Constant harassment

I worked for a government agency for 10 years from 1989-1999. I was met daily with racial slurs, anti-Black literature on the hallway walls. Accosted by a co-worker in front of the manager and ended up with a bloody nose. Threats of violence towards me daily and this caused the ruination of my family.

After going to the Employee Assistance Program counsellor and mediation twice (which cost 20 thousand dollars each time) nothing was solved. One day my wife called to say she was dropping of the kids at work since she worked in the same establishment. I came back from lunch to find an entire month’s supply of stock waiting for me. I went ballistic and said some unsavoury things. This was my demise as someone overheard me and ran to the manager.

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Harassed and blacklisted

I worked for a large employer in Halifax since 1971. In the 1980’s I had this supervisor who was a bully and everyone was afraid of her. She started picking on me and I stood up for my rights. It was so bad that I started nodding of at work and she had co-workers following me to the washroom. I was suspended for sleeping on the job. I then got tested and was diagnosed with narcolepsy.

After the diagnosis the suspension was taken off my employment record and I was given one week’s pay. During that time harassment in the workplace came into being. All employees were given the intro. I stayed behind and asked the people if what I was going through would be considered harassment and they said yes.They took my case and the two supervisors had to write me a letter of apology. My immediate supervisor did not, and she was on sick leave and did not return.

It was like I was blacklisted after that because I was not able to work until my 30 years to receive a full pension. I took my case to federal Human Rights and won, but they were not able to give me financial compensation. I am still suffering from the treatment that was done to me, and no one had to pay for it.

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Those are my students

A student came into my class and told me another teacher had made stereotypical comments about Black students to her whole class. There was only one Black student in the class at the time. The student said she tried to say something but it was hard to know what to say because it was the teacher.

I was so angry. I told our supervisor, even though the other teacher is my colleague. He said he’d deal with it. I don’t really know what he did. I don’t know if the other teacher apologized to the class, or even brought it up again. I imagine not. Now all those other kids will be able to hold those stereotypes about Black students because their teacher validated them.

I think the other teacher suspects that I’m the one who brought the issue to the supervisor. I don’t care.

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Nothing will surprise me / Rien ne me surprendra

[English below] Mon expérience est surtout dans le milieu francophone. Réellement je n’ai pas subi de racisme dans mon milieu de travail récent. Mais si je considère mon expérience personnel, mon parcours à travers le monde, je dois dire que rien ne me surprendra. Je me sens déjà prêt à affronter les éventualités comme ça et aussi savoir si le cas échéant, à qui m’adresser. Pour moi ça c’est très très important. C’est pas parce que c’est un manque de confiance dans les autres. Dans tous les pays, dans toutes les sociétés il y a des bonnes personnes et il y a des mauvaises personnes. Donc pour moi c’est une question de l’attitude à prendre pour ne pas avoir un choc quand ça arrivera.

My experience is mostly in a French-speaking environment. I haven’t really suffered racism in my most recent work experience. But if I consider my personal experience, my experiences across the world, I have to say that nothing would surprise me. I already feel ready to confront those things when they happen and also I know if necessary who I would turn to. For me that’s very, very important. It’s not a lack of trust in others. In all societies there are good people and bad people. But for me it’s a question of the attitude to take so I’m not shocked when it happens.

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An unofficial rule / Une règle qui n’est pas officielle

[English below] Le problème c’est que le racisme, c’est comme un règle, un règle qui n’est pas officiel, dans tous les domaines: académique, le domaine du travail, le domaine du transport, il est dans tous les domaines. Alors ça m’étonne pas que les gens des fois abandonnent, si vous n’avez pas les fibres forts, ils ne travaillent pas officiellement, ils font des choix qui ne sont pas sages. Parce qu’il y a un problème de structure social, politique dans la communauté des immigrants, surtout nous qui venons sans famille, sans fibre ancienne, qu’on puisse s’établir.

The problem is that racism, it’s like a rule, an unofficial rule, in all domains: academics, work, transportation, it’s in every domain. So, it doesn’t surprise me that sometimes people give up, if they’re not strong, they don’t work “officially”, they make choices that are unwise. Because there’s a structural problem, a political problem in immigrant communities, especially those of us who arrive without any family, any “old-stock”, to help us get established.

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Surmené/Overworked

[English translation below]

Je n’avais pas bcp d’expérience de travail au Canada, dû à mes antécédents médicaux. Mais j’ai essayé de trouver un travail pour m’occuper et pour m’organiser. Et pour pouvoir reprendre mes études.

Je suis allé demander un travail dans un restaurant, et comme je n’avais pas de qualifications culinaires particuliers, j’ai pris une position dans la cuisine pour laver la vaisselle. J’ai commencé tout de suite, j’étais excité de commencer à travailler, de contribuer à la société et de pouvoir reprendre mes études dans l’avenir.

