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Here is the third posting in our series.

February 14, 2017 Black History Month

Black History Month Post #3

Here is the third posting in our series.

This week’s post is actually two pieces contributed by staff.  The first deals with the anti-black racism that was a feature of the Canadian immigration system in the early and mid 20th century.

The second story speaks to the issue of white privilege in the workplace. 

Anti-Black Racism and Immigration in Canada

“It is not by accident that coloured British subjects other than negligible numbers from the United Kingdom are excluded from Canada… They do not assimilate readily and pretty much vegetate to a low standard of living. Despite what has been said to the contrary, many cannot adapt themselves to our climatic conditions.”

-Director of Immigration, Citizenship and Immigration Canada to Deputy Minister of Immigration, 1958*

Anti-Black Racism is built into the DNA of the Canadian immigration system. It has deep roots in settler colonialism, where the immigration system was used to populate the land with predominantly White settlers, and to provide cheap, disposable non-citizen labour from racialized countries.

Throughout Canada’s history, politicians and immigration officials have used various means to limit Black immigration to Canada. Immigration officials abroad, particularly in the United States, made it difficult for Black people to access immigration information or materials. They told Black people that they would be unable to handle the Canadian climate, and that they would face the same racial prejudice as they did in the United States. In 1911, Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier approved a one-year moratorium on Black immigration to Canada (read more). The Order read:

For a period of one year from and after the date hereof the landing in Canada shall be and the same is prohibited of any immigrants belonging to the Negro race, which race is deemed unsuitable to the climate and requirements of Canada.

Prior to 1962, Canadian immigration officials were allowed to prohibit people from entering Canada on the basis of (among other things) “nationality… ethnic group… class… peculiar customs, habits, modes of life or methods of holding property… unsuitability having regard to the climatic… social conditions.” The government viewed African and Caribbean migrants in particular as potential “drains” on the social welfare and health systems, and unable to assimilate into “Canadian” society. Officials used these criteria to systematically prevent Black people from migrating to Canada.

Even after this explicitly racist criteria was lifted, Canada refrained from opening visa offices in the Caribbean and subjected Black would-be immigrants to far more rigorous screening than migrants from predominantly White countries. This included increased in-person interviews, a higher onus to establish economic qualifications, and invasive and degrading medical testing based on stereotypes about sexual behaviour and sexually transmitted disease. (Satzewich, 1988)

*From Vic Satzewich, 1988, The Canadian state and the racialization of migrant farm labour 1947-1966)


White Privilege in the Workplace

In her article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”, Peggy McIntosh defines privilege as "an invisible package of unearned assets [that one] can count on cashing in each day.” In the context of that definition, there are privileges that we all experience on a daily basis. However, because these privileges are unearned, they are not easily recognized as having beneficial effects in our lives.

Among these privileges are advantages based how one is racialized.  Depending on the stereotypes and concepts associated with a person’s appearance, they can either be privileged or disadvantaged in multiple facets of life including in the workplace.

The concept of white privilege in the workplace is drawing specific attention to how those who are racialized as white receive benefits from, among other things, being both the demographic majority as well as the archetype for what is normal in mainstream society. Again, because this privilege is unearned, it is difficult to recognize it as a beneficial force unless you are not receiving the same advantages. Those who are not racialized as white and thereby do not receive the benefits of white privilege may be acutely aware of the fact that they do not have these benefits.

It is important for all members of a workplace to try to be aware of their own privileges when dealing with colleagues and clients. However, one must keep in mind that it is difficult to recognize our own privilege but easy to recognize the privilege of others. 

Specifically, it is important for employers to create a culture of openness and for all staff to create an environment where staff members can acknowledge and safely discuss sensitive issues like privilege and race. Employers must nurture a culture of honesty, where those who are privileged or disadvantages are comfortable to address it. If privileges are left unchecked, it can result in increased workplace conflict and unintended discrimination.


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