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Professional Advisory on Anti-Black Racism

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Introduction

Anti-Black racism is not a new issue in Canada and has occurred in the education system for more than 160 years and includes the establishment of segregated schools for Black students.1 The impact and legacy of anti-Black racism date back to the North American Trans-Atlantic slave trade and the enslavement of Black people. Increased attention is now being paid to anti-Black racism because of recent global events.

Black people and communities are not a monolithic group and come from diverse cultures, nationalities and have varying religions and customs. In this advisory, Black will be used to describe racialized people who self-identify as Black and/or are of African descent. The term anti-Black racism will be used throughout this advisory, therefore it is important to define it early. The term was first defined by Dr. Akua Benjamin, a professor in the Social Work Department at Toronto Metropolitan University, who sought to highlight the effects of systemic racism on Black Canadians.2

Ontario’s Anti-Racism Directorate defines anti-Black racism as prejudice, attitudes, beliefs, stereotyping and discrimination directed at people of African descent and is rooted in their unique history and experience of enslavement and its legacy. Anti-Black racism is deeply embedded in Canadian institutions, policies and practices such that it is normalized or deemed invisible to the larger white society. Anti-Black racism is present in social, economic, educational and political structures and organizations and it leads to unequal opportunities, lower socio-economic status, higher unemployment, underemployment, significant poverty rates and overrepresentation in the criminal justice system.3

Urgent action on anti-Black racism is needed since racism and its prevalence in public and private institutions have been studied for many decades with recommendations that resonate today as they did in generations past. The Stephen Lewis Report on Race Relations in Ontario from June 1992 addressed racism in education and the same questions asked then are still being asked almost 30 years later: “Where are the courses in Black history? Where are the visible minority teachers? Why are there so few role models? Why do our white guidance counsellors know so little of different cultural backgrounds? Why are racist incidents and epithets tolerated? Why are there double standards of discipline? Why are minority students streamed? Why do they discourage us from university?”4

This professional advisory addresses anti-Black racism in education and also highlights a recent amendment to the Ontario College of Teachers Act, 1996 (OCTA), which now stipulates that “making remarks or engaging in behaviours that expose any person or class of persons to hatred on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination under Part I of the Human Rights Code” is an act of professional misconduct. The amendment was designed to put a stop to discrimination both in and out of the classroom. The guidance and examples provided in this advisory are meant to augment other resources and materials available to educators to help them critically reflect on their practice. Ontario Certified Teachers (OCTs) are encouraged to consult their employer policies, protocols, and Ministry of Education (Ministry) resources for more information on anti-Black racism.5

OCTs play an influential leadership role in the learning environment and are uniquely positioned to help address anti-Black racism and its impact on students given the space they occupy as influencers and educators. The College also recognizes that it takes a systemic approach to take meaningful action on anti-Black racism. Collective efforts not only by teachers, but by principals, vice-principals and staff, are necessary to address anti-Black racism. OCTs should be aware of the power they wield in classrooms, administrative spaces and other learning environments, and how that power can maintain and perpetuate a colonial culture and oppressive approaches that adversely impact students, particularly Black students.

This professional advisory provides advice on ways in which educators can improve their daily practice to proactively address anti-Black racism. The goal is to provide support in creating inclusive and supportive learning cultures that benefit all students, regardless of their identity. Given the focus of school boards and government departments on anti-Black racism, now is an ideal time for OCTs to examine their practice to eliminate the barriers and mitigate the adverse impacts that anti-Black racism causes.

Background information

The data shows that Black students face many more barriers and challenges in the school system than students from other communities. Some of these barriers and challenges include overrepresentation in programs and courses that generally do not lead to post-secondary education studies and, therefore, serve to perpetuate poor socioeconomic status in Black communities.

