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Some thoughts on the US Election

13 Nov

The US election is devastating for so many reasons – not just the results, but the whole campaign.

Beyond the US president elect, it has shown us the underbelly of what seems like half of American voters: Racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, white supremacy… But Trump didn’t cause this; he merely said out loud what many were thinking and feeling, and gave them permission to say it out loud as well. These sentiments are not new – to the US or any other country. I’m not a history scholar but I know that US history is rife with entrenched and systemic racism and sexism, and many of the other isms have a trajectory that is similar, if not as long. Other countries are not innocent to these same intolerances.

Yes, there have been advancements – some big, some not so big – in human rights, equity, civil rights. But what is clear from this election (and which should be a wake up call globally) is that these advances have not reached everyone’s hearts. We have managed, in some way, and in some places – not all and not always well – to make at least expressing the isms and phobias unacceptable. Anti discrimination laws, human rights codes and acts, hate crime laws, and movements like the Civil Rights Movement and Black Lives Matter help to raise awareness and consciousness and create a standard of how we should be together – or what we should strive for. This election race and outcome has undermined these efforts and advances by normalizing and sanctioning overt hatred and violence – specifically Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, immigrants, Muslims, women, and people who identify as LGBT.

The horror of this election campaign and victory is that in addition to systemic racism and oppression – which is demoralizing and exhausting to live with as marginalized people, with far-reaching negative economic, social, health (and other) outcomes – there is now an even stronger threat to actual physical safety and the devastating personal experiences of racism, xenophobia (etc) and oppression.

While at least part of the US population reels from the results and the reality that the Trump victory suggest for their country for the next 4 years, there is another danger beyond the US borders: smugness.

Many of us in Canada are sighing with relief and saying how happy we are that we don’t live there as we point south towards the Canada-US border. I’m sure these sentiments are echoed in other countries as well. But consider this: it wasn’t long ago that we had a prime minister who successfully whipped up a national fear of Muslims, contributing to the rise of Islamophobia in this country. And we have legitimized racial profiling in many police departments through a practice called carding. The KKK exists in this country too. And although we have good LGB human rights, trans rights across the country are not consistent. Indigenous populations living on reserves are dealing with conditions that rival those of some developing countries. And women still don’t have adequate representation in positions of power. Although our current prime minister made sure the house of commons was 50% women “because it was 2015”; it wasn’t “2015” for Black people, or Indigenous people.

 Hatred and bigotry are not reserved for our US brothers and sisters. They may be showing theirs in fuller force and for all to see these days, but if we point our fingers at them, and think we are better, we miss the opportunity for self-reflection and our own healing – and to make the communities, cities and the countries we live in better for everyone.

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Copyright 2016 Annemarie Shrouder                                                                                          Speaker, Facilitator, and Consultant on issues of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

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Visible Markers of Difference

23 Oct

Recently I spent a weekend in the Crown Height, Brooklyn – a Hasidic neighbourhood.

As I walked to and from my friend’s apartment, I was surrounded by men in black suits, white shirts and hats or yarmulkes, and a few women in long skirts.

Despite being a person of colour who is used to being the only POC in a room, it was nevertheless a powerful experience to be and feel so obviously different as I walked along the street because of my clothing. I stood out.

I wondered what it must be like to dress the same as everyone else. And I remembered my high school uniform; the blessing it was for a kid who didn’t have the “right” clothes, and yet how stifling it was to my teenage self. I tried many ways to assert my individuality in that uniform.

I’m not equating a high school uniform with cultural and religiously significant clothing! These clothes and ways of dressing signify beliefs and a way of being. And of course Hasidic Jews are not the only ones who experience this. Hijabs and Turbans are two other examples that are also very visible. But I did wonder about the sense of community.

I wondered what it is like to share culture and religion so publicly, constantly, and consistently. I wondered what it was like to be so visibly part of a community, and to be IN that community – and by contrast what it was like to walk in other parts of the city. I also wondered if, outside of the community, this defining way of dressing may feel different if one is alone, or with a group of similarly-clad people. (I did see groups of Hasidic boys in the various subway stations on Friday). And I reminded myself that how it feels is likely impacted by how one is received by others.

When we are obvious in our difference, we can more easily become targets for discrimination and hate. Although for us, those markers may be sources of pride and provide a sense of belonging.

And as I walked, I also wondered what these markers don’t allow us to see because of the assumptions, stereotypes and prejudices that clothing can inspire – consciously and unconsciously.

See more.

Copyright 2016 Annemarie Shrouder                                                                                          Speaker, Facilitator, and Consultant on issues of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

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The Power of Words

16 Oct

Today I’m writing about words and choices.

