The need to address anti-Black racism has moved to the forefront in labour organizations, the media and the broader society, spurred on by the activism of movements such as Black Lives Matter and other advocacy groups. A public dialogue has helped us better understand how the history of anti-Black racism affects those who self-identify as Black and are part of the African diaspora.
Given the legacy and current prevalence of anti-Black racism in colonial systems, institutions and society, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) is committed to creating policies, professional learning and curriculum resources that protect and support the rights of all individuals who self-identify as Black. Only real structural change and an authentic commitment to dismantling racism and white supremacy in every aspect of an organization will provide the equity and social justice that is every person’s moral and legal right.
Anti-Black racism is defined in ETFO’s 365 Black Canadian Curriculum as prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination directed against Black people. Anti-Black racism may be evident in organizational and institutional structures, policies, procedures and programs as well as in the attitudes and behaviours of individuals.
In January 2018, ETFO’s provincial Executive passed a motion that ETFO, through a multi-year strategy, take transformative steps to address anti-Black racism within both our own organization and the broader society. It also endorsed the United Nations Decade for People of African Descent and called for a multi-year plan to promote it. The endorsement of the decade provides a framework for ETFO to address anti-Black racism that may exist in organizational and institutional structures, policies, procedures and programs as well as in the attitudes and behaviours of individuals both within and outside the Federation.
We Must All Be Allies in Eliminating Racism
As educators, we pride ourselves on creating a welcoming and respectful environment for all students. We must do the same for all ETFO members in our workplaces and our union.
In 2013, ETFO focus groups conducted with racialized members revealed that they continue to face discrimination and systemic barriers in their day-to-day experiences within Ontario’s education system.
As a result, ETFO created an annual conference that highlights the experiences of racialized members as well as a 2019 video entitled The Lived Experiences of Racialized Educators in Ontario. An accompanying workshop, which is currently available to locals, assists educators in understanding the many faces of racism, the effects they have on individual educators and ways to challenge racism and discrimination.
We must all be allies in identifying and eliminating racism by working to change the conditions that are at the heart of racism and anti-Black racism.
Building An Inclusive Union
Members are encouraged to self-identify within ETFO. Each year this data is presented in the Equity and Women’s Services Report to the Annual Meeting. This data helps identify members’ needs and possible programs to address these needs. For example, Code Black: Leaders with Purpose and Conviction, The Leadership Program for Black Women (WP) and The Racialized Members Conference were intentionally developed as spaces for members to enhance leadership skills, share experiences, gain new knowledge and create networks for mutual support. These spaces foster an environment where members who self-identify as Black see themselves within their federation.
Ongoing anti-Black racism training for staff, local leaders, stewards and members is crucial to changing beliefs, perceptions and attitudes, which ultimately leads to organizational change. Training available to locals includes Name It: Understanding Anti-Black Racism in Ontario Education and Race and Education: The Water We Swim In. ETFO’s Executive and provincial staff have received anti-Black racism training. Local leaders can access anti-Black racism training at Fall Leadership and through Virtual Academy.
ETFO's Anti-Black Racism Strategy
ETFO’s Anti-Black Racism Strategy is focused on creating systemic changes. This multi-year strategy includes initiatives to:
- Better understand how racism and anti-Black racism impact members in their workplaces and their involvement in the union;
- Collect data on the participation of Black and racialized members in ETFO programs;
- Encourage racialized ETFO members, including those who are Black, to self-identify so that the federation can better meet their needs;
- Review ETFO policies, organizational structures and practices to identify and eliminate any systemic or participation barriers for Black and racialized members;
- Provide anti-Black racism training for staff, local leaders, stewards and members to shift organizational attitudes;
- Review and revise existing ETFO programs and resources and develop new ones where necessary;
- Create opportunities at provincial and local levels to discuss anti-Black racism and provide space for racialized and Black members to share their needs as part of the plan; and
- Partner with community groups and organizations to increase community
ETFO Policies, Organizational Structures and Practices
ETFO identified systemic and participation barriers for Black and racialized members by doing the following:
- Conducting an environmental scan to examine ETFO programs and resources;
- Creating an ETFO policy on anti-Black racism;
- Providing anti-Black racism training for ETFO staff, local leaders, stewards and members to shift organizational attitudes;
- Creating anti-racism and anti-Black racism workshops including Race and Education, The Water We Swim In and Name It: Understanding Anti-Black Racism in Ontario Education for locals, stewards and members;
- ETFO reviewed and revised existing ETFO programs and resources and developed new ones where necessary;
- CODE Black, Leaders with Purpose and Conviction and Leadership Program for Black Women are ETFO’s first leadership programs for members who self-identify as Black. These programs were implemented in January 2021.
- Name It: Understanding Anti-Black Racism in Ontario Education is a workshop currently available to locals through the Equity and Women’s Services department;
- ETFO created a brochure on ETFO’s action on anti-Black racism;
- ETFO created the 365 Black Canadian Curriculum – resources that support Black Canadian history in Ontario schools, including a calendar, lesson plans, staff workshop and poster; and
- ETFO created the Re-Thinking White Privilege workshop.
The Work Ahead
ETFO multi-year strategy initiatives from 2021 to 2023 include:
- Creation of a new ETFO scholarship and bursary for non-ETFO members who identify as Black entering a faculty of education program in Ontario;
- Development of a new ETFO program focusing on decolonizing your practice and program in the classroom;
- Organization and implementation of a symposium in partnership with Black education organizations and community groups focused on confronting anti-Blackracism and the systemic barriers that exists within the education system impacting the recruitment and retention of Black educators and teacher candidates.
The daily impacts and implications of systemic anti-Black racism – in public education and beyond – compounded by instances of police and institutional violence perpetrated against Black people tell us how important ETFO’s continued work, lobbying and allyship are. We are beyond a discussion of whether anti-Black racism exists in education. It does.
In order to disrupt these systems, we look to the education of our members, our union leaders and those in positions of influence to continue to place demands on the government to address the systemic and institutional impacts of anti-Black racism. Our efforts over the last three years have allowed ETFO to enter the next phase of our multi-year strategy well-placed to shift the focus to disrupting anti-Black racism in the education system and our broader society.
ETFO will continue to develop curriculum resources that explore Black history, culture, identity and current day realities of racism and discrimination. We will also continue to support calls for the Ontario government to make Black studies a greater part of the public elementary curriculum. Public advocacy will continue to be an important aspect of ETFO’s anti-Black racism and anti-oppression work.
Supporting Members to Address Anti-Black Racism
ETFO promotes inclusive workplaces and is itself an environment where people are required to be respectful of differences and to promote an inclusive and welcoming environment.
Members who experience or witness anti-Black racism may reach out to their local for support. When members do share their experiences, responding through an understanding of anti-Black racism can include:
- Validating how the members feels about their experiences;
- Affirming their worth as human beings;
- Documenting experiences in cooperation with the member;
- Reassuring the member that they are not alone; and
- Researching the appropriate supports for members.
Should you encounter or witness anti-Black racist behaviour or systemic barriers and require assistance, contact your ETFO local or provincial office. Locally released officers and provincial staff are available to assist with any concerns about discrimination or harassment in the workplace or within our union. For confidential assistance, call ETFO staff in Professional Relations Services – phone: 416-962-3836 or toll free: 1-888- 838-3836 and ask for the PRS Duty Officer.
For more information regarding ETFO’s anti-Black racism multi-year strategy and resources, please visit etfo.ca/antiblackracism.
Thanks to ETFO’s Anti-Black Racism Work Group for this update.