Anti-Black Racism is in the News: Addressing Short and Long-term Challenges

Shelley Silva and Naki Osutei

Earlier today, TD announced its support for a number of organizations in Canada and the U.S. that support Black communities. We sat down with Naki Osutei and Shelley Sylva, who lead our Social Impact teams in Canada and the U.S. respectively, to get some additional perspective.

These aren't the typical groups that come to mind when one thinks of combating discrimination and anti-Black racism. You've both been heavily involved in the selection process. Can you provide some additional context and help us understand what motivated you and the Bank?

Naki: The events of the past few weeks have been tragic. Yet they have led to a new level of awareness: people and institutions around the world are recognizing that race has informed the ways that different people experience societal structures, systems and institutions. You see it in poverty statistics, in the imbalances of our legal systems, and even in the way news is prioritized and covered.

Therefore, in addition to organizations whose mandates are directly addressing the immediate impacts of anti-Black racism, today we announced support for organizations whose work can help drive systemic change in influential segments such as journalism, the law and finance and help elevate voices and representation in areas critical to our lives. These organizations are helping us better understand how anti-Black racism has directly led to inequitable experiences and negative impacts; drive greater representation of Black professionals in their respective fields; and, influence changes to policies and practices to actively undo the impacts of anti-Black racism.

Shelley: We have a crisis within a crisis in Black communities. When large-scale events occur in our country, they hurt millions and can cause enormous pain. For Black and other vulnerable communities, these events cause extreme devastation. We think back to the financial crisis in 2008 and the disproportionate number of Blacks who lost jobs, homes and health care. Or Hurricane Katrina and the severe economic and social impacts on the Black communities, much of it still lingering a decade and a half later. With COVID-19, the impact to Black communities will likely be immeasurable. When a dual health and economic crisis like COVID hits, the impact is immediate and profound. Unemployment rises faster. Homelessness grows. Infections and deaths are significantly above the norm. These are the underlying consequences of systemic racism.

The organizations we chose to support are helping people right now. We are providing support to Historical Black Colleges (HBCUs), which are often severely underfunded and therefore unprepared to absorb the sudden financial shock of the pandemic. The funds we have provided will support their COVID emergency plan and will go directly to their students, helping them continue on the path of higher education. In addition, we provided funding to the Black Doctors COVID 19 Consortium, who are taking testing into Black communities, to ensure that everyone has access to COVID testing.

The events of the last few weeks seem to have sparked a different kind of reaction than what we've seen in the past. Millions of people of every background are deeply moved and seem to be more determined than ever to help eradicate racism. What's different this time?

Naki: The metaphor popularized in the wake of COVID-19, 'we're all in the same ocean but not the same boat', can be extended to explain society at large: different racial groups all live in the same world, but have very different experiences walking through it. The confluence of COVID-19 keeping everyone at home and looking at their screens (television and social media) paired with a succession of highly visible acts of violence against unarmed Black people has meant that these images have been inescapable for people who haven't previously had to really sit with them. What millions of people are seeing today has been the reality for millions of us for a very long time. This understanding has gone viral in a way I have not seen before. I remain optimistic that we can see a change provided we, as a society, pair our outrage with introspection, accountability and action. Changing the reality for Black people and other equity-seeking communities means taking time to understand the systemic root causes, having uncomfortable conversations, learning and challenging our beliefs – about society and about ourselves – and being unafraid to speak up and take actions that drive systemic change.

Shelley: The events of the last few weeks have jolted the world into acknowledging that racism is a systemic problem that must be tackled. I, like many, Blacks have lived my entire life knowing that racism exists and had had to navigate through it every day. Being an ally is important but will no longer be enough. Scholars and activists alike are calling for "anti-racism", which has been defined as an active and conscious effort to work against the multi-dimensional aspects of racism. The work that needs to be done is not solely about justice and equality, some cities and states are declaring racism as a public health crisis, to allocate the funds and resources that this crisis demands. I am personally encouraged by the growing recognition that there is much work that needs to be done to address systemic racism across society and that it will take active, consistent and energetic efforts of us all to make progress.

The work ahead is not easy. It will take perseverance and courage. We look forward to sitting down again soon to expand on some of the topics and issues you've raised.

Naki, Shelley, thank you for taking the time to speak with us.


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