OPSEU proudly hosted more than 200 delegates at its first-ever Racialized Workers Conference titled, “The Realities of Racialization: Seeking Solidarity,” held from March 1 – 3, 2019 in Toronto.
It is said that there can be no progress without struggle. We’ve come a long way, but in order to progress further, we must continue the struggle to understand the realities of racialization – to respect one another and continue to build solidarity in our workplaces, in our communities and in our union.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of OPSEU
Participants at this monumental event eagerly took on the challenge of examining racialization and its normalization, with the help of outstanding keynote speakers and thought-provoking panel discussions. Special thanks to speakers Robyn Maynard, Dr. Charmaine Nelson, Anthony Morgan, Kikeola Roach and Chris Ramsaroop for their invaluable contributions in making this event a major success.
There was also tremendous discussion when participants broke off into their workshops to tackle topics like the history of racialization and its current manifestations, and the key issues confronting racialized people and communities, such as policing, economic inequality and discrimination.
Peter Thompson, Chair of OPSEU’s Coalition of Racialized Workers opened the conference with moving words on racialization that helped to guide the discussions ahead. He addressed the ways that racialized people are treated differently, and the ways we can take action to dismantle the systems of oppression that hold all of us back. Peter remarked that one of the purposes of the conference was to evaluate the past, and to learn about our shared history of colonization and slavery that still manifests itself today.
“We know all too well, if were once in bondage, today brown and black peoples’ lives continue to be devalued and contained,” Thompson said, “to be policed and surveilled in all kinds of ways: mass incarceration, mass deportation, mass policing and profiling.”
A detailed list of the conference goals and objectives can be found here.
Robyn Maynard, keynote speaker on Friday, March 1, 2019 speaks about racism’s deep roots in all structures of society; the rise of white supremacy on university campuses, the use of force against black communities (as reported by the OHRC), and the implementation of legislation like Quebec’s Bill 52.
It’s important that we understand racialization: its history and current manifestations. But, we’ve got to look more closely at the normalization of racism. We don’t even see what racism looks like any more. We need to understand that racism is not only attitudinal, it’s also structural. It’s a weakness in the very foundation of our society. It’s not enough to say: ‘I did not use a racial slur this year.’ Racialization is an important part of any discussion about the kind of society in which we want to live and work.
Robyn Maynard, author of Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to Present
Dr. Charmaine Nelson, keynote speaker on Saturday, March 2, 2019 speaks about the importance of examining and understanding Canadian slavery and colonial racist practices as a way to recognize and fight-back against its continued legacy.
The root of exploitative labour, that is so deeply entrenched in the West – like the poultry workers in the U.S. who wear diapers because they are not allowed to take bathroom breaks – can be traced back to the practice of trans-Atlantic slavery; a practice that justified the expropriation of 12.5 million enslaved Africans and created the black diaspora.
Dr. Charmaine Nelson, Professor, McGill University
Panelists Anthony Morgan, Kiké Roach and Chris Ramsaroop talk about racism at work and offered strategies for combatting discrimination, including employment equity measures, collecting disaggregated “race”-based data and the importance of organizing from the ground up.
You can have effective conversations about racial stereotypes, you can talk about racial dynamics or racialized power structures, and you can collect all the race-based data that you want. But, if you do not remain committed to working with people on the ground, to connecting with people on the margins who cannot access the spaces to speak about change, then we recreate the same systems of disadvantage that we are working against.
Anthony Morgan, Anti-Black Racism Coordinator, City of Toronto
Participants also enjoyed many standout performances of cultural expression throughout the conference, including performances by Coalition members and community groups like the Raging Asian Women, the Deewani Dance Crew, and African Fashion Week Toronto’s Resistance through Fashion.
To watch the performance of “Glory” performed by Coalition of Racialized Workers member Daniel Peters and Region 5 member Marcus Andrew click here.
Key conference resources
Download key conference resources used in discussion groups and workshops here:
See the Call it Out Video