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NCCDH staff becoming anti-racist through informed dialogue: 1 of 2

Written ByConnie ClementConnie Clement | March 19, 2018
Connie Clement

Connie Clement, BSc

Scientific Director

Connie Clement joined the National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health (NCCDH) in January 2011. Previously, Connie was the Executive Director of Social Venture Partners Toronto, a venture philanthropy collaborative, and Health Nexus/Nexus Santé, Canada’s premiere health promotion consultancy. She was Director of Planning and Policy at Toronto Public Health when six public health units merged, and previously held varied health promotion and sexual health management and front-line positions. Connie holds a BSc in Biology/Sociology from Trent University.

cclement@stfx.ca

In the summer and fall of 2016, the National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health (NCCDH) initiated an all-staff process to become more anti-racist. See “Becoming anti-racist: An NCCDH initiative” [1] and “Becoming anti-racist: Small steps along the way” [2] by me, the scientific director, as well as blog posts by other staff members (here [3] and here [4]) relating their early learning experiences.

My first “Becoming anti-racist” post from March 2017 describes the NCCDH’s intention to hold monthly learning discussions and introduces the circle way [5] method that we adopted. My more recent entries — this post and the companion post titled “NCCDH staff becoming anti-racist through informed dialogue: 2 of 2” [6] — report on our discussions and the resources we used to help us learn. Further blogs will share staff experiences of the process thus far, including perspectives of staff members of colour, and describe our organizational change plan, now in development. 

Establishing the process

Our dialogue method required advance preparation from both the conversation host and all participating staff. Prior to each meeting, the designated host, which rotated monthly, shared a reading, video or webinar along with an introduction and questions for discussion. Two other staff members would take on the roles of guardian and scribe, which also rotated for each meeting. The guardian helped us adhere to our intended process and paid attention to the energy of the group, intervening as needed. The scribe recorded the main points of discussion.

The conversations started with participants sharing thoughts about how prior readings and discussions were continuing to resonate, as well as any experiences since the last meeting that might be of value to colleagues. The discussion questions became increasingly specific to the reading over the course of the year and were designed to challenge us.

Each circle discussion included consideration of the implications for us as a team and as an organization. Circles ended with a round-robin “check out,” often including a specific question to prompt further reflection. Discussions were recorded and notes of each discussion were shared with all staff and filed for future reference.

An overview of the resources, January through April

Below I have shared the resources we discussed, with a few highlights pulled from each discussion. It is important to state that I — a white woman of significant privilege — selected the highlights to share in this post. Other staff would likely have selected differing highlights, depending on the racial background and lived experience of the interpreter and that person’s perspective in the session. We will be posting reflections from other staff, including staff of colour, in the coming weeks and months.

January

"White fragility" [7]  by Robin DiAngelo

Prior to this discussion, staff engaged in an exercise aimed at dismantling beliefs about race and racism, as well as the sources of these beliefs.[8] The exercise explored images, values, judgements and their origins and impacts according to a person’s racial background and then with a consideration for other racial backgrounds. We also spoke as a group about how white people are protected from harms in such discussions.

DiAngelo describes how white people enjoy “racial comfort” such that even small threats to this comfort induce defensive mechanisms designed to maintain “racial equilibrium.” One of DiAngelo’s calls to action is for white people to build stamina to engage in conversations on racism. Disequilibrium (being off balance or out of comfort) was recognized as a tool and the persistent urge to create social comfort was questioned by staff members.

February/March

"Racism as a determinant of immigrant health" [9] by Ilene Hyman

This reading is a federally funded policy brief that is dense with facts and data. Topics that team members pulled out for discussion included the extent to which racism is embedded in immigration processes, the mental health impacts of structural and inter-personal racism, and racism as a facet/cause of social exclusion. We continued our discussion of the term racialized and explored to whom it does and should apply. 

Early April

"First peoples, second class treatment: The role of racism in the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples in Canada" [10]  by Dr. Billie Allan and Dr. Janet Smylie

This article helped team members distinguish racism as experienced by Indigenous peoples and people of colour and provided analysis about colonization as an ongoing process. Staff noted the gap between Canada’s much-espoused value of diversity and its reality of widespread racism, and credited the article for increasing their knowledge about the multigenerational impacts of racism. We wished for greater guidance about strategies to change health system institutions. 

Late April

"The problem with privilege" [11] by Andrea Smith

This resource, a blog post, focuses on the implications — positive and negative — of “acknowledging privilege,” using this ritual as an entry point to considering how to take anti-racist action. We discussed this reading’s contention that exercises that distinguish privilege (e.g., Unpacking the invisible knapsack [12]; beads of privilege [13]) risk reinforcing power imbalances, and explored what kind of longer-term, concrete action would contribute to shifting power relationships. We built on the author’s critique of safe spaces by discussing what kind of organizational space the NCCDH can create. Finally, the team debated the role of vision within social movements.

For notes about the rest of 2017’s facilitated conversations, see NCCDH staff becoming anti-racist through informed dialogue: 2 of 2.

 

Works cited

[1] Clement C. Becoming anti-racist: an NCCDH initiative [blog, internet]. Antigonish (NS): National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health, St. Francis Xavier University; 2017 [cited 2018 mar 19]. [3 screens]. Available from: http://nccdh.ca/blog/entry/becoming-anti-racist-an-nccdh-initiative

[2] Clement C. Becoming anti-racist: small steps along the way [blog]. Antigonish (NS): National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health, St. Francis Xavier University; 2017 [cited 2018 mar 19]. [4 screens]. Available from: http://nccdh.ca/blog/entry/becoming-anti-racist-small-steps-along-the-way.  

[3] Fish K. The gifts of anti-racism work [blog]. Antigonish (NS): National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health, St. Francis Xavier University; 2017 [cited 2018 mar 19]. [4 screens]. Available from: http://nccdh.ca/blog/entry/the-gifts-of-anti-racism-work.  

[4] MacDonald D. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain [blog]. Antigonish (NS): National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health, St. Francis Xavier University; 2017 [cited 2018 mar 19]. [3 screens]. Available from: http://nccdh.ca/blog/entry/pay-no-attention-to-the-man-behind-the-curtain.  

[5] The Circle Way [Internet]. [location unknown]: The Circle Way; c2018 [cited 2018 Mar 19]. Available from: http://www.thecircleway.net/.

[6] Clement C. NCCDH staff becoming anti-racist through informed dialogue: 2 of 2 [blog]. Antigonish (NS): National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health, St. Francis Xavier University; 2018 [cited 2018 mar 19]. [4 screens]. Available from: http://nccdh.ca/blog/entry/nccdh-staff-becoming-anti-racist-through-informed-dialogue-2-of-2

[7] DiAngelo R. White fragility [Internet]. Int J Critical Pedagog. 2011;3(3):54-70. Available from: https://libjournal.uncg.edu/ijcp/article/viewFile/249/116.

[8] McGibbon EA, Etowa JB. Anti-racist healthcare practice. Toronto (ON): Canadian Scholars’ Press Inc.; 2009. Box 2.2 Exercise for dismantling our beliefs (and their sources) about race and racism. p 36.

[9] Hyman, I. Racism as a determinant of immigrant health [Internet]. [location unknown]: Strategic Initiative and Innovations Directorate, Public Health Agency of Canada; 2009 [cited 2018 Mar 16]. 18 p. Available from: http://www.metropolis.net/pdfs/racism_policy_brief_e.pdf.

[10] Allan B, Smylie J. First Peoples, second class treatment: the role of racism in the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples in Canada [Internet]. Toronto (ON): Wellesley Institute; 2015 [cited 2018 Mar 16]. 64 p. Available from: http://www.wellesleyinstitute.com/publications/first-peoples-second-class-treatment/.

[11] Smith A. The problem with privilege [blog] [Internet]. [location unknown]:WordPress.com; 2013 Aug 14 [cited 2018 Mar 16]. 17 screens. Available from: https://andrea366.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/the-problem-with-privilege-by-andrea-smith/.

[12] McIntosh P. White privilege: unpacking the invisible knapsack and some notes for facilitators [Internet]. Wellesley (MA): Wellesley Centres for Women; c2013-2018 [cited 2018 Mar 13]. [8 screens]. Available from: https://nationalseedproject.org/white-privilege-unpacking-the-invisible-knapsack. Original source: McIntosh P. White privilege: unpacking the invisible knapsack. Philadelphia (PA): Women's International League for Peace and Freedom; 1989 Jul-Aug. p. 10-12.

[13] Allen BJ. Privilege beads exercise (based on an exercise by: Gerakina Arlene Sgoutas and colleagues) [Internet]. Denver (CO): University of Colorado Denver; [date unknown] [cited 2018 Mar 19]. 11 p. Available from: http://differencematters.info/uploads/pdf/privilege-beads-exercise.pdf.

Tags

Racism/racialization

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