Racism can be described with a spectrum ideology, going from subtle forms of discrimination to explicit discrimination (Corneau & Stergiopoulos, 2012).
There are three main forms of racism: individual, institutional, and cultural racism (Corneau & Stergiopoulos, 2012). Individual is defined by prejudicial behaviour toward racial groups, institutional is where racism is legitimized through social exclusion within social institutions, and cultural racism is the values and beliefs engraved in our common sense, which embraces white culture over others (Corneau & Stergiopoulos, 2012). Systemic racism is often due to hidden biases in policies, practices, and processes that aim to privilege certain groups of people and disadvantage the rest of society (Government of Canada, 2017). Racialization not only focuses on skin colour discrimination, characteristics such as culture, language, customs, ancestry or religion can be used to ‘other’ individuals and groups (Government of Canada, 2017).
The anti-racism framework involves the retaliation against practices and behaviours within the individual, cultural, and institutional sectors in society that embody racism (Government of Ontario, 2017; Corneau & Stergiopoulos, 2012). As a part of retaliation, constant monitoring and assessment of policies and programs are required to ensure they promote equality for everyone (Government of Canada, 2017). This framework differs from the multicultural or cultural competence frameworks, the anti-racism principles encourage service workers to acknowledge that racism runs deep into systems and maintains power struggles between groups through societal structures (Government of Ontario, 2017).
Six Principles of the Anti-Racism Framework (Corneau & Stergiopoulos, 2012)
From a strengths-based perspective, racialized groups have their own strengths, including supportive families, spiritual practices, and belief systems. To empower is to help individuals/families gain more control over their lives, by meeting their needs, revealing their voices, and providing them with the tools to allow them to have a strong and positive identity. Another component of empowerment is allowing community members to have input in the programs and services they are receiving. Staff create plans in correlation with service users to best fit their cultural systems. ECRC staff also empowers service users by building capacity to increase individual’s knowledge and resources needed to make changes within their own lives and within the community.
Education about race, racism, and white privilege are vital in the anti-racism framework. Staff at ECRC create awareness around social inequities, by delivering targeted programming, and raising awareness through social media posts. Within the Strength to Be (STB) program, youth are taught about the systemic and interpersonal forms of racism. Youth are also taught about how to make a change by not accepting racism and fighting back for equality for all.
Building community partnerships and coalitions with oppressed groups is important in changing perceptions, racist discourses and practices at individual, institutional, and cultural levels. At ECRC staff reflect the population they serve, the agency represents the diverse population we serve from the board level who share their input based on the community they represent. Within the Indigenous Traditional parenting program lessons are taught by an Indigenous person, and within the NISW program the NISW workers share similar experiences to the families they are working with.
To work from an anti-racism perspective, language that does not stigmatize or recreate oppressive forms of power is vital. The ability to develop strong relationships and connections is crucial to eliminating barriers and distance between service users and staff. At ECRC staff can relate to service users, whether through culture or life experiences, this often allows staff to see things from the service user’s perspective. Within programming staff are also aware of what language they use to ensure that they are not being degraded or excluded. For example, in the counselling intake form, questions are inclusive and worded in a respectful matter to take into consideration how intake questions may negatively or positively impact service users.
Advocacy, social justice/activism
Advocacy focuses on allowing individuals to make free and informed choices. Advocacy consists of three main components, advising, assisting, and supporting. Within the anti-racism framework, advocacy for minority populations who are marginalized and oppressed is crucial. At ECRC community members are always encouraged to make their own decision, while the staff informs them of their choices. For example, ECRC’s counselling programs work from a person centered approach, and community members are guided to determine their own decisions. Working from this perspective allows the community to tap into their existing capacity for self-actualization. If service users cannot advocate on their own, ECRC staff are there to support them through any advocacy process, if not they are referred to another agency that can advocate on the service users behalf.
Self-awareness and examination are essential in understanding the role one has in society’s oppressive system. It is important to note that without individual change, institutional, and cultural changes become harder to achieve, therefore, one’s social location and position is necessary in pursuing social justice and inclusion. ECRC attend training workshops on inclusivity, anti-racism, cultural competency, and much more. These workshops allow staff to constantly update their work practices, ethics, and self-awareness in order to better serve service users. ECRC staff also attend weekly debrief meetings to share information and resources with one another. Within debrief meetings staff are often confronted with any of their possible biases they present within practice and they are given different perspectives from their co-workers.
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Corneau, S. & Stergiopoulos, V. (2012). More than being against it: Anti-racism and antioppression in mental health services. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1363461512441594 Government of Canada (2017).
A Better Way Forward: Ontario’s 3 Year Anti-Racism Strategic Plan. Retrieved from https://www.ontario.ca/page/better-way-forward-ontarios-3-yearanti-racism-strategic-plan York University (2010).
Research Snapshot Summarize Mobilize: Anti-racism is an important approach for social workers to use with members of diverse ethnoracial communities. Retrieved from https://yorkspace.library.yorku.ca/xmlui/handle/10315/29201