International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination — March 21
Toronto – March 18, 2015 – On March 21, 1960, in the Township of Sharpeville in apartheid-era South Africa, government forces massacred 69 people, including ten children, who were part of a peaceful protest outside of a local police station. The Sharpeville massacre was condemned by the international community and the United Nations. Six years later, the UN declared March 21 as The International Day for the Elimination of Racism.
Unfortunately, for many, this is where the significance of March 21 begins and ends – shrugged off as though the day commemorates “the way things used to be.” But the reality is that racism still exists in our own community and the denial of its existence is not the solution.
While public and media conversations about racism are quite regular in the United States, in Canada you don’t often hear open discussions about racism. But if we don’t face it, nothing is going to change. And things must change because defeating racism is not only critical to the labour movement, it is essential to humanity if we are to thrive.
In Canada, the limited acknowledgement of racism acts as a barrier to fundamental change. How can we understand the mechanics of racism and how to eradicate it, if we refuse to admit that it exists or examine how racism is often baked into popular culture? If we shut our eyes to racism and how it operates within our own organizations, in our own minds, and through our choices of who we hire, promote, and socialize with, then March 21 will remain merely symbolic.
We must do better, so UFCW Canada has moved beyond merely talking about racism and is taking concrete action to do something about it. We have committed to a national multiyear, multiphase education program, to help us recognize and acknowledge how racism and other types of discrimination are reflected through policy and individual behavior that impact us as an organization.
As part of that commitment, all UFCW Canada staff and leadership, across all local unions, will be participating in multi-day training on Diversity and Inclusion. This classroom training is supported by webinars, further online education, individual coaching, and milestones to measure progress. This is likely not only the most ambitious diversity and inclusion initiative in the labour movement, but likely within most organizations of our size across Canada.
While understanding and confronting the dynamics of racism is essential for all of us, with recent events around the world we know that it is more important than ever. Whether it be the killing of an unarmed African-American man in Ferguson, Missouri, or the rise of Islamophobia in Canada, UFCW Canada and our local unions have taken the first steps to ensure that we are part of the solution in eliminating racial discrimination.
Paul R. Meinema