In a 2014 study, the advocacy group People for Education, found that while the practice of streaming students into programs based on ability was supposed to have ended two decades ago, the practice continues and disadvantages students, particularly those who identify as Black, as the majority of those placed in the programs are Black. The group’s research found that students in applied English and Math classes were less likely to perform well on provincial standardized tests, graduate from high school or pursue post-secondary education. Notably, the findings showed that schools with more applied courses featured a higher enrolment of students from low-income families.6

Data collected by the Black Demographic Data Advisory Committee of the Ontario Alliance of Black Educators focused on Black student achievement in a large urban school board and highlighted related disparities. The data revealed that Black students are more than twice as likely as their white peers to be suspended at least once during high school. Black students are three times as likely as white students to be in the Essentials program of study and two and a half times as likely to be in applied. By contrast, white students are one and a half times as likely as their Black peers to be in the academic program of study.7

Black students are overrepresented in special education programs and underrepresented in others. More Black students are identified with non-gifted special education needs. Only 0.4 per cent of Black students are identified as gifted, compared to 4 per cent of their white counterparts. Conversely, 16 per cent of white students are identified with other special education needs compared with 26 per cent of Black students.8

The impacts of anti-Black racism cut across economic, social, political and educational domains and overshadow the hard work and positive contributions of Black communities to Canadian society. OCTs may witness, uphold or contribute to anti-Black racism practices that harm Black learners and their families and caregivers.

The Ministry of Education’s Equity Action Plan points to the importance of working with parents, educators, principals, board staff, trustees and the community, to identify and eliminate all discriminatory practices, systemic barriers and bias in schools and classrooms.9 The province’s Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy focuses on helping Ontario’s educators identify and remove discriminatory biases and systemic barriers to support the achievement and well-being of all students so they can reach their full potential.10

Examples of anti-Black racism

It is helpful for OCTs to understand what anti-Black racism looks like so they can raise their awareness of circumstances where anti-Black racism might factor into their approach to teaching, marking, disciplining and supporting Black students. Anti-Black racism may take many forms and may include:

  • Traditionally, school boards have been known to place students from countries outside of Europe and North America in a lower grade without taking the time to make an objective assessment of the student’s capacity and previous educational attainment.
  • Hyper-surveillance of Black students, including prevalence of security cameras inside and outside of school property, appearance of hall monitors before, during and after school and regular police presence in schools.
  • Educators selecting texts that portray Black people through a deficit lens and reinforce negative stereotypes without offering options that could counter the dominant negative narrative.
  • Reinforcing the racism of low academic expectations in feedback shared to Black students or career advice given.
  • Introducing predominantly Eurocentric (i.e., white, patriarchal) teaching materials in all subject areas of the curriculum that reinforce white supremacy by diminishing, caricaturing or eliminating the experiences and histories of other races, including Black people.
  • Besides school uniform policies, attempting to limit self and cultural expression of Black students through restrictive dress codes, including the banning of hats, do-rags or coats in classrooms. Often the inference is that Black students might be concealing weapons in these items of clothing.
  • Lack of opportunities to study or discuss Black contributions and achievements to Canadian history except for the month of February (Black History Month), where efforts may seem performative.
  • Directing Black students to pursue sports without the same encouragement to pursue academic courses.
  • Using forms of discipline such as detentions, suspensions and expulsions at a disproportionately higher rate for Black students, often in ways that are overly punitive in relation to the offence.

Heightened awareness and deliberate and urgent action are necessary to dismantle the systemic oppression and racism that Black students and their families and caregivers often experience. “Experiences with streaming, teacher expectations, testing, and the ways in which the low educational performance of Black students have become normalized, of course, speak of a schooling structure and climate that sustain anti-Black racism.”11

Ontario’s educators are best positioned to lead efforts to support an inclusive learning environment. The notion of being a passive bystander is not conducive to active engagement in decolonizing existing pedagogical structures. Demonstrating competency in equity-related principles, including anti-Black racism, is important for professionals, including educators.

The Ontario College of Teachers believes in a collaborative approach to supporting the professional development of its members, which includes a commitment to deepening understanding and awareness of anti-Black racism and the importance of taking action against it. Considering the policy directives that are being issued by governments at all levels, OCTs need to be cognizant of policies, initiatives and best practices that inform their practice. It is also important to make a commitment to changing attitudes and behaviours in ways that eliminate anti-Black racism from the learning environment.

