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Back to School with Systemic Racism

Originally published November 1, 2020

Often, when racism is brought up in the workplace, people’s immediate knee jerk reaction is “I’m not racist.” However, racism comes in many forms. One form of racism that is being discussed and is often misunderstood is systemic racism.

There’s a serious education dispute going on in Alberta right now as the provincial government, wanting schools to focus on “fundamentals,” floated the idea of dropping “sad and upsetting” discussions of Canada’s horrifying residential schools’ history from grade school lessons. This material, say leaked curriculum documents, “can best be saved for later when learners are more mature and are less emotionally vulnerable to traumatic material…even if it applied only to a minority of Indigenous children.” A “minority” of Indigenous children? More than 4,000 children died in those schools but this curriculum simply lumps them in with “Dickensian boarding schools.”

"It deliberately misrepresents what teaching about residential schools was all about,” said Senator Murray Sinclair, former chair of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to Edmonton AM, “It wasn't just about harsh schooling, it was about the fact that there was a sense of racism about the whole way the policy about Indigenous people was being handled at the time.”

This kind of institutional decision to minimize one group’s history is an example of systemic racism, a system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms work in various and often reinforcing ways to perpetuate that racial differences produced inherent superiorities or inferiorities in particular races. It identifies parts of our history and culture that have allowed privileges associated with “whiteness” and disadvantages associated with “colour” to endure and adapt over time.

“History, whether it exists as a text written in book or as a name on a building, is never a totally objective, neutral, “accurate” representation of the past,” wrote Dr. Celeste Pedri-Spade, associate professor and Queen’s National Scholar in Indigenous Studies at Queen’s University, in the Globe and Mail. When activists pull down and/or paint statues of Sir John A. MacDonald due to his anti-Indigenous Racism (AIR), opponents say that “we’re erasing history.” But it’s okay to literally erase the history of Canada’s Residential School System from our education system?

If you want to learn more about Canada’s relationship with First Nations peoples, the University of Alberta is currently offering a complimentary online course titled “Indigenous Canada.”

Working to dismantle systemic racism, anti-racism, anti-Indigenous racism (AIR) and anti-Black racism (ABR) is a component of Breakfast Culture’s new offering, “Ally is a Verb: Racism Edition.” This new training course will help you understand what it means to be an ally.

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