In our post-colonization societies, the use of words still reminds us (if we are aware and paying attention) of who is in charge, and who has value – and who doesn’t – in the eyes of the state.

Take some of the names of sports teams, for example.

Last week, Jerry Howarth (long time Toronto Blue Jay’s announcer) was interviewed by the Toronto Star. He said that he hasn’t used the full name of the Cleveland baseball team in decades, because it’s offensive to First Nations people. Not only is their name offensive, their logo is as well – see below.


Jerry Howarth made this decision to not say the whole name because someone who identifies as First Nations took the time to write him a letter and tell him how offensive it was to them. It had never occurred to Jerry before that, he told the Toronto Star, but it changed his heart, and his mind. And his actions followed.

When things don’t impact us, we often don’t see them. While this may be hard to believe for the people that are impacted, it is really relatively easy to miss things if you’re not. Why? Because we are surrounded by messages every day that are steeped in racism and the legacies of colonization, that tell us who and what has value, and who doesn’t. Those messages are pretty clear – by omission and commission – and we soak them up without questioning. And voilà! We repeat disrespectful team names and perpetuate various other acts that degrade and disrespect people – mostly people who are “not like us” – probably without giving it a second thought. Because we are not impacted by it.

Cleveland isn’t the only team. The Washington Red Skins are another – and they recently appealed a US Supreme Court decision cancelling their trademark registration because it doesn’t trademark names that ‘potentially disparage people”. Here is what John Oliver had to say about it.

It’s not just about sports.
Take a moment to think about the things you say without thinking – sayings you’ve grown up with, for example – that perpetuate stereotypes, negative assumptions and promote discrimination and inequity for a group (I’m not going to list them, but think about it. They are usually cultural or race-based).

Words have power.
Jerry Howarth is using the absence of a word to send a strong message about respect. We all have choices about the words we use and choose not to – and each of those choices either adds a voice to the struggle for equity and inclusion, or is complicit in undermining that struggle.

What’s your choice?

See more.

Copyright 2016 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Facilitator, and Consultant on issues of Diversity & Inclusion

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What does a doctor look like? Anti-Black racism in action.

13 Oct

You have probably already heard or read about Dr. Tamika Cross’ post on Facebook and her experience of anti-Black racism on a Delta Airlines flight.

In case you haven’t, here it is in a nutshell:
A man needed medical attention. She got up to help and was told to sit down. The flight attendants called for a doctor over the intercom, and still she was blocked from helping and asked a series of disrespectful questions that made it clear the crew did not believe she was a doctor. Enter white male who is immediately given access to the ailing passenger. But Dr. Cross was asked to help a few minutes later.

This is about unconscious bias, and the messages we get about who has value, who can be a doctor, what a doctor looks like and sounds like. Those are the messages we receive every day – overtly and covertly – that cause the disrespectful and discriminatory treatment that Dr. Cross received. They are based on anti-Black racism.

It’s also about anti-Black racism – racism directed specifically towards Black people. It’s one of the legacies of slavery and colonization (yes, it’s been a while, and the effects are NOT over).

This is what anti-Black racism look like today folks. It’s not always horrific, or physically violent or even deadly in the moment – but it always reminds us of our place (less than), and the aim is to keep us there. And because of that – and what that means in terms of opportunities, education, health, employment, family, self esteem, etc.  – it is horrific, violent and deadly. Maybe not in the moment, but cumulatively over time.

Racism and anti-Black racism are real. They are alive and well. Sometimes they require that we look closer and examine our actions (and inactions) to recognize how they are baked into the fabric of our societies.

What do you need to learn and know to be able to see this reality if it isn’t yours, in order to help create a change and make our workplaces, communities, schools, health care facilities – the world we live in –  a safer, respectful and more equitable place for people of colour?

See more.

Copyright 2016 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Facilitator and Consultant on issues of Diversity and Inclusion.



The Dangers of Being Colour Blind

20 Sep

Race can be a difficult topic to discuss. (Ha! Did you think this was going to be about your retinas?)

And somewhere along the line some of us were taught that being colour blind was the answer; that not seeing the colour of someone’s skin is a good and respectful thing.

To be more precise, being colour blind means that we don’t see that someone is not white.

Somehow seeing/noticing/saying that someone is Black, brown, a person of colour, African American (or whatever the term is that’s currently in use) has been linked to a negative thing, and the belief that it could make us seem racist. We are simply not supposed to notice when someone isn’t white.


First of all, we do anyway. So being colour blind isn’t really not seeing, it’s not saying you see it. Second of all, if you don’t see my skin colour, who are you seeing?

