By Jackie Graves
Photo provided by: Allison Hector-Alexander
“My place of privilege is that I am able-bodied, I am educated, I am employed, and I'm able to be in a safe and a warm place during all of this. But I also identify as a Black woman and identify as a Black woman who is a mother and who has experienced racism. And so it's important for me to position myself in this conversation.”
This is how Allison Hector-Alexander, director of the office of Student Diversity, Inclusions and Transitions at Durham College (DC) started her interview.
Hector-Alexander has been an active voice on race at DC, regularly accepting interviews from journalism students on the subject. She and colleague, Ashley Marshall, started the Black Student Success Network at the college to support students of colour.
Video by: Shanelle Somers
The discussion of our recent interview focused on current events surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement and the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who was suffocated by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin who kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
This, along with the killings of many other Black people, has sparked global outrage, with many taking to social media and even protesting police brutality in both Canada and the U.S.
On June 1, tear gas canisters were heard exploding near the White House. Attorney general William Barr told security to move a group of peaceful protestors away from the area as the president had a planned visit to a local church.
Both security and police then began moving protestors away forcefully, even going as far as to use tear gas on them.
Prime minister Justin Trudeau was asked the following day at a press conference about the incident and took a long pause. He then responded without mentioning Trump by name.
“We all watch in horror and consternation what’s going in the United States. It is a time to pull people together, but it is a time to listen, it is a time to learn what injustices continue despite progress over years and decades. But it is a time for us as Canadians to recognize that we too have our challenges, that black Canadians and racialized Canadians face discrimination as a lived reality every single day.”
While some criticized the prime minister’s response, other government officials also weighed in on the conversation. Hector-Alexander pointed out that Ontario premier Doug Ford’s response that Canada is “different than the U.S.” -- adding that the Canada doesn’t have “systemic, deep roots” in racism -- fails to address the problem.
“In Canada, we do very subtle and indirect racism,” says Hector-Alexander. “We don't even need to get to talking about Black people's experiences, we can just talk about Indigenous experiences. We can talk about colonization and all of those pieces that go with it.”
Hector-Alexander says racism in Canada can look like not being offered a seat at the table, feeling you don’t belong, and other microaggressions based on skin colour or accent.
“I remember when I first came here and having a first experience of racism. It just floored me,” she says. “I remember sitting in a classroom and somebody missed, I don't remember if it was their wallet? And immediately turned around and started asking the young Black man at the back of the room.”
Hector-Alexander says the conversations and movement happening online is a good start, but it hasn’t been without its negativity. She says as a mother raising two young Black boys, the subject is “heavy” for her.
“For the first couple of days I couldn't take my eyes away from the news, right? I stopped since then because I know it's not good for me,” she says. “I'll see people making fun and turning this into a challenge where men kneel on each other's neck because it's a joke. It reminds me that there isn't a value placed on my life, on my children's life and my partner's life.”
Not everyone on social media has welcomed the recent uprising and discussion about Black lives, often using the hashtag “all lives matter” instead.
“We haven't always named things by its name. We’re actually talking about anti-Black racism,” she says. “ I struggle a bit where people say: ‘Well, people are protesting and that is not how they should do it.’ And I said, well, historically here's what we've done and it hasn't worked. We talked about it for a bit and then we go silent until the next person dies.”
Hector-Alexander encourages those who are in support of the movement to make a commitment to do more than just talk, but to also take action.
“There has to be a noun and a verb. Action doesn't necessarily have to be visible action, it could be, the people who've checked in with me, who are my white colleagues, just to say: ‘How are you?’” she says, adding people need to “call out” racist, sexist and other derogatory behaviour.
Hector Alexander says being a good ally requires conversation, sometimes even if it occasionally requires being “uncomfortable.”
“We're asking our allies, in this particular situation our white allies to connect with us, to see you're recognizing that there's part of my identity that is hurting right now,” she says. “There is a responsibility to call out anti-black racism in your circles [and] responding when nobody's looking.”