My daughter wants to get a job. I was listing some places where I thought she should apply. She sighed at one and said “mom, everyone knows they don’t hire any Black people at Lululemon!”
In 2011, I worked for a popular NS drugstore, in the southwest shore region. I want so badly to tell you the name and exactly where.
I was hired to work in the postal outlet. Almost immediately, it began – the subtle discrimination, harassment and unfairness that were cleverly disguised as rules and regulations. So much happened to me here, and I’ve recounted the story too many times. For time’s sake I am just going to list key points and incidents for you:
– I was the first Black person (that I am aware of) to work in this store, in this community. I was the only Black employee while I worked there.
– From day one, I was harassed about my uniform. I wore black pants and a collared, short sleeve, button-down shirt. My physicality and an underlying health condition, forced me to wear the shirt untucked. It was otherwise neat, tidy, and pressed. I was told every day to tuck it in, and I kept explaining why I did not do it. Nevertheless, I started getting pink slips. All this while other employees did the same with no consequence, even wearing graphic t-shirts under their unbuttoned uniform shirt, which was against written policy, and never getting the same warning as I did.
– My shifts were taken and given to white employees several times, without them contacting me first, which was also supposed to be policy.
– When I tried to talk to my supervisor about the shirt issue, I opened up and told her about a medical issue I was having and explained that it made tucking the shirt in very uncomfortable. Her response was that there are other people here with worse problems. I did not know what to say. It made me feel like I did not matter.
– When I was hired, a chair was in the mail room behind the postal counter. I noticed all the other workers would steal a moment on or around this chair now and then, checking their phones, snacking, or sometimes just gossiping. My supervisor even smiled and mentioned that that’s what the chair was for, and it’s been like that for years. I never dared to sit in that chair, but one day, weeks into my hiring, near the end of a long shift on my feet, and with no customers in sight, I took a moment to sit and take weight off of my right foot in particular, which was throbbing. It was only a minute or so. The next day, the chair was gone, and a huge sign on the wall read, “No employees sitting while working”. All because I sat there for 60 seconds.
– There was an old laminated sign by my register in the post office, used by workers when they ran to the bathroom, which is just behind the postal outlet as well. It said ” back in 5 min”. This sign was shown to me when I was hired, and I was made to feel that I could use it if necessary. It was old-looking and worn, so I knew it was used often and for a long time. One night, I did use the sign, and was back in a few minutes. The next day, the sign was gone, and I was told that if I needed to use the washroom, I would have to ask one of the cashiers at the front of the store (who were often much younger than me and always white, I might add). I was beginning to feel there was nothing I could do that wasn’t wrong here…even using the bathroom. I began to get pink slips for going to the washroom and making my own sign when I needed.
– I was constantly given pink slips for my shirt until finally I had enough and said, “If you want me to tuck it in, then make the other cashiers do the same, because it seems they are allowed but I’m the only one you have a problem with.” She (shift manager) then pretended to be empathetic, and said they would order me a different shirt to try and see if I liked it. When the shirt came, I opened it to find it was a size 3xx and was much too big for me, as I was a size medium-large at the time. I think she knew it was much too big. When I did not wear it the next day, I began getting pink slips for every day I did not wear the shirt.
– Toward the end of my employment, I was getting fed up and wanted to meet with the store manager to discuss the issues I was having. An incident had just occurred in which my shift was shuffled again without my knowledge, causing me to be late for work, and I felt I needed to go over my supervisors and complain. He said he would be in his office at the end of my shift, but was gone when I arrived. This happened over and over until I realized I was being dodged, because he already knew what the issue was.
I eventually quit after 6 months. I could not take the constant pink slips for seemingly unfair and unwarranted reasons, and being made to feel like I was less than everyone else there. In my heart, I knew it was discrimination. I tried to pursue action against them, but I didn’t even know where to start. I kept a record of every incident and sought advice from the Black Employment Resource Centre in my community, because I did not know who to contact about this. I was given the runaround by them too, and my case with them got buried. I called Employment Rights NS and was told they do not deal with this type of issue, only regarding issues related to wages. Because I was not physically harmed or threatened, I did not feel my case was a human rights issue.
I had discovered the brick wall – that barrier between people of colour and the information and resources needed to rectify everyday discrimination, like at work or in the public community. What do you do? Where do you turn? Who do you contact? How do you find justice? Before I could sort through these questions and even begin to see a path, too much time had gone by. I gave up. But the pain from that time is always with me.
Thank you for hearing my story.
