58 days ago today, George Floyd died brutally in the United States. This tragic event, although far from being the first of its kind, has aroused a resounding rage among the world's population and has given a huge boost to the fight against racism.

In 2020, a vast majority of us agree that it is everyone's duty to uphold and protect human rights and to demonstrate equality. Unfortunately, the reality is far from being so utopian and racism is an issue that is not likely to disappear any time soon. Acknowledging the existence of the problem brings us a little closer to the solution, but it is not enough. We must all act to eliminate the gap that exists between humans because let's be very clear: skin colours exist, but human races in the plural do not exist. There is only one human race, made up of an incredible diversity of physical and cultural characteristics.

So, 58 days later, what do we hold on to? We are at a point in history where we have to find a balance between education and standardization. It is essential that we continue to talk about racism in order to break down the barriers that stand in the way of the people who are victims of these behaviours... without creating an inordinate distinction between people based on their skin colour. We must recognize the privileges and obstacles present in our society while remembering that the ultimate goal is uniformity of rights and opportunities for all.

Solios does not pretend to be an expert on the subject, but we want to share the results of our research and internal discussions in order to advance this debate that affects us all.

Black lives matter protest in montreal, no justice no peace sign.
Photographer: Rolande PG | Source: Unsplash

Racism: a global issue that extends far beyond the borders of the United States

The United States is often singled out because, as a developed country that claims to be an egalitarian nation, systemic racism is still extremely entrenched in many states. However, we must not forget that what we see on the news about discrimination in their country is unfortunately also experienced closer to home.

In our native multicultural Montreal, injustices related to racism take many forms and are a problem experienced daily by many. Systemic racism is present in our societal structure, and very few measures are put in place to counter these biases and social barriers. Whether we are talking about racial profiling or barriers related to immigration, our system is not equal for all, despite what we would like to believe.

Several major factors explain this phenomenon, but the two elements that seem to come up most often in discussions are the lack of networks and the absence of family heritage. If the Black community had the same access to decision-makers and the best jobs, and if they benefited from the same transfer of heritage descending from several generations, the economic gaps observed would be visibly reduced. A temporary shift to affirmative action would, therefore, be necessary to increase the presence of Black people in economically more advantageous jobs in order to achieve equality. This is a practice already in place to break the glass ceiling for women, and would also apply in this context.

In a multicultural society such as the one we live in, in Montreal, we have an extraordinary opportunity to become a model for the world by applying true concepts of equity and equality to our daily lives. The contribution of everyone's varied cultural background creates a reality of cultural communities in the plural that is almost unparalleled anywhere else in the world. We are fortunate to live in such a diverse society. But how can an entire community revolutionize its practices and inspire the world? These changes come through its members, its citizens, and its businesses.

We invite you to learn about these issues from wherever you live in the world.

Canada: Some Local Facts and Stats

  • In 2015, a Black man was paid on average $16,000 less than other men (a similar difference of $9,000 for women). In other words, being black in Canada means earning 26% less on average.
  • In 2016, the unemployment rate was almost twice as high amongst Black people (10.2%) as the average for the general population was (6%).
  • In Canada, Blacks have a graduation rate compared to the rest of the population: 27.6% had a post-secondary degree in 2016, compared to 29.7% in the rest of the population. Education alone, therefore, does not explain the differences in wages.
  • In 2016, a Black woman was almost twice as likely as others - 19.6% instead of 10.9% - to be a victim of unfair treatment or discrimination at work.
« I want to live ». Photo taken during a Black Lives matter protest in Paris

What actions can we take in our daily lives?

1. Learn about your own privilege

By recognizing your own advantages, you will be better able to identify the actions you need to take in your daily life to allow those around you to have equal access to the same opportunities as you.

The article on Global Citizen's privilege explains the difficulty of this reflection and offers us a few steps to follow to guide us in this process.

2. Reflect on your knowledge and achievements

The basis of your knowledge on the subject was most likely established a long time ago. It is important in today's context to question your views about racism and the messages you received as a child. Also, take the time to examine the picture of diversity where you live. What stereotypes do you tend to believe and/or practice, despite all your goodwill?

The PBS platform that accompanies their acclaimed documentary "Race: The Power of Illusion" is a good source of information about the social structure of racism in North America.

Le Petit Guide pour Combattre le Racisme au Québec, written by the Mouvement d'Éducation Populaire et d'Action Communautaire du Québec, is a fairly detailed French-language resource that also provides several possible solutions.

3. Recognizing the existence and impact of racism

Emphasizing the reality and importance of the experiences of others is a step in itself towards the elimination of racism. The best way to understand discrimination is to listen to the people who have experienced it. It is also crucial to have "difficult" conversations with those around you in order to move the debate forward and to educate people who are less familiar with the issue. We should not be afraid of these debates about racial injustice, because ignorance and recklessness are the main behaviours that ensure the persistence of the phenomenon.

Read these four stories of racism identified by the United Nations that describe the variety of problems experienced around the world.

4. Concretely opposing racist actions

Do not remain silent when witnessing racist behaviour or comments. This type of attitude is indirectly recognized and accepted when it is not contested. As individuals and as a society, we must challenge any discriminatory actions or practices and try to educate those who discriminate in order to challenge and change their position on the issue.

5. Focus on educational entertainment

The history of blacks and racism has been told over and over again in many different ways. When looking for a movie or book to spend a quiet evening, try to include one of the following works to take advantage of these diversionary moments to learn more about the issue.

