In the wake of George Floyd’s death and the global protests around police brutality against Black people, I have been thinking about how I can make a difference and help foster equality in the world.
The pervasiveness of anti-Black racism in all areas of our society is unjust, pure and simple. As a member of the human race, my mission is to be an advocate for justice, not only in my practice as a family lawyer but in all aspects of my life.
The numbers paint a bleak picture
As Canadians, we like to think of ourselves as staunch supporters of diversity, but the numbers tell a different story. Black and Indigenous people in Canada are disproportionately overrepresented in prisons and jails. As students, racial minorities face harsher discipline in schools and are suspended at a higher rate than white students, reports The Guardian. A 2019 survey from Environics Institute for Survey Research found that 54 per cent of Black Canadians and 53 per cent of Indigenous Canadians have experienced discrimination in the workplace. A report from the Centre for International Governance Innovation found that Canada’s ethnocultural diversity is a financial benefit to workplaces in terms of both productivity and revenue — it is arguably our main advantage when it comes to global competitiveness.
We need to do better.
I recognize that as a middle-aged white woman, I’m in a position of privilege simply because of the colour of my skin. Although I am apprehensive about inadvertently saying the wrong thing on this issue, I won’t let it stop me from taking action.
Pro-bono legal services
I want to help in a way that can make a real impact. Black Lives Matters Canada has said the number one question community members ask about is access to legal services. With that in mind, I am offering pro-bono legal services to financially disadvantaged Black people who need help with child or spousal support issues. Access to legal services is an ongoing challenge for people in communities that are hindered by systemic racism. But having the ability to escape an abusive relationship or collect the child or spousal support you’re owed shouldn’t depend on the colour of your skin or the balance in your bank account.
I’d like to say that I came up with this idea on my own, but the truth is I was inspired by Chantelle Sawision, a Toronto-based family lawyer with KMS Legal, and one of my first guests on the Divorcing Well podcast.
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Be the change you want to see
I’m inspired by the conversations and activism that has sprouted up around anti-Black racism in recent weeks. I want to see more concrete action, from business and government leaders and Canadians at large. It is not nearly enough to post a black square on social media to signal that you are listening and leaving space so that the voices of Black people can be heard.
Donate to organizations that are fighting for racial equality. Support businesses in your community that are owned by Black entrepreneurs. Educate yourself. Reading about Black history and experience is important for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is to shine a light on the implicit bias that many of us have. I have included links to a (non-exhaustive) list of resources at the end of this article that might be helpful.
What does it mean to be an ally?
We all have a responsibility to advocate for racial equality in every aspect of our lives. So, how do we become better allies to the Black members of our community?
Fiona MacDonald, an associate professor at the University of the Fraser Valley who specializes in gender politics and feminism, told Global News that the most effective way to be an ally “is to read, listen, and engage with the extensive work that is already available.”
Expressions of solidarity will ring hollow unless we all come together to end the anti-Black racism that is deeply rooted in our communities. It’s not enough to say we are not racist. We need to be anti-racist.
“Being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism and regular self-examinations, writes Ibram X. Kendri author of How to be an Antiracist.
Change always takes longer than we would like, but this is a defining moment in our history, calling on all of us to eradicate racial equality.
Let’s answer that call.
- Black Lives Matter Toronto is Canada's largest chapter of the global Black Lives Matter movement. It is a coalition of Black community members, students, artists, activists and organizers working to eliminate anti-Black racism, state-sanctioned and institutional violence
- Harvard University’s implicit racial bias.
- A Different Booklist is a Toronto-based multicultural bookstore.
- Courtney Ariel’s article on how to be a better ally.
- Across Boundaries is a Toronto non-profit that provides mental-health services and support for racialized communities.
- Black Legal Action Centre is a not-for-profit legal clinic that provides free legal advice for low- and no-income Black residents of Ontario.
- The Toronto Protestor Bail Fund provides legal support to anyone protesting in Toronto.
- Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, a book by U.K. writer Reni Eddo-Lodge.
- List of Black-owned businesses in downtown Toronto.