There is an absence of discussion on issues of race on campus, in the greater community, and within society at large. The lack of discussion is not limited to white people, but extends into communities of people of colour as well. Many groups at McGill organize events to engage students and members of the university in discussions about race, the most recent being Culture Shock, a week-long initiative co-organized by SSMU and the Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG) at McGill that aims to start conversations about immigrants, refugees, Indigenous people, and communities of colour.
On a day-to-day social level, students of colour experience racism in the form of microaggressions by other members of the university community, including other people of colour. This can be as simple as being asked, “Where are you really from?” a question based on the assumption that a person of colour cannot be ‘from’ Canada. It also extends to associating the identity of a person with their apparent ethnicity without first asking for their personal identification. The power of an event series such as Culture Shock is that it works from within the McGill community to raise consciousness about issues of race. However, larger student organizations such as SSMU and PGSS should strive further to facilitate discourse among their members, and should actively support the independent student groups that are already doing so.
The conversation regarding race starts at the social level, and can extend to the institutional level. Only 14.2 per cent of McGill staff self-identified as a visible minority and 23.7 per cent as an ethnic minority, according to a 2010 report conducted by the Equity Subcommittee on Race and Ethnic Relations. The way our curriculums are written and taught, and the minimal racialized make-up of our faculty and non-academic staff show a lack of representation of diversity. For example, the Social Equity and Diversity Education Office, which seeks to bring attention to questions of race and equity on campus, receives low levels of University funding, reflecting the lack of interest in including alternative narratives at an institutional level. Avoiding individual instances of racism and simply being ‘politically correct’ is not enough to eradicate racism in our community, because the society we are integrated into and the culture we are socialized into is inherently racist. But this can change.
Being anti-racist is a process – one where we, as a community, can actively extricate ourselves from a system that silences and devalues the voices of people of colour. We must take care to listen to and legitimize all experiences of marginalization, and to challenge the microaggressions that happen day-to-day rather than letting them go unnoticed. Workshops and other facilitated discussions are a first step, but the conversation should not end there, because racism persists outside those discussions, and it must be challenged wherever it occurs.
—The McGill Daily Editorial Board