The role of Ontario Certified Teachers

Professional standards

The College’s Ethical Standards for the Teaching Profession and the Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession provide the foundation for professional conduct. The Standards of Practice explicitly identify ethical knowledge as a core dimension of professional knowledge for educators. The ethical knowledge of individual practitioners and the collective ethical knowledge of the profession must continue to evolve to help ensure that ethical school cultures, pedagogies, policies and practices permeate Ontario’s educational environment to help all students succeed.

The ethical standards explicitly address the ethical responsibilities and commitments of educators. The four ethical standards of care, respect, trust and integrity are interrelated principles that guide educators’ individual and collective action, consciousness and knowledge. Special attention needs to be taken to ensure that bias does not adversely impact the way the ethical standards are applied to some students, particularly those who identify as Black. The standard of respect specifies that members of the teaching profession must honour human dignity, emotional wellness and cognitive development. In their professional practice, they model respect for spiritual and cultural values, social justice, confidentiality, freedom, democracy and the environment.

These ethical responsibilities are critically important in efforts to combat anti-Black racism. A welcoming learning environment for Black students requires an understanding of the importance of dismantling oppressive, colonial attitudes and practices. Educators should strive to be competent in anti-racist practices to effectively address anti-Black racism. Honouring human dignity and respecting social justice demands an understanding of anti-racism.

Professional responsibilities

OCTs play an important role in developing a learning environment that helps instill a sense of confidence, support and belonging for all students. Data from the Towards Race Equity in Education report shows that Black students are more likely to drop out of school than other students.12 Studies show that this is due in part to the low expectations set by teachers, guidance counsellors and administrators.

Stereotyping and prejudice are often directed at Black students, particularly male youth, who consider staying in school more harmful to their sense of worth than leaving. “It was not that students did not understand the value of education or that parents did not understand the significance of participating in their children’s school; instead, it is that they do not find schools to be welcoming. And some of the student participants added that in schools with large numbers of Black students, the stereotypes of them seem much more pervasive, thereby contributing to a learning environment that is not conducive to academic success.”13

Educators’ ongoing critical reflection of their professional practice is crucial to positive student outcomes. Educators need to be thinking critically about who is being omitted from curriculum design, classroom culture, extracurricular programming and other learning opportunities.

The College urges all members to take its three-part Additional Qualification course on anti-Black racism for members, Anti-Black Racism Additional Qualification Guideline: Addressing Anti-Black Racism to Change Pedagogy and Practice, Part 1, Part 2 and Specialist (available through education providers beginning in the fall of 2022).

This course was created to provide opportunities for educators to self-reflect, deepen knowledge and build competencies. The course was developed collaboratively through community consultations, focused conversations and surveys with Black students, educational leaders and community members across Ontario, in both English and French, and is designed for:

  • Critically exploring and enhancing professional practices, critical pedagogies, knowledge and skills as outlined in the Anti-Black Racism Additional Qualification Guideline: Addressing Anti-Black Racism to Change Pedagogy and Practice, course (Part 1);
  • Critically designing, applying and facilitating dialogue related to learning opportunities that integrate the professional knowledge, skills and pedagogical stances as outlined in the Anti-Black Racism Additional Qualification Guideline: Addressing Anti-Black Racism to Change Pedagogy and Practice course (Part 2); and
  • Critically and collaboratively cultivating professional efficacy, emancipatory liberatory leadership practices, and advancing the scholarship of teaching by fostering cultures of critical reflection and inquiry as outlined in the Anti-Black Racism Additional Qualification Guideline: Addressing Anti-Black Racism to Change Pedagogy and Practice (Specialist).

Black students are present in school boards across Ontario and while the provincial Anti-Black Racism Strategy targets regions with large numbers of Black students, the need to implement measures to reduce and eliminate anti-Black racism is relevant in every school. Some of the initiatives being explored by school boards in the province include:

Several Catholic School Boards are also addressing anti-Black racism.

These school boards’ examples point to the need for resources that address anti-Black racism. The College is aware that a one-size-fits-all approach will not have the desired impact of enhancing educational outcomes for those impacted by anti-Black racism. It is important to understand the community context, familial circumstances and needs, and each student’s goals and dreams. Such an approach requires co-designing and developing anti-oppressive approaches that foster a sense of belonging. Students thrive when they know that they are supported by caring, understanding teachers, guidance counsellors and administrators who are responsive to their needs.

