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"Diversity" initiatives may be popular, but they are failing 

Christopher Stuart Taylor talks about the small nuances of Canada's anti-black racism

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It’s easy to say that racism doesn’t exist in Canada or that it’s a spectacle only visible in America. Headline-grabbing cases of blatant racism are rarer here. But dig deeper, and Canadians can find what Christopher Stuart Taylor calls the “small nuances of anti-black racism.” Taylor, who works as the diversity and inclusion coordinator at Ontario’s ministry of the attorney general, is also a black Canadian historian and writer—and he takes pains to explain his views and opinions are personal, and do not represent the opinions or views of the ministry of the attorney general or the government of Ontario. He’ll be in Halifax this weekend for the Black Canadian Studies Association Conference. His presentation— Diversity and Exclusion? Anti-Black Racism and the Challenges of Diversity Work—will address that although diversity work is currently the “in-thing” for public service and major companies, it actually fails to tackle the many different dimensions of diversity.

Is your research focused specifically on black Canada?
My research has evolved quite a bit. It has evolved into looking at this creation of black identity: creation of blackness through the African continent, transatlantic slave trade, Atlantic world, the Caribbean and South America. So my research, a lot of people say, looks from the surface to focus on Canada or North America. It has evolved into what blackness means worldwide—the global black identity: what does it mean to be black. How did this idea of black become such a negative characteristic and how do those negative characteristics become something that is so entrenched in the immigration policy, particularly Canadian, American and British immigration policy?

How do you define this idea of “blackness?”
[Laughs] This could be the interview itself. So I have three definitions of black. There is black, which is lowercase B, referring to a colour. You can be a person who just happens to be black, lowercase B. Then I have Black, capital B: you are a black person. Just like how we talk about you are Chinese, Japanese or Canadian. A lot of times in popular writing, you keep a lowercase black when you are describing a black person. I see that as another way of marginalizing black people. If you’re looking at a list descriptive of people, you’ll see again Canadians, Japanese, Chinese—all capitalized as pronouns as human beings and black lowercase B. My third definition, what we are really trying to get at, is “black” in quotation marks.

What do you think of the usage of black as opposed to African?
It really all comes down to how people want to identify themselves. Look at gender and transgender studies where you choose your gender and/or the gender you identify with. I say, why can’t we do the same thing when it comes to racial identifiers or national identifiers? If you choose to identify as an African or black person, so be it. I am not to justify that you are wrong or right. 

What are you trying to get across with your talk this weekend?
The word diversity and diversity inclusion is the in-thing. We don’t really talk about anti-racism anymore; we are looking at more inclusive environments. This is not just in the public service. If you look at TD, Scotiabank or any major company, they are all about diversity. You have chief diversity officer, chief inclusion officers and all that. 

My thing now is “OK, great!” You have diversity officers, fantastic! But once you start pulling back the layers of diversity work, does it really address all the small nuances of anti-black racism? Canada, we have a multiculturalism policy. But why is it that we still have issues of racism? Why is it that First Nations and blacks have the highest incarceration rate? You look at “carding,” particularly in Toronto, and that’s focused primarily on black people.  Unfortunately when you look at diversity work, when it does not focus primarily on anti-racism, blacks continue to fall through those cracks. Just because you have the policies doesn’t mean things are working.

So what do you hope to accomplish with your presentation?
If I get the opportunity to talk about some issues in the black community, I’ll be there to talk about them. I’m not there to say let’s fix it, but at the same time I think we need to start having a voice. There are people who, quote unquote, “work for the man” that are still trying to do good work while still trying to navigate this structured bureaucracy. If that gets across to one person, I’ll be happy.

Interview conducted and edited by Isabelle Ofume

Black Canadian Studies Association

2015 Conference
May 21-24
Dalhousie University, 6299 South Street
Opening panel Thu May 21, 3pm


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