March 21 is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It is a day observed at VHA Home HealthCare (VHA) and around the world to focus attention on the harmful effects of racism and the need to foster racial harmony. This day was founded by the United Nations (UN) in 1966 to mark a tragic event that took place on March 21, 1960 in Sharpeville, South Africa. On that day, 69 peaceful demonstrators were killed during a protest against apartheid. Canada was one of the first countries to endorse this UN initiative and join the annual campaign against racial discrimination. This year’s theme is: Youth Standing Against Racism, #FightRacism. It calls on each and everyone of us to stand up against racial prejudice and intolerant attitudes.
In a statement to observe this day, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay said, “The massacre in Sharpeville represents a much wider tragedy: We mark its anniversary to remember also the millions of people around the world who are still, today, victims of racism and racial discrimination.”
At VHA, we embrace diversity and take active steps to address challenges that arise through racial discrimination and to create a culture of acceptance within our community. We know that we must set an example, both at the workplace and in the broader society, by our words and acts. We acknowledge that prejudice still very much exists in our lives today and understand that there are unique hardships and difficulties that Black, Indigenous and People of Colour continue to face. Indeed, we know that COVID-19 has more harshly impacted those from minority groups and that recent world events have triggered an alarming rise in xenophobia, racism and intolerance.
On this day, and every day, we stand in protest against racial injustice and in support of equal rights for all. We also applaud the contributions of the anti-discrimination advocates and join our voices together to #FightRacism. Join VHA is spreading awareness by taking a picture using the hashtag #FightRacism.
“As part of the Anti-Black Racism Action group, my goal is to educate VHA staff to be allies in the workplace and in their community work. Being an ally requires that we work to unlearn our implicit biases, recognize microaggressions in the fight against racism, and educate ourselves on how to best support our coworkers that encounter racial injustices. It is also about educating ourselves on systemic racism, and understanding how it leads to social and economic inequities, low employment rates, and the negative impacts it has on the physical and mental health of those around us. While this campaign is a great way to verbally commit to the fight against racism, being an ally takes continuous work. So lets commit to learning, listening, standing up and speaking out!”
— Banu Sundaralingam, Professional Practice Specialist and Educator
“As a lawyer licensing candidate who is fairly new at VHA, it is apparent through working with different departments that diversity and inclusivity is at the heart of VHA’s work ethics. This day serves as a reminder that we must fight oppression and racial inequality in all forms on a daily basis.”
— Aisha Hosany, Student in VHA’s Legal Department
“As a social worker and lawyer licensing candidate at VHA, in the short time I have been here, I can see that VHA’s employees, management, and those they serve have been having difficult but necessary conversations around diversity and racism. These conversations, ensure a more inclusive environment for all. March 21st is a reminder that these conversations are ongoing and that there is always space for further improvement and growth.”
—Kiran Litt, Student in VHA’s Legal Department
“I have been so inspired to witness the recent calls around the world for racial equity, diversity and inclusion. I am proud of the many people who are speaking out and advocating for change. This is a first step, but the momentum must continue. There is still so much work to be done. We must consciously recognize the intolerance, inequality, and systemic injustice. Only then can we start to break down barriers and re-build a society that is founded on acceptance and celebrates diversity. As an ally, I am committed to learning, understanding, and empowering this change wherever and however I can. I stand up to intolerance #Fight Racism.
Despite the long and hard work still ahead, at VHA, we are already on our way with our very special, wonderfully diverse and accepting staff community. We live and breathe the message of inclusivity and set an example for others to follow. I am so very proud to be part of the VHA family and encourage others to see the beauty that comes when we look beyond race and accept one other as individuals.”
—Lauren Black, General Counsel and Privacy Officer
“I want to start by saying, I absolutely love my job. Getting to see different clients daily is like going on a new adventure each day, but seeing some familiar faces. Seeing the smiles on my clients’ faces when I assist them with their daily necessities is a wonderful feeling. However, there are times when I am not received and treated fairly due to the colour of my beautiful brown skin. Those are the times when I feel disappointed that in this day and age Black people are discriminated against, racially profiled and get hatred spewed at us.
Being racially profiled is even more disheartening when it comes from people who should know better because of their wealth of life and work experiences. Overtime, I have learned to build walls against some of the vile rhetoric spewed against me, but, it gets really tiring at times.
My hope for every day and not just this day as we celebrate The International Day against Racial Discrimination is that we can all work together in safe spaces and continue to have discussions, make positive changes towards the inclusion and equitable treatment of all peoples no matter our race, class, creed or sexual orientation.” —Andrea Lindsay, PSW Coach
Systemic discrimination is the result of prejudicial stereotypes that become “normalized” by the institutions that propagate them. The result is to maintain barriers and promote unconscious bias. In many cases, a person’s unconscious bias is so deep seeded that they simply cannot acknowledge or recognize it. Indeed, it may even be contradictory to their conscious values. This is why having the conversation is so important. We must continue to raise awareness of discrimination and call it out at every point. Only when we as a society are open to truly listening can we begin to understand and then make the needed changes.
Here is the story of one institution that did just that. Ultimately recognizing its prejudicial acts, it first sought to correct the situation and is now seeking to improve:
Crayola began making crayons in 1903. At first, it had only 8 colours but over time it added many more to its collection. In 1949, it introduced the “flesh” colour which was a pinky tone similar to the skin colours of Crayola’s founders.
By 1962, in the middle of the civil rights movement, to avoid an unintended backlash, Crayola changed the name of its “flesh” coloured crayon to “peach”.
In 2003, upon its 100th anniversary, Crayola launched its “colours of the world” pack. This edition introduced 24 new crayon colours specially formulated to represent the many different skin tones of people from around the world.
Crayola announced its purpose was to “increase representation and foster a greater sense of belonging and acceptance”. The effect of taking this action allows children from all backgrounds and ethnicities to find the shade of their choice and to feel included and recognized while expressing themselves through art.