Self-reflective practice

OCTs are encouraged to hone their capacity for honest self-reflection (see A Self-Reflective Professional Learning Tool) and critical thinking about anti-Black racism by regularly engaging in the following steps:

  • Critically self-reflecting and examining how one’s position, power, privilege and advantage are used to maintain systems of oppression and colonialism and how that power, privilege and advantage can be shifted to dismantle those systems.
  • Creating safe spaces for Black students and their families to reach out to educators to discuss their academic program and well-being.
  • Actively listening to the concerns of Black students and co-developing strategies to address them as an education team.
  • Participating in conversations and research about anti-Black racism as a way to enhance understanding on the topic.
  • Developing a culture of belonging by inviting input on the types of material, readings, events and guest speakers that demonstrate a commitment to anti-oppressive, decolonial pedagogical practices.
  • Proactively denouncing incidents of racism, including anti-Black racism, when they occur in the learning environment.
  • Reducing defensiveness when issues of anti-Black racism are raised in the learning environment.
  • Engaging in affirming classroom practices that include restorative justice principles when redirecting Black students.
  • Recognizing the impact of conscious and unconscious bias in the learning environment and being actively aware of the biases and stereotypes about Black people that are brought into the learning environment.
  • Enhancing awareness of the adverse impacts of anti-Black racism by committing to learning more about the issue, and to unlearning practices and approaches that are systemically embedded and that cause harm to Black students.
  • Making efforts to actively engage with diverse communities to help enhance pedagogical practices, for example by actively engaging with diverse communities, or seeking guidance from experts in the field.
  • Learning more about Black history and the positive contributions made by people of African descent and including these learnings in the curriculum.
  • Becoming familiar with what local and other jurisdictions and school boards are doing to address anti-Black racism and considering which actions can be adopted into professional practice.

Legal and disciplinary considerations

The regulation that defines what constitutes professional misconduct in teaching has been changed to help demonstrate the College’s commitment to inclusion, diversity and addressing systemic racism. It is an important time to acknowledge that competency is required around principles of equity, diversity, inclusion and anti-racism. Ontario Regulation 437/97: Professional Misconduct, made under the Ontario College of Teachers Act, 1996, now includes “making remarks or engaging in behaviours that expose any person or class of persons to hatred on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination under Part I of the Human Rights Code.”

The prohibited grounds under the Human Rights Code include the following: “Race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability.”

This new provision applies, but is not limited to, the following circumstances:

  • Conduct occurring inside and outside the classroom;
  • Off-duty conduct;
  • Conduct or remarks made electronically;
  • Behaviour or remarks made to anyone.

According to a recent Statistics Canada report, hateful incidents are on the rise. Given the diverse population of Canada, this is cause for concern. The report identifies Black and Jewish populations as the most targeted, which further highlights the levels of stress and marginalization that Black people often face, despite their efforts to contribute meaningfully to their communities.19

OCTs are in a position of influence and trust and play a key role in creating an educational environment that supports all students. They must be seen to be impartial and tolerant.20 They must never create or contribute to a poisoned educational environment characterized by a lack of equality or intolerance.21 OCTs can be found guilty of professional misconduct if they play a role in creating a poisoned educational environment where students are likely to feel isolated and/or suffer a loss of self-esteem on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.22 Furthermore, misconduct can be established where, in the circumstances, it can be reasonably asserted that the member’s (off-duty) conduct poisoned the educational environment.23

It is important to note that intent may play a role in determining the severity of the misconduct and how it resonates with the adversely affected minority group. The perspectives and experiences of others matter. OCTs should act with the awareness that race, nationality, cultural diversity, differing faith or sexual orientation, disabilities and socioeconomic factors can affect experiences. What an educator potentially considers well-intentioned may not be experienced the same way by a student, parent, colleague or community member from Black communities. It is for this reason that OCTs should develop competency in addressing anti-Black racism and take advantage of the resources that are available to help enhance their practice. Demonstrations of impartiality and tolerance will not suffice when fostering learning environments that are inclusive and anti-oppressive. OCTs and those with power and influence must also demonstrate empathy, respect and understanding of the lived experience of students, particularly those who identify as Black. It should be noted that feelings of isolation and loss of self-esteem are but a few of the adverse impacts of anti-Black racism, which is why it is important to reinforce the serious nature of anti-Black racism and the consequences of failing to address it.

