More than a dozen people gathered at noon Friday outside of city hall for a rally in support of HRM workers of African descent.
Raymond Sheppard, who organized and led the rally, spoke on behalf of the workers who say they are the target of anti-Black racist bullying, microaggressions, and double standards by white HRM management.
“In this so-called enlightened year of 2022, workers of African descent say they are stereotyped, they are mistrusted, they suffer from racial taunts, they are blamed for stealing, and they’re hurting,” Sheppard said over a loudspeaker. “But it seems that there are selective ears. And even the policies are suspect because it allows this crap to continue.”
“They are hurting. And the hierarchy of HRM says, ‘Well, we’re going to try to do something about this.’ Well, we’ve heard that before, haven’t we? And, unfortunately, if it didn’t work then, you have to put some proactivity behind it to make it work now.”
Sheppard had a meeting with members of upper management in HRM two weeks ago where he suggested cultural competency training that he said goes further than diversity training. He told the Halifax Examiner the city should keep track of race-based data in order to know where discrepancies lie in terms of hiring practices and disciplinary actions between Blacks and whites.
“Equally, if there’s something that is working for them in terms of people of African descent, then they can highlight that, too,” Sheppard said.
“But in their documentation online, it says, about the International Decade for People of African Descent, ‘We have to do this, and we have to do that, and respect African people,’ and so on and so on. Well, although that sounds good on paper, it is not reflected in the daily realities of persons of African descent based on what they have shared with me over a period of time.”
In a statement last week, Caroline Blair-Smith, deputy chief administrative officer of HRM Corporate Services, said HRM takes allegations of racism and discrimination very seriously and is “committed to taking meaningful steps to address these concerns.”
As an organization, we have taken numerous strides in recent years to improve our resources, training, and policies across the organization, so as to raise awareness of the racialized issues and adversity faced by African Nova Scotians and those of African descent and combat the ongoing barriers to equity and inclusion still present within our communities and our organization. We also acknowledge that much work still needs to be done and we remain committed to addressing anti-Black racism.
In a separate statement to the Examiner, Halifax Mayor Mike Savage wrote, in part:
Concerns from an unknown number of Black employees about racism in their workplaces have been brought to my attention through a third party acting in an advocacy role. These concerns were shared by my office with senior administrative leaders responsible for Human Resources and Diversity and Inclusion. Like me, they believe this matter warrants serious attention and they have taken steps to learn more about the issues raised by the employees.
A number of other people spoke at the rally, including Black Halifax activist Kate MacDonald.
“We’re arguing with people who are not invested in our best interest and that is very painful, as we’ve been experiencing,” said MacDonald.
MacDonald suggested a walkout as a possible means to have employers like HRM “feel our absence.”
“If we all walked out, the labour of African Nova Scotian folks and folks of African descent continues to make this city go around, and when we walk out of spaces and remove ourselves, very little happens,” she said.
Sheppard also spoke at the rally about intergenerational pain that gets passed down in the Black community.
“In the back of my mind I think in terms of what’s happening in the United States where people walk into a place of employment and schools with a semi-automatic gun because they’re traumatized and they’re suffering from mental health issues, so they say, and they kill 25, 30 people. What if that were to happen here because of intergenerational pain and trauma that we face and is being added to on a daily basis?” said Sheppard.
The Examiner also spoke last week with several anonymous HRM workers of African descent and their co-workers who corraborated their claims.
None of the workers at the rally wanted to speak on the record other than one worker who confirmed a meeting was held the previous day between several workers and members of HRM management. They said that they felt the meeting wasn’t very constructive.
“I think that this kind of commitment to each other and showing up in this way is still necessary and vital to be disruptive,” MacDonald said, “and that’s really what it’s about, disrupting people’s day, disrupting people’s soundwaves, disrupting this space and having space together.”