The International Day for the Elimination of Racism commemorates the murder of 69 peaceful demonstrators by the South African police on March 21, 1960. The victims of the atrocity were protesting racial segregation that targeted Black and other racialized people in the apartheid state.
But racist violence is not just a relic of the past, as evidenced by the heinous, tragic crime in Atlanta this week. And it isn’t just an American issue either. Since the start of the pandemic, nearly 900 hate crimes have been reported against Asian-Canadians alone.
The deeply-embedded racism in Canadian society is rooted in long-standing White Supremacist policies aimed at economic exploitation of Indigenous, Black and racialized people at home and abroad.
In Canada for instance, legally sanctioned discrimination in education, employment, housing, immigration and other services once excluded Black, Indigenous and racialized people, adding to a legacy of systemic racism.
Today, although racial discrimination is officially legally prohibited, barriers to equity remain high as has been made clear during the pandemic.
Black, Indigenous and racialized communities have contracted COVID-19 at higher rates, as their members are disproportionately represented in the essential, low-wage workforce and face systemic racism in accessing affordable housing, employment and healthcare.
Appallingly, the Ford Conservatives have not taken even the most basic measures to address these issues, such as legislating paid sick leave, which would be greatly beneficial to frontline workers.
Since last summer, CUPE has been echoing a call from Black community groups to declare anti-racism a public health crisis, and subsequently reverse the Ford government’s cuts to the Anti-Racism Directorate and dedicate funds to community organizations that can lead the rollout of vaccinations. The Conservatives have yet to heed this call.
The Ford government’s vaccine rollout is yet another example of their colour-blind approach. Racialized communities (along with people with disabilities and those in congregate care settings) should have been prioritized for the rollout with special emphasis on addressing vaccine hesitancy – a problem inextricably tied to racist practices such as historical experiments on Indigenous people without their consent.
The Ontario government has also failed to redress the injustice to the Grassy Narrows community, which has been calling on both federal and provincial governments to clean their river of mercury and compensate them.
There has also been no action on defunding the police, which is a critical step towards addressing violence against Black and Indigenous communities. Funding for bloated police budgets should instead be reallocated towards mental health supports, affordable housing, public transit and a range of other services.
As unionists, we know that an injury to one is an injury to all. And we must not accept such blatant violation of the rights of racialized people in our country.
As CUPE members, we are also mindful of our own union’s shortcomings. Racialized CUPE members have often been discriminated against in our movement—whether facing hate, employment discrimination, a lack of leadership positions and CUPE staff positions, or disregard for their issues and concerns.
The CUPE Ontario Racial Justice Committee is committed to racial justice, inclusion and equality in the workplace and in our communities. Its mandate consists of fighting for fairness, including challenging racism and all forms of oppression, on behalf of racialized CUPE members in Ontario.
On the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, we must remember that the fight against racism is far from over. In fact, we must re-double our efforts, in our communities, our workplaces, and in our union. CUPE Ontario members stand ready to challenge barriers to racial equality around and within us.