Featured in photo: Lang Ncube, Community Development Coordinator for the African Caribbean and Black (ACB) Network of Waterloo Region.
Strengthening Black Voices
February 27, 2020 / Written By: Nancy Harper, United Way WRC Editorial Content Creator
“Being an ally means recognizing that inequalities exist. That’s the bare minimum. After that, it’s using your power and place of privilege to assist Black people to reduce inequalities.” - Lang Ncube, Community Development Coordinator (ACB Network)
In the context of Black History Month and International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Waterloo Region’s African Caribbean and Black (ACB) Network reminds us that racial discrimination — and what we can do to help change it — should be top of mind for more than just one month or one day of the year.
There has certainly been some progress over the years but Waterloo Region is not immune to racially charged behaviour, and the path forward means accepting some hard truths about what’s going on in our own backyard.
It also means refusing to ignore injustices that don’t affect us directly.
Consider, for example, the university student with an African-sounding name who responded to a recent call for part-time jobs with a large local employer. Several of her friends submitted resumes at the same time. They all got a call back. She didn’t.
She then tried an experiment, applying a second time with a different, non-African name on her resume. This time she landed an interview.
It’s worth noting that this incident isn’t ancient history. It happened this past December.
Through collaborative work in our community, United Way Waterloo Region Communities acknowledges that there is a need to fund a network addressing systemic barriers for people facing discrimination.
The local coalition known as the African Caribbean and Black (ACB) Network, which is working to strengthen the voices of Black people, has a vital role to play in this community given its focus on advocacy and collaboration, according to United Way CEO Joan Fisk.
“United Way provides support for the African Caribbean and Black Network, not merely some of its programs,” Fisk says. “Well-functioning collaborations don’t just happen. Our goal in providing support is to help ensure that awareness levels are raised and solutions developed are part of a network that is shared in an efficient way for maximum impact. We realize it is never just one problem, so there needs to be more than one solution.”
ACB Network Community Development Coordinator Lang Ncube says Black people in Canada experience disproportionate rates of poverty and education due to systemic barriers. These barriers extend to influence poorer economic conditions that are, in turn, associated with physical and mental health concerns.
Ncube describes anti-Black racism as “prejudice, stereotyping and systemic oppression toward people of African descent,” adding that is deeply rooted in the history of colonization and enslavement.
She says Black people are often treated differently within the policing and criminal justice system, in health care, and in terms of economic opportunities, employment and pay rates.
“Black people are checked more than other ethnicities in terms of police street checks,” Ncube says. “And when Black people seek medical care they tend not to be believed.”
Ncube, who is also a University of Waterloo undergraduate, says the notion that we’ve moved beyond racism is simply wrong — and she’s got plenty of anecdotal evidence to prove her point.
“My path to addressing inequities started in university,” she says. “A university is a microsystem that is reflective of society as a whole, and if xenophobia and microaggressions are happening in the university space, that’s going to be amplified in the community.
“Myself and a few other friends recognized the struggles going on there. Students were coming to us with a lot of issues: microaggression, xenophobia, things like that. The students didn’t know how to deal with that, and we didn’t know either.”
The issues helped shed light on the need for a mechanism to address inequalities on campus, leading Ncube and several others to found the student equity service known as RAISE: Racial Advocacy for Inclusion, Solidarity and Equity.
As part of the Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association, RAISE has a mandate to tackle issues of racism, xenophobia and discrimination on campus — and Ncube believes it will help fill a void.
“With RAISE, we have implemented a system where you can report incidents of racism on campus,” she says. “Baby steps are being made. You can choose to disclose your name or you can remain anonymous. RAISE will advocate on behalf of the student as well as get more higher-up administrators involved to conduct an investigation.”
University of Waterloo Director of Equity Gina Hickman says the university’s equity office has been working closely with RAISE to ensure students get the support they need.
She also says the university itself has stepped up its equity training, and that her office is working with departments across campus to ensure they have the appropriate resources.
“On a more institutional level we have expanded our training offerings around equity and specifically anti-racism,” Hickman says. “We bring in external experts to educate. We also have a role in the equity office so students have a space to go if they’re having [race-related] issues or concerns. Our staff help provide support and connect them to resources so they can navigate the system.”
In the wider community, Ncube believes people who are not part of the ACB community can make a difference by acting as an ally.
“Being an ally means recognizing that inequalities exist. That’s the bare minimum,” she says.
“After that, it’s using your power and place of privilege to assist Black people to reduce inequalities. It means using your voice to amplify their voices and their struggles. Listen to the people who are actually experiencing these things and relay it to others. You don’t create those stories yourself so you’re not in the position to speak for them, but you can speak with them.”
Ncube says the ACB Network seeks to brainstorm solutions to the barriers Black people face, and to help make sure their contributions are reflected within the larger diversity of the community. Its vision of the future is one in which Black people no longer face health-related, economic or legal barriers, and can fully engage in civic, social and economic opportunities.
To that end, the ACB Network held a series of community consultations over the past year, inviting African, Caribbean and Black members of Waterloo Region to share anecdotal evidence about local injustices.
The ACB Network is now working on a report that will summarize key findings, priorities and next steps on how to raise awareness and create solutions to shared goals of equity and understanding.
“Even though the Waterloo community is small, there are a lot of great organizations working to make the Black experience better here,” Ncube says. “All of us are working collaboratively to reduce the barriers that exist and I think it’s great for the community that we’re all trying and working together.”
Ncube says the ACB Network is grateful for United Way’s support.
“It’s really important for grassroots organizations that are doing the work in the community to get this funding,” she says. “This helps build greater capacity and increases engagement for different people within Waterloo Region in a way they can fully participate in civic, social and economic opportunities without any health and economic barriers or legal constraints.”
For more information about United Way Waterloo Region Communities and how you can support our community, please visit www.uwaywrc.ca, call us 519-888-6100, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.