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  • July 20, 2020

    Virtual Ethics Café: COVID-19 & Racism (Part 1 of 3)

    MARL and the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba have conducted Ethics Cafés for several years. With the onset of COVID-19, our in-person event turned virtual to allow us to continue having meaningful dialogues about ethical issues. 

    On June 18th, we held a virtual Café on COVID-19 and Racism. Thirty people joined us to discuss three questions relating to the issue. If you want to learn more about the dialogue that occurred, this three-part blog post series will summarize some ideas and suggestions that came out of the Virtual Ethics Café on COVID-19 and Racism.  These discussions are vital as we are all struggling to adjust to the new social norms and are concerned about the increased impact that racism continues to have on various community groups. We recognize that racism is differentiated among different groups, and various historical and societal factors impact the experiences of different communities. Through the development and discussion of these questions, we recognized that different populations are affected by racism in many different ways.

    COVID-19 Responding to Racism

    Question 1: There have been increased incidents of racism during the global pandemic, especially related to people of Asian descent. However, there is no formal system to report and respond to acts of racism in Manitoba. How do you challenge bystanders who witness racism, yet take no action? Who should be responsible to address racism issues in public spaces?

    The groups looked at a variety of perspectives when answering this question. They explored the dynamics of responding to a specific situation, discussed a need for education and the importance of social structures that are specifically designated to address racism. Overall, there was a recognition that within Canada, racism is experienced differently in different communities. There are multiple histories of colonization and migration to the country. Therefore, it is essential to examine the power dynamics between and among different groups, how structures are designed, and how they perpetrate racism in distinct ways to different groups. 

    Discussion on specific interventions during an act of racism emphasized the importance of safety, both for the victim of racism and the person intervening. The first suggestion was to make sure the person experiencing racist acts was moved into a safe space. Participants suggested asking specific questions to bystanders that could prompt thinking about the event and how they could have responded because everyone has different experiences that impact how they react in a particular situation. While it would be good for everyone to intervene during a racist incident, not everyone has the skills or ability to address the conflict in a productive manner. Some people don’t feel confident getting ‘out of their comfort zone’ and discussing these issues. It was mentioned that there is a need for people with privilege to intervene. Some people who are visible minorities may not feel comfortable or safe intervening in different environments. Therefore it was suggested that it is important to be aware that some bystanders may have difficulty responding because of previous trauma or physical/mental challenges.

    One group identified the issue of responding to and addressing microaggressions, not just larger incidences of racism. Therefore, there is a need to start conversations about what comments are racist and why they might be hurtful. This group also suggested that the wording of the discussion question itself, using ‘challenge bystanders,’ implies an aggressive approach that may not be effective. One participant emphasized that acting during an event requires compassion and curiosity. Other possible responses are to provide a kind gesture to the person experiencing the racism, to show that you are in solidarity with them. Therefore, there is a need for further education, self-awareness, and looking for ways to show solidarity with the victim.

    Education specifically on racism and the development of social skills to address the issue was a major theme in the discussion. Therefore, we talked about exploring how different groups are represented in school material and what social norms are practiced within the school system. What are the consequences of making racist comments in the schools? What socio-economic barriers hinder students from being full participants in our education systems? How do we address issues of equality, equity, and white privilege in school systems? With COVID-19 and social isolation, some of the barriers to accessing education have been punctuated as parents struggle to manage the educational needs of their children. Not all parents have access to technology and online platforms to support their children’s learning. Additionally, we need to see all groups in Canada represented in public life in our parks, schools, communities, and public spaces. When people see themselves represented in public life, they can see themselves as part of public life and dream about their contributions to the future of Canadian society.

    Education is not only important in our formal educational system, but also for professional development in a variety of work environments, primarily social services. Training should include practice in having some of these difficult conversations, making it easier for people to talk about them when they see something happening in a public space. Training within organizations should also involve reflection on current organizational structures and whether structural racism is present. There are situations where we have seen people in power who should be protecting the public abuse that power. Stereotypes are taught, often in our families and other community engagements. Therefore, awareness of how these stereotypes impact individuals and communities needs to be part of the discussion.

    How we have these conversations in education and training should model how we address these issues in public spaces. It was identified that there is a need for a formal system to report and respond to incidents of racism because there are so many things that can go wrong when people intervene in acts of racism. Not all newcomers are represented in society, in Canadian education, civil and public life. Whose culture and language are represented in our educational systems? Students need to see role models of people in their culture expressed in school material.

    While Asian Canadians are experiencing more racism now, they have often been seen as a ‘model minority,’ as a group that has excelled in education and employment, especially in sciences and technology. While some of these stereotypes are positive, they marginalize individuals who do not live up to these expectations and reinforce class and racialized privilege. Minority groups can still exhibit racism and have stereotypes of other minority groups, which need to be addressed and acknowledged. Anti-black or anti-Indigenous racism is part of many Asian communities. This is true in other groups as well. There is a need, for example, for newcomer groups to learn about challenges faced by Indigenous groups and vise versa.   

    In summary, racism is a long-term problem, and there are structural systems in Canada that were created thought colonialism. It was asked: How does politeness in Canadian culture impact our interactions with each other? Now is a good time to have these conversations and engage people who are experiencing racism and educate those who have privilege.

    This series is to be continued. The following question will address First Nation communities, land management, and structural racism. 

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