About 5 years ago now, I had an experience on the phone with a federal government employee who was doing a quick survey on employment/unemployment. I agreed to the survey and began answering simple questions from a male interviewer, like verification of my name, age, etc. I had the option to disclose whether I was a visible minority, and I proudly stated that I was Black. His response was this: “You’re Black? You do not sound Black.” I was offended by his comment, and simply repeated, that I am.
The survey continued with generic questions about transportation, expenses, etc., and ended in about 8 minutes. He spieled off his government scripted “thank-you,” but before he hung up he quickly asked in a lower voice, “Do you have Facebook?” Confused, I answered yes, and then he hung up. About 15 minutes later I got a text from an unknown number: “I had to see if you really were black, lol. You’re voice was no nice.”
I did not take any action on this at the time. I was in shock and kind of confused. After all, this was a representative of my government who had called me. It was more than a month later, and after sharing the story with others who advised me, that I decided to report the call. But I could not find the number he had called from, nor could I remember his name, department or agency. I ended up letting it go, but to this day I share the story because it proves that racism permeates every level of society – even our government – to this very day.
While working seasonally out of province, I was at a local tavern with my co-workers. We worked in a bush camp, and all of us would periodically go into town together on days off. In our camp there were people from across the country and from all backgrounds. In the bar we met two other seasonal labourers, both white working a different industry than ours, working in non precarious, and dare I say manufactured positions.
Me and some co-workers struck up a brief conversation with them, during which the younger of the two mentioned quite candidly and explicitly to me that he liked me, because I was a black but he hated the guy over there, because he was a nigger. As a mixed African Nova Scotian I found this particularly uncomfortable because the man he was pointing to was the only full blood black person in this bar if not in this town. The man then expressed a desire to beat this ‘nigger’ as he put it, and wanted me to join him because he liked me.
It is one of the few moments where racism has shocked me in my short life. It shocked me because it was so natural to him to hate this man he didn’t know for only his skin colour. It shocked me that he justified his disgusting behaviour by trying to co-opt me, another ‘black,’ into fucked up desires. It shocked me, that he was so comfortable with his hatred, and spoke of it so freely. So I walked away from that worthless privileged racist, and walked to this other man with whom I share a tone of skin, and he turned out to be a nice guy. A trucker and new to Canada, he was trying to do what I was trying to do in that small northern town far from my home. Get through his day.
Last year, I worked in a bar where there were only two employees working per shift-a bartender and a racist-I mean waitress. This particular day I was bartending and this girl was waiting tables. She made a comment about waiting on a group of Canadians and how they tipped poorly and she let slip ‘at least they weren’t niggers’.
Her eyes immediately got big as she realized what she said. The next day I told my boss and was told to sweep it under the rug and that this incident couldn’t prevent me from working shifts with her. She then went to the boss later and told him that me ‘telling’ on her made her uncomfortable and she didn’t want to work with me anymore. I was fired a few weeks later for ‘being on my phone’ aka plugging my music into the sound system. I told them I would file a wrongful termination suit and my boss, who owned multiple establishments around town, said he would bury me with lawyers- so I dropped it.
A long time ago when I was a student at Dalhousie, one of my professors brought in a guest lecturer for one of his classes. He was a graduate student and he was Black. He gave a great lecture and he acted very friendly and cool with the students.
A week or so later I had to go see my professor about something, so I went to his office. When I went in to his building the professor wasn’t there, but the graduate student was. I smiled when I saw him and said “hey, what’s up?” as though I was speaking to a friend. He gave me a cold stare and said “can I help you.” I mumbled I was looking for my professor but I’d come back later.
He made me feel a bit stupid, but good on him. I thought about it after and realized I probably wouldn’t have talked to him like that if he hadn’t been Black. When I talked to other lecturers I was more polite without even really thinking about it.
My team member, a tech who is Black, was working at an office after hours–in uniform and with company identified equipment. The janitor came in to clean, and when he saw my Black employee he dodged around and refused to respond to a “hello.”
When my crew was leaving 15 minutes later 3 cars with 8 guys came into the parking lot and a voice called out, “hey you, we want to talk to you.” My tech was by himself in a dark business park and afraid for his safety. He left his equipment on the curb, jumped in the car and drove to the police department and made a report. The police did not follow up with me or the client office.
I reported this to the client by voicemail and email immediately and called the next morning. They called the janitorial company and it was discovered as a “misunderstanding”–the janitor had been surprised and called his boss, and a gang came over to rescue him.
I asked to meet with them to talk about it and to get an apology but they wanted to sweep it under the carpet and wouldn’t meet. My tech was angry and felt vulnerable. People didn’t see the uniform or the company equipment. They didn’t ask the basic question of how he got the security access to be there. All they saw was a big Black man, although no one would use the words.