Ontario has had much success in education and is lauded around the world, yet we continue to see huge patterns of disparity among certaindemographicgroups in education. The best of spoken commitments depend on the policies of the colonial structures that were designed to keep particular groups subjugated.
The evidence reveals these very systemically rooted realities. We live in a time when the government can still determine Indigenous "status" and use that against Indigenous peoples in terms of health care, access to social supports and education.
An Equity focused leadership competency requires an Anti-Oppressive stance, which means acknowledging that the current systems and structures do in fact lead to the oppression of particular groups of people, and that we have a moral, ethical, professional duty to work toward addressing this.
Some of these principles include:
Addressing intent vs impact
Often when Indigenous, black, racialized and marginalized groups speak about the system causing them harm, those in power respond by articulating their very best intentions. Intentions are not enough. In fact many of us know the old saying, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."
Instead, our public institutions must be held accountable based on their impact. Ask: Is the impact we are having in our organization matching our intent? Why are particular social identities over-represented? What needs to be done differently? Whose voices do we need to hear from?
Systems and structures drive practice
Governance structures came out of colonization at a time when there were predominant beliefs about Indigenous, black and LGBT people, women, disabilities, creed, class, etc. In fact, even many "left leaning" institutions that pride themselves on being inclusive are not because the way they were built only considers diversity as an after-thought.
The systems we follow are not inherently fair or objective. In the private sector, we would take our money out of companies that continue to make the same loss every year. Ask: Are our policies assisting us to change the outcomes of the most marginalized groups or are they perpetuating the same outcomes? If we asked marginalized groups what changes needed to be made, what would they be? Why are we not making those changes if some groups continue to be hurt? Whose interests are we serving when we say public service is for everyone?
No such thing as neutral
No space is a neutral space. We all come to spaces based on our own experiences, biases and understanding. We've already established that the law, our systems and structures, policies and procedures are not neutral. It will do us well to remember that the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms supersede almost all law to ensure that the rights of the minority is not victim to the will of the majority.
Human rights are for everyone, they support all of us and are a critical core component of a democratic society. When we make decisions we must remember that everyone has bias and some of us, a form of privilege. We need to know that and understand it in order to best serve all of our children, families and communities.
Ask: When we define the "best" response in a situation — the "best hire," the "best solution" — have they included a focused look on who is most hurt and marginalized and the ability of the hire/solution to bring new perspectives and cultural capital to the organization?
Guilt, shame and blame are useless
So you have privilege; we all do to varying degrees. None of us asked for the privileges we have. Privilege is unearned and does not diminish you as a person and human being. Society's laws and structures continue to be built by those with privilege.
Privilege doesn't mean you didn't have to struggle or work hard to gain what you have. It does mean that you need to be aware that you have it and work to change outcomes for those who don't. Your privilege does not make you a bad person, so don't get lost in guilt, shame or feeling blamed.
I have male privilege; it doesn't make me bad simply because I have it and sometimes I will make mistakes and I will learn to do better. What I do with it is what matters.
Ask: Why am I uncomfortable listening to others' lived experiences that show I have privilege? What can I do differently or need to learn? How might I use the privileges I have to make things better for those who don't have what I have?
Centre the most marginalized voices and design backwards
Start with who is being most hurt. Engage voices that reflect those groups and engage in Inclusive Design and organizational approaches that begin with the outcomes you want to achieve. When we begin this way, it is more inclusive, and the solutions that are necessary for some will be good for all.
The work of equity and anti-oppression is never about taking away supports that are necessary for anyone to be successful. When we have more equitable processes everyone will benefit to a greater degree.
Ask: Who is most underserved/harmed by our systems/structures and approaches? Whose voices do we need to hear to help us address this? How can we begin designing approaches that centre those voices and support all in the process?
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This work is hard but necessary if we say we are committed to supporting all. Public service, whether it is education, public welfare, safety, social services, criminal justice, immigration, or health care, is in need of a serious overhaul to ensure we are all reflected and represented. The United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples needs to be upheld.
We cannot rely on structures that were designed to erase or subjugate some of us to lead to our amelioration. In spite of the best intentions of good people and politicians, outcomes will not change.
All public organizations need to adopt an anti-oppressive stance, find the areas in which they are underserving and oppressing, and then work actively to change them. The time for all of us to have our human rights respected has passed. We need public organizations to catch up. And just to be clear, they aren't doing any favours: it's their responsibility because they serve the public, which means all of us!
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