What would you do? 3 real-life case studies on racism at work.

Let's crowdsource solutions together.

Hey y’all! Anita here. I received an overwhelmingly positive response to my last newsletter in which I discuss the importance of having nuanced conversations about racialized communities, and provide one pathway for how we can each contribute to dismantling systemic racism. It heartens me to know that so many people of different backgrounds are invested in addressing this issue, so I’m taking the opportunity to crowdsource more solutions 💪

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My insider’s approach

It’s obvious that the world, including Canada, is in the midst of a racial reckoning. But as these discussions become more common in the public sphere, it’s also become apparent that Canadian institutions and by extension individuals aren’t used to talking about race. They’re unsure of how to navigate such a delicate issue in their professional and personal lives.

Case in point: Two of Canada’s top journalism schools — my alma mater Carleton University in Ottawa and Ryerson University in Toronto where I currently teach — recently experienced significant upheaval after students accused the schools of failing to support BIPOC students.

As someone who’s comfortable facilitating uncomfortable conversations about equity and race, with an eye towards solutions, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to foster genuine understanding and to motivate people to take meaningful action beyond lip service. As co-founder of Canadian Journalists of Colour, I achieved these goals through our Calls to Action and ongoing check-ins with media executives. As a consultant, I supported Carleton j-school administrators by hosting three Story Circles on equity and inclusion, including one between faculty and students. And as a faculty member, I counselled Ryerson students by co-facilitating the RSJ Safe Space Forum on Anti-Asian Racism last week.

In all cases, attendees asked me for guidance on how to effectively address and combat systemic racism, especially in professional contexts. After doing this work for years, I’ve come up with two essential takeaways:

  1. Telling people what to do never works. You have to provide them with the appropriate tools and then empower them to develop their own solutions.

  2. These solutions have to be context-specific. Recommendations and frameworks for addressing systemic racism won’t work unless they’re tailored to the specific individual, institution or scenario. Ignoring the details of a particular situation is akin to trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

My outsider’s approach

Given my extensive experience with and interest in this issue, I’ve documented case studies that cover a variety of uncomfortable race-related situations in professional settings based on real-life occurrences in my own life and the lives of friends, colleagues and other people in my network.

I hope that in sharing these case studies, you’ll send me solutions for how you’d navigate these situations, and also share your own experiences, so we can help each other manage them effectively. Here are three to start (names have been changed):

  1. Christy, a white woman, has been the manager of Melissa, a Black woman, over the past two years. During this time, Melissa has consistently received mixed messages from Christy when it comes to how she conducts herself in professional settings. Melissa has heard that she’s both too passive and too overconfident — sometimes within the same month. This has caused Melissa a lot of stress because she doesn’t know how to act at work. Christy’s perception of Melissa changes at the drop of a hat, depending on how Christy is feeling at the moment (i.e. if Christy’s feeling insecure, Melissa is too much; if Melissa adjusts to be more deferential, Christy says Melissa needs to work on her confidence). Melissa thinks Christy is the one with confidence problems, but is scared of the repercussions if she brings this up to her boss.

  2. Sofia, a Latinx woman who recently immigrated to Canada from Mexico, sits on a high-profile advisory board along with other people in her industry. During a lively debate with a dozen other board members, Sofia, an expert who speaks frequently to press and at conferences worldwide, passionately and articulately shares her perspective. After she finishes speaking, the advisory board moderator, a white woman named Laura, tells her to “try that again,” implying that Sofia’s contribution was confusing. Sofia repeats herself, taking care to speak slowly and to add further context, but Laura responds by saying Sofia “isn’t quite there yet” without providing more feedback. Sofia is bewildered because she knows she spoke clearly and that her idea is original, but decides against speaking again during the meeting to avoid further public embarrassment.

  3. For the past three years, Paul, a Canadian-born man of Korean descent, has been leading the diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at his company. He observes that his work is impacting his industry for the better. But while attending an industry networking event for BIPOC workers, several people of colour minimize Paul’s contributions. They tell Paul that he’s “lucky” to work for such a progressive company and attribute the DEI strides there to his white boss — despite the fact that the company’s struggles with DEI before Paul arrived were well-known.

Tell me: How would you handle these situations? What advice do you have for Christy, Sofia and Paul? I plan to crowdsource your solutions and share them in a future newsletter.


Shout-outs

Many thanks to Herman Wong, deputy editor of The Washington Post’s General Assignment News desk, for becoming one of The Other Wave’s monthly paying supporters.


In my community

  • Last week, I was asked to appear on CBC’s The National, alongside Edmonton Public School Board trustee Nathan Ip, to discuss the rise in anti-Asian sentiment and hate crimes in the aftermath of the Atlanta spa shootings. ICYMI, my last newsletter explores the complex truth about anti-Asian racism. 

  • As part of her fellowship at the University of Oxford’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Canadian Journalism Foundation board chair and former Toronto Star public editor Kathy English published a research paper titled “A Reckoning for Relevance: Redefining the Role of a Public Editor” in which she interviews me about my work as Canadian Journalists of Colour co-founder. 

  • Written by Ashley Alvarado, community engagement director for Southern California Public Radio and my fellow Online News Association board member, this Medium post titled “The unglamorous reality of community engagement and why it’s totally worth it” resonated a lot with me as someone who’s been a long-time practitioner of community engagement in journalism.

  • Throughout April and May, I’ll be hosting “Fact-checking misinformation for journalists: A JHR/First Draft training,” free 90-minute workshops during which I’ll share strategies, tools and techniques for tracking and reporting on misinformation and disinformation. Journos, there’s limited availability, so sign up soon!


Cool stuff I like

  • As a movie buff and proud Canadian, I’m forever looking for great homegrown films, which can be hard to come by (not for lack of talent, but for lack of funding), so I was delighted to find Come True, a new horror/sci-fi movie that’s immediately captivating and mesmerizingly surreal.

  • Everyone should know about Hoodo Hersi, a rising star in Canada’s standup comedy scene, whose searingly funny and whip-smart social commentary made me cry-laugh at JFL42, Toronto’s Comedy Festival in 2019.  

  • I recommend reading David Chariandy’s Brother, one of my book club’s previous picks and winner of the 2017 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. I came for the Scarborough references and stayed for the beautiful prose. 

  • AccessNow, a crowdsourced app that maps the accessibility status of locations worldwide, partnered with Trans Canada Trail and the Canadian Paralympic Committee to map the accessibility of trails across the country. I first came across AccessNow after speaking on a panel alongside founder and CEO Maayan Ziv.


How you can support The Other Wave

My professional mission has always been to support the global movement towards more thoughtful, impactful news coverage, and all the ways that manifests. If The Other Wave gets you to think even a little differently about journalism, especially in Canada, then I will have accomplished what I set out to do. And if TOW gets you to take action and support Canadian media outlets — especially ones that strive to be innovative and inclusive — I will have exceeded my expectations.

If my values and goals resonate with you, please consider supporting fiercely independent media analysis that fills in gaps in coverage of the Canadian journalism landscape. How? Feel free to provide feedback, pass along resources, donate money or simply share this newsletter with your friends.