‘Unlearning Anti-Blackness’ workshop gives non-black people tools to become better allies

Workshop teaches a history of black discrimination in Canada to aid in understanding systems of oppression


Reported by Christina Dommer

Correction March 22, 2019: An earlier version of this story used the wrong pronouns to refer to Cicely Blain. Blain uses the pronouns they, them, theirs. 

A growing number of people are interested in the Black Lives Matter movement in Vancouver and want to know how they can be allies, says a member of the Vancouver chapter.

Cicely Blain, who is also a workplace consultant for racial issues, said that many people consume stereotypes about black people in American media that causes them to “exotify” the black community. The unconscious bias created by these stereotypes leads to the exclusion of black voices.

“They have this very, like, stereotyped image of a black person, and therefore, they don’t know how to relate to you,” Blain said, who uses they, them, theirs pronouns. “That has deeper consequences, especially in the workplace, because of the belief that you’re less capable or less equipped or less intelligent as well.”

Blain co-organized a workshop on March 13 called ‘Unlearning Anti-Blackness’ to educate people about anti-black racism in Vancouver and how they can be allies.

Addressing and understanding one’s unconscious bias and making sure to include black voices are important steps people can take to combat discrimination, Blain said.

Avoiding assumptions based on stereotypes is also important, they said. Blain said they’re often asked if they can rap or twerk, or if someone can touch their hair.

Ivan Leonce, who co-organized the workshop with Blain, has experienced more overt forms of discrimination.

“This usually happens at street clubs, like, white guy, white guy, white guy goes in, like, same jacket, everything, and I go in, let’s do a pat-down. Like to me, that’s like a clear example of profiling,” he said.

‘We want them to feel empowered’

Blain said that they hope the workshop doesn’t come across as a lecture shaming non-black participants.

“I think there’s a lot of people who are very compassionate and they care a lot about trying to end racism, but they don’t really know, like, the larger historical context. Especially within a Canadian context,” Blain said.

Blain and co-organizer Ivan Leonce used a timeline of Canadian black history to help people understand what anti-blackness looks like in Canada. The timeline gives special attention to the destruction of Hogan’s Alley, a once predominantly black neighbourhood in Vancouver that was cleared to make way for the Georgia viaduct in the 1960s, effectively destroying the community.

Artist and writer Alli Hayes, who attended the workshop, said she came to gain a better understanding of black history in Vancouver.

“The ongoing conversation about appropriation really resonates with me,” Hayes said.

She said she understands the issues are complex and aren’t easily resolved.

“It’s something that isn’t fixed overnight,” she said.

Blain said they hope the workshops give participants the confidence to speak out when they see racism.

“We want them to feel empowered and inspired to do something about it,” Blain said.

Blain and Leonce will host the workshop again on March 28 and April 11.

Watch the video to hear a discussion of examples of microaggressions. 

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