La première journée c’est la routine, on vous montre la routine de la cuisine, où sont les ustensiles et tout et tout. Les gens m’ont accueilli, c’était un environnement multiculturel comme l’est le Canada.

Mais après j’ai remarqué qu’il y avait une différence. Je n’ai pas eu d’abus de paroles, mais on me jettait toutes sortes de choses qui ne convenaient pas à mon poste. Je faisait du travail de 3-4 personnes. Je lavais de la vaisselle et je n’avais pas d’aide. Même, j’ai remarqué par après que les personnes noires qui travaillaient avaient peur de m’aider, parce qu’ils voulaient sauver leur peau.

Bien sûr, le propriétaire étais un blanc. Mon père m’a encouragé, “vas-y, retourne, ne te décourage pas, ça va aller mieux.” J’y suis allé encore, une fois ou deux, et c’était le même cas. Je ne pouvais pas respirer. Dès que je finissais de laver les ustensiles de cuisine, on me donnait d’autres ustensiles de cuisine. Les autres bavardaient dans le restaurant, ils allaient prendre des breaks fumer des cigarettes, et moi je travaillais comme un esclave.

Et puis je me suis plaint. Heureusement je suis une personne ouverte, je n’ai pas peur de m’exprimer. Je me suis plaint à la personne au-dessus de moi sur l’échelon. Ils m’ont dit très arrogamment que le propriétaire n’avait pas le temps de me voir, que c’était le travail et que je le prenne ou que je le laisse.

J’ai travaillé là-bas pendant une semaine ou deux, et puis j’ai dû le laisser. C’était une expérience effrayante, frustrante, énervante, qui a trahi ma foi dans la société multiculturelle canadienne qui se vend à l’extérieur comme étant un état de droit, un état basé sur l’égalité, et surtout les opportunités pour tous.

À long terme, je me rends compte que l’état de droit, c’est beau sur papier, mais le racisme au travail, c’est institutionnalisé. Nous, immigrants, on vient ignorants des faits qui sont inculqués dans la culture canadienne, et on a du mal à progresser, surtout nous les premières générations. Je suis une première génération de ma famille. Je comprends que je dois travailler dur pour construire un plate-forme sur lequel mes enfants et mes petits-enfants vont prendre l’échelon. Mais, je me rends compte que ce n’est pas aussi simple que c’est dit à la télévision, dans toutes les propagandes que le gouvernement fait pour les immigrants qui viennent au Canada.

*****

I didn’t have a lot of work experience because of my medical history. But I tried to find a job to occupy myself and to get myself organized. And so I could go back to school.

I went to ask for a job in a restaurant, and since I had no cooking qualifications, I took a position in the kitchen washing dishes. I started right away, I was excited to get to work, to contribute to society and to be able to get back to school in the future.

The first day was routine, They show you the kitchen routine, where are the utensils and everything. The people there welcomed me. It seemed like a multicultural environment, just like Canada.

But soon after I noticed that there was a difference. I didn’t get any verbal abuse, but I had thrown at me all sorts of things that weren’t part of my job. I was doing the work of 3-4 people. I washed all the dishes with no help. I even noticed late that other Black people who worked there were afraid to help me, because they wanted to save their own skin.

Of course, the owner was white. My dad encouraged me, “go on, go back, don’t get discouraged, it’ll get better.” I went back once or twice, and it was the same. I couldn’t breathe. As soon as I finished washing the kitchen utensils they gave me more. The other workers chatted in the restaurant, they’d go for smoke breaks, while I worked like a slave.

So, I complained. Luckily I’m an open person, I’m not afraid to say what I think. I complained to the person a rung above me. They told me very arrogantly that the owner didn’t have time to see me, that this was the job and I could take it or leave it.

I worked there for a week or two, and I had to leave. It was a scary, frustrating, nerve-wracking experience, which shook my faith in Canadian multicultural society which sells itself abroad as a state of law, a state based on equality, and especially opportunities for all.

In the long term, I notice that the rule of law looks good on paper, but racism in the workplace is institutionalized. We immigrants come here ignorant of things that are embedded in Canadian culture, and we have trouble progressing, especially those of us who are first-generation. I’m a first-generation immigrant in my family. I understand I have to work hard to build a platform on which my children and grandchildren will move up the ladder. But, I realize now that it’s not as simple as they say on television, in all the propaganda the government gives to immigrants coming to Canada.

 

 

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Micro Aggressions (Part 2)

I got the dismissal. They said we’re going to give you your pay until the end of June. I think they were afraid I was going to take it to human rights. I considered it, but I thought I’m not going to put myself through it.

Unfortunately in the whole process..

We had a program for at risk girls…and it came about that some of the girls in this program were recruiting for the sex trade. (One of the youth I know had run away (from home, and had been talking to the girl who was recruiting).

I advocated for asking her to leave. I said, why are we letting this girl stay in our program when it looks like she is recruiting for the sex trade?

