It’s easy to think that the anti-racism activities of late have been spurred on by events like the horrific shootings in Atlanta just last week or the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, but the truth is, such discussions and movements have been happening for a long time.

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (March 21) began  in 1960 when police in Sharpeville, South Africa, opened fire during a peaceful demonstration against apartheid “pass laws,” killing 69 people.

Since then, South Africa’s apartheid system has been dismantled, racist laws and practices have been abolished in many countries and an international framework for fighting racism has been created, yet we continue to see communities and societies suffer from the injustice and stigma of racism.

The Black Lives Matter movement and the anti-Asian racist attacks and rhetoric framed against the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrate the pain racist, discriminatory views continue to cause. Canada is no exception as we continue to address the discrimination in the Indian Act and its impact on Indigenous Peoples.

“We need to acknowledge racism because we cannot address what we are not willing to face,” says Charlene Waugh, manager of Inclusion & Diversity at Suncor. “I’m on a personal journey – as are many of us across Suncor – to learn about racial discrimination and challenge where I may have blind spots to my own biases and discriminatory views.”

Charlene’s learning brought her to a 2020 Abacus Data poll  that found two-thirds of Canadians who participated in the poll said they believe discrimination is common in Canada, and another 61 per cent of participants said systemic racism exists. The poll further found that Indigenous Peoples, Muslims, and the Black and Transgender communities are more likely to experience discrimination.

“As disturbing as those results are, they help us to be honest with ourselves and the reality of people’s lived experiences. It’s from that discomfort we can change,” says Charlene.

Rise to the challenge

Acknowledging the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is both a reflection and a challenge.

“Let’s be open and honest with ourselves about any biases or discriminatory views we may hold, because we all have them,” says Charlene. “If we all commit to increasing our awareness and stepping in to stop racial discrimination, we can create a workplace and a community that’s a great place for everyone.”