22 film and documentary suggestions

Five book suggestions

6. Getting involved in the community

If you have some free time that you would like to devote to a cause that is close to your heart, we strongly encourage you to do so. You can try to directly contact organizations that you have personally identified and that are in line with your values or go through volunteer recruitment platforms.

Here is a list of organizations that participated in the Public Consultation on Systemic Discrimination and Racism in Quebec to which you could offer your support.

La Vie Des Noir.e.s Compte / Black Lives Matter painted on the streets of Montreal.
Photographer: Martin Reisch | Source: Unsplash

Where does Solios fit into all this?

We're doing our best. As a small company in its second year of existence, our financial and human resources are very limited to tackle a major problem such as this one. However, as an active member of the Montreal and global community, we recognize that, like any other business, we have a responsibility to provide equal opportunities to all people, regardless of the colour of their skin. It is our duty to recognize the inequalities that exist in the society in which we operate and to put an end to them by putting into practice clear policies of inclusion within the company, as well as by using our corporate voice to educate our community on the subject.

Briefly, but concretely :

  1. Following the massive movement that began following the tragic murder of George Floyd, Solios joined several petitions and made a donation to the Black lives Matter Canada foundation in their fight for equality, as we sincerely believe that the current level of protest could lead to major changes in our society;
  2. As of March 2020, all new Solios employees must complete diversity, equity, and inclusion training as part of their integration process into the company. All current Solios employees have also received the training retroactively ;
  3. We have put in place various social policies within the company in order to make our employees and partners aware of our corporate values and to establish a formal framework that guides our actions and corporate decisions regarding our human resources management and recruitment practices ;
  4. Solios is committed to doubling the amount of donations made by its employees to the cause of their choice related to this issue;
  5. We have acquired new books, films, and documentaries on the subject of discrimination and racism that have been made available to our employees to help them in their personal efforts to educate themselves on the subject.

The importance of being informed: Understanding the Multitudes of Concepts and Nuances

By doing our own research on the subject and by talking to people in our community, we have realized that many of us are aware of the problem of discrimination and racism, and many of us even discuss the problem openly, but sometimes we note a certain lack of understanding of the realities that form the basic foundation of this major societal issue. So let us conclude by reviewing three key concepts that will help many of us understand the roots of racial discrimination and the inconsistencies in our societal system.

1. The origin of the colour of our skin

2. Racial profiling

3. The distinction between equity, equality, and privilege

The role of evolution in our skin colour

Variations in human skin colour are adaptive traits that are closely related to geography, ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, and the principle of evolution. The first humans settled in places where they could survive, and therefore with sufficient warmth and access to water. Over time, in order to stay cool, the human body adapted by increasing the number of sweat glands on the skin while reducing the amount of body hair. But this less hairy skin was a problem because it was exposed to very strong sunlight, especially in lands near the equator. Since strong sun exposure damages the body, the solution was to develop darker skin permanently to protect against the sun's more harmful rays. Melanin, a brown pigment in the skin, is a natural sunscreen that protects people in tropical and southern climates from the many harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) rays. However, when a certain amount of UV rays penetrate the skin, it helps the human body use vitamin D to absorb the calcium needed to build strong bones. This delicate balance explains why people who have migrated to colder geographic areas with less sunshine have developed lighter skin colour. As people moved to areas further from the equator with lower UV levels, natural selection favoured lighter skin that allowed UV rays to penetrate and produce vitamin D. The darker skin of people who lived closer to the equator was important in preventing folate deficiency. A third factor affects skin colour: people living along the coast who have diets rich in seafood benefit from this alternative source of vitamin D. This means that some Arctic peoples, such as the indigenous peoples of Alaska and Canada, can afford to keep their skin dark even in areas of low UV radiation. In summer, they receive high levels of UV radiation reflected from the surface of snow and ice, and their dark skin protects them from this reflected light.

For more information: https://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/genetics/human-skin-color-variation

What is racial profiling

The Montréal Police Department defines racial profiling as "any action taken by a person or persons in authority with respect to a person or group of persons, for reasons of safety, security or protection of the public, that is based on factors such as race, colour, ethnic or national origin or religion, without any real reason or reasonable suspicion, and that has the effect of exposing the person to examination or differential treatment. Racial profiling also includes any action by persons in a position of authority who disproportionately apply a measure to segments of the population because of their actual or presumed racial, ethnic, national, or religious affiliation."

For example, a dark-skinned person driving a luxury car in certain neighbourhoods of the city is much more likely to be stopped by the police and asked why they are driving that car. In this situation, the decision to question the driver is regularly due to racial profiling, when there is no other reason to stop the driver.

Fairness, equality, and privilege

Equity is about understanding people and giving them what they need to thrive and move forward. It is different from equality, which is based on the willingness to give the same thing to all people so that they can grow. Like equity, equality is about promoting justice, but equality can only be achieved if all people start from the same starting point and have the same needs. In other words, it is the approach of treating each individual, each group, fairly, taking into account their particular characteristics in order to place them on an equal footing. It is opposed to uniformity in the systematic application of a standard without taking into account the differences and diversity of society. Equity, therefore, refers to equal access to the same opportunities.

The privilege we refer to in the subject of discrimination, therefore, encompasses all the advantages that some people (but not all) are fortunate enough to have in their access to opportunities in society. Being privileged is not a bad thing in itself, but it is important to recognize that we are not all equally privileged and that some are much more privileged than others. By recognizing this difference, we can then apply the principles of equity, which will eventually lead to equality for all! In an ideal world, therefore, we aspire to a world where privilege as described above would no longer exist, and everyone would be on an equal footing.

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