Conclusion

It is important to recognize that anti-Black racism must be addressed collaboratively by all stakeholders in the education system. Moreover, change will not occur in the education system if one is not prepared to critically self-reflect on the ways in which positions of power and privilege perpetuate and contribute to systemic racism.

The College is taking important steps to further protect students and to eradicate systemic racism. The College’s resources, including the ethical framework, the updated regulation - Ontario Regulation 437/97: Professional Misconduct, the new additional qualification course, and this professional advisory provide a basis for the ongoing development and implementation of equitable and anti-racist learning environments. Once applied and practised, enhanced educational outcomes should be the result of collective efforts to address anti-Black racism and its impact on Black students and those who care for and support them.

Resources

OCTs seeking to broaden their perspective on anti-Black racism and anti-racist approaches can also consult the following resources:

Definitions

The following websites were consulted in providing definitions for this advisory:

The definitions included here are not limited to the ones used in this advisory and includes terms you may come across in your own research and additional learning.

Anti-racism/anti-oppression:
an active and consistent process of change to eliminate individual, institutional and systemic racism as well as the oppression and injustice racism causes.
Adverse impact:
having a harmful result. Sometimes treating everyone the same will have a negative effect on some people.
African Canadian:
a Canadian of African origin or descent.
Barrier:
anything that prevents a person from fully taking part in all aspects of society, including physical, architectural, information or communications, attitudinal, economic and technological barriers, as well as policies or practices.
Bias:
a predisposition, prejudice or generalization about a group of persons based on personal characteristics or stereotypes.
Bigotry:
intolerance, negative attitudes or stereotypes related to another person’s creed, race, sexual orientation, etc.
Black:
a social construct referring to people who have dark skin colour and/or other related racialized characteristics. The term has become less of an indicator of skin colour and more of racialized characteristics. Diverse societies apply different criteria to determine who is Black.
The Canadian Press style guides are the authoritative and accepted standard for Canadian writing. The latest guide specifies capitalizing the term Black. In addition, the capitalization of this term is done to empower the Black culture, while highlighting the fact that this term was used by the larger white society to remove individual Black identity.
Colonialism/decolonization:
the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically – the notion of domination over a marginalized community. Decolonization involves efforts to interrupt and dismantle colonial power structures.
Cultural competence:
an ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures, particularly in human resources, non-profit organizations, and government agencies whose employees work with persons from different cultural/ethnic backgrounds. Cultural competence has four components:
  1. Awareness of one’s own cultural worldview;
  2. Attitude towards cultural differences;
  3. Knowledge of different cultural practices and worldviews;
  4. Cross-cultural skills (developing cultural competence results in an ability to understand, communicate with and effectively interact with people across cultures).
Decolonizing pedagogy:
making space for learners to co-create the content of the curriculum in ways that respect diversity and embrace inclusion, while actively advocating for equity of outcomes for each student.
Discrimination:
treating someone unfairly by either imposing a burden on them, or denying them a privilege, benefit or opportunity enjoyed by others, because of their race, citizenship, family status, disability, sex or other personal characteristics (note: this is not a legal definition).
Diversity:
the presence of a wide range of human qualities and attributes within an individual, group or organization. Diversity includes such factors as age, sex, race, ethnicity, physical and intellectual ability, religion, sexual orientation, educational background and expertise.
Equity:
fairness, impartiality, even-handedness. A distinct process of recognizing differences within groups of individuals and using this understanding to achieve substantive equality in all aspects of a person’s life.
Inclusion:
appreciating and using our unique differences – strengths, talents, weaknesses and frailties – in a way that shows respect for the individual and ultimately creates a dynamic multi-dimensional organization.
Inclusive education:
education that is based on the principles of acceptance and inclusion of all students. Students see themselves reflected in their curriculum, their physical surroundings, and the broader environment, in which diversity is honoured and all individuals are respected.
Individual racism:
individual racism is structured by an ideology (set of ideas, values and beliefs) that frames one’s negative attitudes towards others; and is reflected in the willful, conscious/unconscious, direct/indirect, or intentional/unintentional words or actions of individuals.
Institutional racism:
institutional racism exists in organizations or institutions where the established rules, policies, and regulations are both informed by, and inform, the norms, values, and principles of institutions. These in turn, systematically produce differential treatment of, or discriminatory practices towards, various groups based on race.
Race:
there is no such thing as race – instead, it is a “social construct.” This means that society forms ideas of race based on geographic, historical, political, economic, social and cultural factors, as well as physical traits, even though none of these can legitimately be used to classify groups of people.
Racialization:
the process by which societies construct races as real, different and unequal in ways that matter and affect economic, political and social life.
Racism:
a belief that one group is superior or inferior to others based on race. Racism can be openly displayed in racial jokes, slurs or hate crimes. It can also be more deeply rooted in attitudes, values and stereotypical beliefs. In some cases, people don’t even realize they have these beliefs. Instead, they are assumptions that have evolved over time and have become part of systems and institutions.
Stereotype:
incorrect assumption based on things like race, colour, ethnic origin, dictionaryplace of origin, religion, etc. Stereotyping typically involves attributing the same characteristics to all members of a group regardless of their individual differences. It is often based on misconceptions, incomplete information and/or false generalizations.
Systemic barrier:
a barrier embedded in the social or administrative structures of an organization, including the physical accessibility of an organization, organizational policies, practices and decision-making processes, or the culture of an organization. These may appear neutral on the surface, but exclude members of groups protected by the Human Rights Code.
Systemic discrimination:
patterns of behaviour, policies or practices that are part of the social or administrative structures of an organization, and which create or perpetuate a position of relative disadvantage for groups identified under the Human Rights Code.
Whiteness:
a dominant cultural space with enormous political significance, with the purpose to keep others on the margin.
White supremacy:
the belief that white people constitute a superior race and should therefore dominate society, typically to the exclusion or detriment of other racial and ethnic groups, in particular Black or Jewish people.24

