Exercising our equity muscles
Dawson College opened what Dr. Sabrina Jafralie called a “brave space for courageous conversations” when the educator and McGill University lecturer spoke virtually at Dawson College on the topic of anti-racism on April 28.
A brave space is where you “say what you have to say, reflect on it and say where it’s coming from,” she explained. Sabrina identified herself as a teacher and activist as well as a member of the Black Canadian community and two faiths: Islam and Christianity.
Sabrina’s talk covered three broad topics (Missing History, Communication and Equity Muscle) in a combination of lecture, small group discussions and open discussion with the entire group.
About 50 employees, including support staff, teachers, professionals and managers, attended the two-hour event sponsored by the Human Resources Department with support from the Faculty Hub. This event is the latest activity in the College’s commitment to keep moving forward on equity, diversity and inclusion.
Our comfort level in addressing racism
The first breakout room sharing was related to a question about how comfortable participants felt addressing racism. Some participants expressed concern about saying the wrong things or being offensive.
“I don’t want to be offensive. Please teach me or point me in the right direction,” Sabrina advised the audience to begin with this way of honouring a person at the beginning of a conversation, interaction or in a classroom/workplace situation. “We are going to make mistakes. That is the nature of equity work.”
Understanding white privilege
One participant asked about the term ‘white privilege’ and said they feel it is unfair because they worked very hard to overcome real barriers to advance in their education and profession. This led to a healthy and respectful exchange and a clear definition of white privilege from Sabrina:
“White privilege does not mean that you have not faced challenges. It is about accessibility to opportunities. A white person has better opportunities than a Black, Indigenous or Person of Colour (BIPOC). There is a built-in privilege for white people. The system puts white people ahead of BIPOC people.”
To illustrate her point, Sabrina recounted a personal story about calling the police: “I had to rehearse before calling the police. I felt that if the police caught a hint of my ethnicity, I would be dismissed. I have to worry about calling the police when someone violates me.”
Don’t be colour blind
Another point she touched on is the notion of being colour blind. Many people do not experience being treated differently because of colour so they do not view it as an issue. She encouraged participants to not ignore colour and difference. “I see colour because I see all of you. When you understand a person and who they are, you understand their needs,” she said.
Sabrina also spoke about micro aggressions, racial bias and gaslighting, which she explained as: “questioning another person’s experience.”
She counselled that we do not have to understand another’s experience but we can be supportive by validating their feelings and saying something like: “I may not understand, but I can see you’re upset.”
Asking where a person is “really from” can be triggering for a BIPOC person. It suggests that you are questioning the other’s identity. “If I tell you something, accept it. Don’t keep asking,” she advised.
The context and the intentions of the inquirer make all the difference. For example, a person working in healthcare can ask a patient for more information about their background or culture with the explicitly stated intention of providing better care for them.
Becoming better allies
Sabrina ended her presentation with an invitation to keep growing and building our ‘equity muscle’ in order to be better allies.
There is a self-assessment she invited us to do here: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/selectatest.html
To be effective, Sabrina advised us to practice self-care and also community care, which she defined with a quote: people “leveraging their privilege to be there for one another in various ways.”
- Sabrina’s presentation deck is available on the HR resources pages.
- For faculty looking for resources on teaching anti-racism, and decolonizing and indigenizing can visit the Faculty Hub