By Jeanne Javinal, Multicultural Mentorship Committee (MMC)

Embracing cultural diversity can improve our lives in many ways. However, having a different culture and language can be challenging. This might range from being misunderstood by others or feeling unrepresented, to experiencing straight-up racial abuse.

While you might not experience these challenges personally, there are many ways you can support the people in your life who may face discrimination or racism. Showing support for others means you are an ally, which is an important part of being a good friend, but it can also have a broader effect in creating a fairer society for all.

Stand Up Against Discrimination
The first thing that might spring to mind when you think about being an ally to people from different cultural backgrounds is the big, bold move of standing up to someone who is being racist. This is great if you feel confident, know what to do and say, and feel safe doing so. But these situations can be intimidating and it’s normal not to know how to react.

1. Remain calm:
• Ask them why they have that point of view.
• Offer them an alternative perspective.
• Show empathy for the person experiencing racism.
• This might help the person who is being racist to see that the person they are targeting.
• If necessary, consider making notes on, or recording, the incident and reporting it to the police.

2. Speak up against casual racism:
The most common form of racism isn’t in the form of obvious abuse. Known as ‘casual racism’, this is race-based assumptions and ‘jokes’ that happen in day-to-day life. For example, comments like ‘But all Asians do this…’ or ‘Your English is so good!’ make assumptions about a person based on their race.

Someone experiencing these comments might just laugh them off, even if they feel uncomfortable. This might be because they don’t want to create conflict or don’t feel safe in speaking up. You can support them and create a safe environment for them to be able to speak up against casual racism.

Remember that context is important in these situations. Two people asking each other about their cultural background and family history can be a way to connect, even if that first question of ‘Where are you from?’ might seem racist. If everyone involved seems comfortable and engaged, it’s a positive experience for all.

3. Open the conversation:
You might prefer to offer your support in a less confrontational setting by having a one-on-one chat with your friend if you’ve witnessed them being targeted or know they’ve been targeted in the past. Let them know that you’re on their side and that you think the racism they’ve experienced is wrong. Racism can make someone feel humiliated, threatened and alone, so knowing that you’re on their side can help your friend feel supported.

4. Ask how you can help:
Often, the best way to know how you can help is to ask. Listen to what they have to say without judgement. You could ask them how they feel about their own experiences or things they’ve seen in the media, what their thoughts and opinions are, and what you can do to support them.

Having these conversations provides people from different cultural backgrounds with the space to express themselves and can give you a clearer idea of what you can do to support them and how to follow through.

5. More knowledge = empowering
Broadening your cultural awareness can help you to feel more empowered as an ally. You could do this by going to cultural food festivals or reading/watching/listening to other people’s stories. There are lots of foreign films and documentaries on YouTube and Netflix; or, if you’re a bookworm, you could start with list of books to explore new cultures.

Knowing more about the history of your own country is also an important part of this learning experience. Having a better understanding of Canada's colonial past and previous policies will help recognize how and why discrimination still happens today.

6. Be an advocate
You can do this by talking about the issue with your friends and encouraging them to follow suit, and by sharing informative articles on social media or creating your own social posts on the topic. You can also advocate by joining a community group. These groups often organize programs and events that give you the opportunity to be more involved and advocate locally.

7. Share the microphone with other voices
Supporting diverse people also involves letting their voices shine through. An example situation could be when you see something racially controversial in the media. Your first reaction might be to talk about it to your friends or write about it online, but if the controversy involves a culture that isn’t yours, you could overpower the message of the people at the centre of the situation. Instead, share an article, post or video by someone of that race, so that their views can be heard.

8. Take care of yourself
Be proud of your role as an ally. Your actions not only make a difference to the happiness and well-being of your friends, but also contributes to a positive effect in the world.

However, being a passionate supporter can take its toll. Standing up for someone, helping a friend who’s going through a hard time, and hearing stories of racism and discrimination can be stressful and overwhelming. Remember that to help others, you also need to feel good yourself, so take time to enjoy some self-care. Know that you can always reach out for support.

More information, please visit: International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Show your dedication to eliminating racism by wearing a black shirt on Monday, March 21, 2022. Encourage your facility to participate by downloading this printable poster for your union board! Send in pictures of you and your coworkers wearing black to [email protected] to be featured on the website and our social pages!

The Stop Racism black shirt initiative was brought to you though a partnership between SEIU-West's Young Worker and Multicultural Mentorship Committees.

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