own unions.
“Just as many young people will continue to advocate for policy change and fight against racism, so must we all,” said Larry Brown, NUPGE President. “Only with everyone working together to advocate for change at every level will we achieve a truly equitable, non-racist society.”
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE