Show Navigation


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

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

By Connie Clement Connie Clement on March 28, 2018

See the companion blog post, "NCCDH staff becoming anti-racist through informed dialogue: 1 of 2," [1] for an introduction to this blog post.


In brief, our staff team at the National Collaborating Centre for the Determinants of Health (NCCDH), one of six Canadian public health knowledge centres, is engaged in a long-term initiative to become anti-racist, in part by engaging in staff readings and guided discussions. The companion blog post [1] describes our group conversation process and the sessions we held between January and May 2017. In both blog posts, these brief descriptions represent my personal perspective as a white woman whose only marginalization has been experienced through being female. Future posts will feature perspectives from other NCCDH staff members, including staff of colour.

An overview of the resources, May through September


"The uses of anger: Women responding to racism" [2] by Audre Lorde, along with two tools: Sian Ferguson’s article “Calling in: A quick guide on when and how” [3] and the Social Transformation Project’s Ouch and Educate [4] tool.

To reflect on the reading, the NCCDH team split into two smaller groups to “caucus,” or divide into distinct groups for discussion, according to racial identity. [5] After our separate discussions, we reported back as a group; analyzed the resources and our responses to them; and explored accountability and decolonized, anti-racist action using the tools. Within caucus, we were asked to describe specific experiences of shame, guilt, anger and trust vis a vis race and social justice. The white staff, without noticing we were doing this, talked generally about guilt and anger, sidestepping the assignment. In contrast, the staff of colour shared concrete experiences. This quickly led us into a discussion about differing experiences of racism, including where we’re each placed in relation to racist acts (e.g., being an observer versus being on the receiving end).


"Canada 150 is a celebration of Indigenous genocide" [6] by Pamela Palmater; plus additional popular media coverage on Vancouver’s Dialogues Project [7] and Canada 150 Plus [8]; "An epic quest to find the soul of a country" [9] by Allen Abel; and "You’re celebrating colonization" [10] by Victoria Dinh.

The conversation began with staff members agreeing upon the applicability of the term genocide to describe Canada’s deliberate and systematic colonial efforts against Indigenous peoples. The team talked about the limitation of public apologies. In addition, we explored opportunities and actions necessary — as both the NCCDH and individually — to facilitate reconciliation.


"Mopping up institutional racism: Activism on a napkin” [11] by Heather Came and Maria Humphries, with optional reading: “Anti-racism as a ‘wicked problem’: Enabling allies in anti-racism praxis” [12] by Heather Came and Derek Griffith.

These readings explored public health institutional racism, stressing that sites of racism in public health policy-making and funding practices are also opportunities for anti-racist intervention to change how public health does its work. Staff members valued the authors’ identification of parallels between anti-racist work and environmental activism, as well as the importance of challenging conventional decision-making power structures. We explored the concept of compromise on the part of senior leaders and organizations when systems are not yet anti-racist.   


Building the we: Healing-informed governing for racial equity in Salinas [13] by Jamilah Bradshaw Dieng, Jesús Valenzuela and Tenoch Ortiz, and a related video from Race Forward. [14]

These resources describe a case study of a California city’s multi-year investment to identify and counteract causes of racial inequities, bringing together the city government, community organizations and informal groups. The case explored healing at organizational and community levels and the need for engagement at every level. The initiative’s processes strove to build a perception of shared value, a new we. Our conversation explored potential learnings for our own NCCDH process and for the public health sector.


Deconstructing racism: Strategies for individual and organizational change, [15]  a webinar from the Indigenous Cultural Safety Collaborative Learning Series [16] featuring David Sjoberg and Dennis McDermott.

This webinar focused on resistance to cultural safety training and how to sustain engagement when creating organizational change. Of interest was a student exercise to analyze sociological space — for example, to deconstruct the use of the term we. The speakers described examples of working around resistant leaders and encouraged “turning toward dissonance.” In our discussion, we explored how the presented strategies might apply to addressing barriers faced by public health. 

Planning next steps

We did not meet as a group from October through December. During this time, the anti-racism workgroup met to develop a plan for what the NCCDH should do in addition to staff’s ongoing learning to become anti-racist. The workgroup researched and designed a standard to recognize Indigenous land and the communications assistant supported implementation of the guidelines in our publications and email communications in January 2018.

January 2018

Our team took part in the webinar Communication Skills for Difficult Conversations [17] with speakers Angela Connors and Kim Hodgson, part of the Ontario Healthy Community Coalition’s Kitchen Table Conversations for Action on Inclusion. [18]

After attending the webinar above, the NCCDH team held our circle conversation a few days later, at which time we explored how anti-racism skills and conflict resolution skills intersect yet complement one another. We talked about social location, colour blindness, voice, responsibility and staying in discomfort.


In February and March 2018, we engaged in a participatory process to analyze our process thus far:

  • What’s been challenging
  • Where tensions have existed
  • What we’ve gained as a group and individually
  • Changes we observe in our processes
  • What we’d do differently if we were starting these conversations now knowing what we do at this stage

As a team, we will shortly adopt a strategy to create changes in the NCCDH organizationally, which we will report on in a future blog post. We will also undertake a rapid audit of our existing patterns and practices. Coming out of the audit, changes to make might include modifying how we recruit staff, volunteers and partners; what knowledge we translate; and what public health issues we prioritize, among others. We look forward to sharing these strategies and revelations with you — our blog audience — as we work through this important new chapter. Come back to our blog later in 2018 to learn more.


Photo credit:

Works cited

[1] Clement C. NCCDH staff becoming anti-racist through informed dialogue: 1 of 2 [blog, internet]. Antigonish (NS): National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health, St. Francis Xavier University; 2018 [cited 2018 mar 19]. [3 screens]. Available from:

[2] Lorde A. The uses of anger [Internet]. Women's Studies Q. 1997; 25(1/2):278-85. Available from:

[3] Ferguson S. Calling in: a quick guide on when and how [Internet]. [location unknown]: Everyday Feminism; 2015 Jan 17 [cited 2018 mar 19]. [13 screens]. Available from:

[4] Social Transformation Project. Ouch and educate [Internet]. Redondo Beach (CA): STP; [date unknown] c2018 [cited 2018 Mar 19]. 3 p. Available from:

[5] Gulati-Partee G, Potapchuk M. Paying attention to white culture and privilege: a missing link to advancing racial equity [Internet]. The Foundation Rev. 2014;6(1):25-38. Available from:

[6] Palmater P. Canada 150 is a celebration of Indigenous genocide [Internet]. Toronto (ON): NOW Toronto; 2017 Mar 27 [cited 2018 mar 16]. [4 screens]. Available from:

[7] Todd K. Vancouver’s dialogues project [video on the internet]. Vancouver (BC): City of Vancouver in collaboration with community partners; 2011 [cited 2018 Mar 19]. Available from:

[8] MacDonald N. How Indigenous people are rebranding Canada 150 [Internet]. [location unknown]: MacLean’s; 2017 [cited 2018 Mar 19]. [3 screens]. Available from:

[9] Abel A. An epic quest to find the soul of a country [Internet]. [location unknown]: MacLean’s; 2017 [cited 2018 Mar 19]. [48 screens]. Available from:

[10] Dinh V. You’re celebrating colonization [Internet]. [location unknown]: Saskatoon (SK): CBC News; 2017 [cited 2018 Mar 19]. [6 screens]. Available from:

[11] Came H, Humphries M. Mopping up institutional racism: activism on a napkin [Internet]. J Corporate Citizenship, 2014;54:95-108. Available from:

[12] Came H, Griffiths D. Tackling racism as a “wicked” public health problem: enabling allies in anti-racism praxis [Internet]. Soc Sci Med. 2018 Feb;199:181-188. Available from:

[13] Dieng JB, Valenzuela J, Ortiz T. Building the we: healing informed governing for racial equity in Salinas [Internet]. [location unknown]: Race Forward; 2016 [cited 2018 Mar 19]. 37 p. Available from:

[14] Race Forward. Building the we: healing informed governing for racial equity in Salinas [video on the internet]. [location unknown]: Race Forward; 2017 [cited 2018 Mar 19]. 37 p. Available from:

[15] McDermott D, Sjoberg D. Deconstructing racism: strategies for individual and organizational change [webinar]. [location unknown]: Indigenous Cultural Safety Collaborative Learning Series; 2017 Feb 23 [cited 2018 Mar 19]. Available from:

[16] Indigenous Cultural Safety Collaborative Learning Series [Internet]. [location unknown]: ICS Collaborative Learning Series; c2018 [cited 2018 Mar 19]. Available from:

[17] Connors A, Hodgson K. Kitchen table conversations for action on inclusion: communication skills for difficult conversations [Internet]. Toronto (ON): Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition; 2018 [cited 2018 Mar 19]. Available from:

[18] Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition. Kitchen table conversations for action on inclusion [Internet]. Toronto (ON): OHCC; 2018 [cited 2018 Mar 19]. Available from:


Racism/racializationRacial equity at the NCCDH