My manager disagreed. With her I think it was ultimately a power thing.

The long and short of it was, the manager told a lot of lies about where I was coming from. She said I had breached confidentiality. That weekend when the mother had called I had said “here is the girl she was talking to, there might be something going on there.” You’re not supposed to release names unless the child is in harm’s way which, in my opinion this youth was.

My manager told her manager that I had breached confidentiality but had not bothered to tell him why.

Little things like that…

When I was given that letter of dismissal I was kind of relieved because it was getting very toxic. But I miss the youth, that was the best part of the job. I learned a lot and wouldn’t be where I am without it, but now I have to find another job. How am I going to get a reference, right? That’s a problem.

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Micro Aggressions (Part 1)

In Nova Scotia it’s very subtle. A lot of the racism people experience are, I think they’re called micro aggressions.

I was working with a youth-serving organization. I hate to use the term, but we were working with “at-risk” or “high-risk” youth involved in the criminal justice system. Most of those kids were racialized. Either African Nova Scotian, Aboriginal or biracial. One of the things I wanted to see happen, most of the staff was white and there were some issues: lack of awareness, lack of sensitivity, I really wanted to push for getting some training for our team.

We had one day of Afrocentric training from the association of Black social workers. Our sister program… they were working in an African Nova Scotian community and they got training almost every week. I questioned my manager. I said, most of the kids we work with are African Nova Scotian, why are we not getting the same type of training as this other program? Her answer was: I don’t know. That’s one piece of the story.

It sounds kind of subtle, but anyway, as a group we were dealing with some pretty intense situations with our youth and families. It was one crisis after another. Many of the youth unfortunately, were in and out of court.

They were going to jail, their parents were struggling with addictions. I don’t want to make it sound all negative, you know. A lot of these families were strong, they loved each other, supported each other.

One of the things my manager did right was say, “you’re stressed, I hear you. We’re going to get a self-care workshop.” We did with a social worker who was also black.

One of the families I work with wanted to talk. I went to Dartmouth to do this and was late to our workshop as a result.

When I got there, it was obvious that the manager was pretty pissed. I had told the facilitator that I was going to be late. I went in, I sat down and here is where it gets kind of tricky. I sat of to the side a bit.

I had had a pretty intense conversation with (my clients) and decided to sit away from the group, at the side of the room. No one said anything for the first hour. The facilitator asked me if I wanted to sit closer and I told her that I needed my space. She let it be.

Two of my coworkers did not accept this. They went and told the boss that I didn’t want to sit at the table.

The background:

There were some other issues. One of my coworkers had called one of the youth she worked with (the youth was biracial) a monkey.

I addressed it with her. She did apologize, but then the atmosphere with her was, for lack of a better word she was bitchy. That relationship went downhill. I tried to be diplomatic about it with her, it didn’t work. So that was one of the things that I was feeling there.

That co-worker was one of the ones who went to complain to my boss.

The upshot of this was that my boss came in and was steaming. She demands that I come out of the room. For me, it was the approach she took that bothered me. It was the approach she took. It would have been better if she had waited until after the session, if she had calmed herself down a little bit. That got my back up and before long we were yelling at each other in front of the entire team.

I felt everything I said, I felt I was justified.

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Indirect Impact?

I’ve been in the workforce for 14 years. In hindsight I have recognized racist things that happen in the workplace that I didn’t recognize at the time.

I don’t know that they had a direct impact on me at the time, but they may have had indirect impacts.

I recall working at McDonald’s in North End Dartmouth. I recall little things that were said, little practices that were influenced by people’s race.

There was a lot of Black people living in area. At night Black kids would be watched extra closely when they came into the lobby.

I remember one night the manager was on the phone, describing what happened. I recall him saying “these three Black guys walked in…”

If they had been white would he have said white guys on the phone and if he did would he have emphasized the word white with such negative connotation in his enunciation of it?

I recall people being promoted to manager who for the most part were white people

I wonder if kids or people there who were Black…I wonder if their being Black maybe sometimes had them be subconsciously disqualified for such a thing. I wonder if the white kids were more encouraged to seek promotion and things like that.

You go back on these things and you just wonder. You recognize things you didn’t recognize at the time and I guess at times I get worried that this sort of thing is not new. It continues and has a negative impact on the way young Black people entering the workforce see themselves and their other Black peers.

I think that in my experience that was the case and sadly, likely continues to be the case.

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New supervisor

I was told that I was getting a new supervisor. They knew nothing about the Black community, the Aboriginal community or general low-income communities that I worked with. I had to appeal to the boss who agreed with me that this was a bad idea. I ended up working it out so that would report directly to him. You have to keep asking the question and constantly explain why something is a problem. I’ve spent so much time doing the educating thing. Maybe we have to ask people “is this actually ok with you?” Write the questions and the problem out, send an email, leave a paper trail. That way things are more likely to get addressed, and it gives you more power too.

 

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