Our skin colour is part of who we are; an important identity of many identities. All identities impact our experiences and realities. But because of colonization, racism and systemic racism, skin colour is a particularly pivotal factor in how we move through the world, and how we are treated. And unlike some other identities, we cannot hide the colour of our skin.

When we think being colour blind is a good thing, when “colour doesn’t matter to us” what we are often trying to say is that we are not going to treat people as less than, because of their colour.

That should be an expectation regardless.

But you still need to see me. All of me.

What makes colour blindness dangerous and misguided is this:

When we pretend we don’t see skin colour, what happens is that we fail to see that race matters. It matters because the colour of our skin impacts what we experience (and don’t), how we are seen (and not seen), what we have access to, and the barriers we face. In Canada, in North America, in most parts of the world where the culture is white, brown skin puts us at a disadvantage – and the darker you are, the more discrimination you likely face.

In order to see people, connect with people, work with people and serve people well, we need to see all of who they are. And my skin colour is part of that.

See more.


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Copyright 2016 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Facilitator, and Consultant on issues of Diversity & Inclusion

Prejudice is Taught Early

14 Jan

It’s not new concepts that prejudice (pre-judging) is learned (sometimes taught) and that unconscious bias is insidious. Here is a stellar example of both (and the impact on my 3 year old) that made me particularly furious.

Recently I was watching an episode of My Little Pony with my daughter. It’s about friendship and there is usually a decent message. But one episode caught my attention.

The ponies were trying to make friends with the yaks (yes, actual yaks, the animal). The yaks were from Yakistan. Red flag #1. Where in the world do countries end with “stan” and who lives there?
But wait, there’s more: The yaks were very hard to please and they were dangerous – when they got mad they went on a rampage and ruined everything in their immediate surroundings. BIG red flag #2. So yaks, from Yakistan are not reasonable, are dangerous and are not particularly nice.

See the problem?  (Here’s a hint: Islamophobia and Orientalism)
By the way I’m not suggesting this was intentional. Unconscious bias affects us all and is unconscious. It’s also everywhere.

Shortly thereafter my daughter was playing with some animal stickers. One of them was a yak. She promptly told me yaks were yucky.

And there you have it. It’s not unreasonable to assume that countries ending in “stan” may also be on her radar as yucky somewhere in the corners of her 3 year old mind only to surface later when she learns about geography.

So we had a talk about how you can’t judge people (or yaks) until you meet them. But the thought was already there, and I had to mitigate it. And it came from a cartoon that my three year old watches. Thankfully, she doesn’t watch alone!

We swim in the soup of unconscious bias every day.
When we acknowledge it, and examine what we are seeing, reading, hearing, we can at least practice catching it and mitigating the effects (i.e. discrimination, exclusion, etc) instead of passively taking it in and having it impact our thoughts and actions unconsciously.

See more.

Copyright 2015 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Author and Facilitator on issues of Diversity & Inclusion

Radio Show Host – Creating Families





Silent ways marginalization occurs

10 Dec

If you’re a parent, you are familiar with the act of registering your child’s birth.  Probably not something you associate with discrimination or inequity.

Your child is born. You register yourself or yourselves as parents. Voila!

For some people, birth registration is a painful reminder of unequal rights, and that not all families are recognized in the same way in Ontario (and other provinces). As an LGBTQ parent, birth registration is not straightforward and parental recognition can be costly.

Costly, you ask? Isn’t it free?
Not for everyone.

My daughter has two moms that she lives with, and a dad. Her biological parents are on her birth certificate (that’s the law, unless you use an anonymous donor from a sperm bank). And that leaves her second mom out in the  cold unless we have about $5000.00 to drop for second parent adoption or a declaration of parentage that lists all three of us.

If I were straight, I could likely put any guy’s name on the birth registration without raising any alarms – because no one would question it. But of course two women can’t “make” a baby, so that won’t fly.

In Ontario, you can have two moms on a birth registration if the donor is anonymous. That was a victory. But if you have a family like mine, or you are two men in a relationship having a baby through a surrogate, you have to do the extra steps and pay the money. (This may be the same for a straight couple using a surrogate as well.)

The bottom line? It’s not equitable, and it means some families are recognized as families and others are not. Until they pay for it.
Cost aside, imagine that you would have to wait to be recognized as your child’s parent?

This afternoon in Ontario, MPP Cheri DiNovo’s Bill about parental recognition (Cy & Ruby’s Act) is being read for the second time. Which means that by suppertime, our family could be one step closer to being legally recognized!

The sneaky thing about inequity is that we don’t necessarily know about it unless it impacts us.  What things do you take for granted that others only dream of or have to fight for?

See more!

Copyright 2015 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Author and Facilitator on issues of Diversity & Inclusion

Radio Show Host – Creating Families

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