By Tazrian Alam
When my two worlds collide! As a member of Ascend Canada and the Canadian Association of Urban Financial Professionals (CAUFP), it was especially meaningful to see these two organizations shine a light on the importance of allyship between Black and Asian communities. It gave me pause, as so many of these kinds of conversations have this year, to reflect on my own journey of understanding my role as an ally.
BLACK LIVES, THEY MATTER HERE!
Personally, the BLM movement gave me the voice and language to have genuine discussions about race and bias in my own South Asian community. It would not be fair to discuss race/bias without addressing colorism – which is unfortunately cross cultural, and a form of discrimination where members of the same race are treated differently based on the shade of their skin. For example, while growing up my cousins with darker skin were told to use bleaching creams to look prettier. That type of societal preference to lighter skin is ingrained in us from childhood and it gets translated into the way we see ourselves and people around us.
That is why allyship is so important between the Black and Asian community. And it begins in our own homes – we have to practice it actively and challenge the way people in our family and social circles think before we gain the skills and tools to be an ally in public, or professionally.
DIVERSITY vs INCLUSION
It’s important that we understand the difference between diversity and inclusion, especially, in the corporate world. In our current political climate, many companies and organizations are boasting about their D&I stats. To be truly progressive, we have to recognize that diversity and inclusion are not synonymous. Being diverse shows there are BIPOC/LGBTQI people being hired. However, inclusion takes it a step further by ensuring that BIPOC/LGBTQI are not only seen around the office, but also heard and are a part of the company’s decision makers.
WHAT IS A MICRO-AGGRESSION?
For us to see change on a daily basis, we need to take a hard look at the various micro-aggressions we all face and may commit. Micro-aggressions are brief, commonplace daily verbal or behavioral indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative attitudes toward stigmatized or culturally marginalized groups. As an immigrant to Canada, I have been told, “Wow, you speak English so well” or “Were you the first to attend university in your family” or “You are the whitest sounding brown person.” These comments assume I didn’t grow up speaking English. They also assume that since I am in immigrant, I must not come from a well-educated family; and furthermore assume that speaking proper English and having strong diction is exclusive to whiteness.
I am also guilty of committing micro-aggressions and I’m embarrassed that on occasion, I have judged someone’s accent. Micro-aggressions seem harmless but it creates a doubt in others’ perceptions. They erase parts of our lived experiences and try to make us fit into a box. And we have to consciously and actively unlearn many of these assumptions that society has taught us.
We have a lot of work to do and awareness is the first step. Thank you to the panelists, Vivienne Lutwama, Fanny Chiu, Nabeel Ali, Nardia Campbell, Sarah Calaguio and Abdul-Aziz Garuba for bringing up the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement and the power of allyship.