Footnotes

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  1. theconversation.com/black-history-how-racism-in-ontario-schools-today-is-connected-to-a-history-of-segregation-147633
  2. blackhealthalliance.ca/home/antiblack-racism
  3. ontario.ca/document/data-standards-identification-and-monitoring-systemic-racism/glossary
  4. ia903104.us.archive.org/22/items/stephenlewisrepo00lewi/stephenlewisrepo00lewi.pdf
  5. Ontario’s framework for continued learning: Learn at Home Portal; Bill 48, the Safe and Supportive Classrooms Act, 2019; A Safe and Welcoming School Environment
  6. peopleforeducation.ca/our-work/a-statement-from-people-for-education-on-anti-black-racism/
  7. onabse.org/YCEC-TDSBFactSheet1.pdf
  8. ibid
  9. Education Equity Action Plan
  10. Ontario's Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy
  11. James, C.E. & Turner, T. (2017). Towards Race Equity In Education: The Schooling of Black Students in the Greater Toronto Area. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: York University
  12. edu.yorku.ca/files/2017/04/Towards-Race-Equity-in-Education-April-2017.pdf
  13. ibid
  14. ontario.ca/page/ontarios-anti-black-racism-strategy
  15. hcdsb.org/our-board/human-rights-and-equity/anti-racism/
  16. dcdsb.ca/Modules/search/index.aspx?q=anti%20black%20racism
  17. ldcsb.ca/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=1076300&type=d&pREC_ID=1372488
  18. ocdsb.ca/news/responding_to_anti-_black_racism__resources
  19. 150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2021001/article/00002-eng.htm
  20. Ross v. New Brunswick School District No. 15, [1996] 1 S.C.R. 825 at para. 111 [Ross].
  21. Ibid at para. 49.
  22. Ibid at paras. 40 and 82.
  23. Ibid at paras. 40, 41, 46, 82, 101, and 111.
  24. Google’s Oxford Languages dictionary
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