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Canadian Dolls…?

15 Dec

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It’s fitting, on the heels of last week’s blog, that I have been introduced to The Maplelea girls – a group of Canadian dolls.


Sometimes conversations about race are difficult. Yes, we are making progress, but there are still issues to raise and improvements to make – and unless we talk about these, they won’t happen. Remember that we walk through the world noticing (and being impacted by) different things, because of who we are.

Maplelea Girls is an example of a company trying to do the right thing, and making some good choices, but still having room for improvement. And I’m going to assume that much of that is likely due to unconscious bias. But that’s why we hire diverse staff and create inclusive environments so they can share their perspectives and help organizations see more.

The Maplelea Girls are a core group of dolls (7) that have names and histories, and each come from a certain region of Canada. Kudos to the company for making one of those core group Inuit (and doing due diligence in making sure she is an accurate reflection of a 10 year old girl growing up in Nunavut), and one brown-skinned. That’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not far enough. All of the girls have long straight hair (so, long hair = feminine), and 5 of the 7 are white. No First Nations, Black, or Asian representation. Hello, Canada!?

That’s the core group. The in group. So there’s a message right there.

The other dolls are the Maplelea Friends. There are 23 of them. And they don’t have names – just numbers. Once you buy one, you get to name them and write their history, which is nice. But here is the beginning of the unconscious messaging about worth and value.

The Maplelea Friends also bring some diversity to the mix in terms of skin tone and hair texture, as well as eye shape. Which is great. But remember, they are the Friends, not the Girls.

Here are the stats on the Friends;

  • They have different skin tones: light (15), medium-light (4), medium (2), medium-dark (1) and dark(1). I’m very impressed by this range actually.
  • There are different eye shapes (2 “almond-shaped” eyes).
  • Different types of hair: straight (the default) is not defined. 11 of the 17 have straight hair. And then there are curls and textured for the medium-dark and dark skin dolls.
  • Different hair lengths: 6 have shoulder length or short hair, the rest – 17 – have long hair (and all the long haired dolls have straight hair).

I have to say add, that with the exception of the (I’m assuming) Asian representations and the brown and Black representations, all of the light and medium-light skinned dolls have the same face.


I want to believe that the people behind these dolls had the best intentions in mind. I like the fact that they are trying to have some diversity – 5 different skin tones, 4 different hair textures, speak to that intention. It’s nice to have at least some variety for girls to be able to see themselves. But if you look a little closer, you will see the problem within that variety, because if you’re White, you have lots of options to choose from. And if you’re brown, Black, or Asian, the number drops from 15 to 2 for each. And if you’re Indigenous (while it’s great that there is an option) there is only 1.

So while it’s great to have the diversity and variety, I fear that the message still speaks to inequity in terms of who has value racially. And if we go a little further, what feminine looks like (long hair wins).

So Maplelea is onto something. It’s hard to find dolls that are not White. And it’s hard to find non-white dolls with hair that is racially correct. Hooray.

My point? I’m hoping that this is the beginning of their line of dolls, and not the final count. Because there is so much more to being a girl than long hair, and so much more diversity within races and cultures that can be represented in order for little girls to see themselves in the dolls they love – or see each other in the dolls they can choose.

And don’t get me started on why there aren’t any Maplelea Boys!!

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

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Who is Canadian?

4 Dec

Yesterday I arrived back in Toronto from a trip to the USA. As I made my way through the terminal at Pearson International Airport, I was greeted by this image:


As you can see, it’s a large series of photographs that hangs high above the escalators as you go down to customs. It’s meant, I suppose, to share some of the quintessential Canadian things with arriving visitors, and citizens – both potential and current.

You’ll notice there is kayaking, the rodeo, Terry Fox, a farmer, an astronaut, an Olympic athlete, skiing, an RCMP officer (female, nice touch), an old black and white photo of men going to war, the parliament building, Niagara Falls, Quebec Carnival, and a lighthouse.

Someone chose these to represent the country: a mixture of places and people. It’s interesting to note what was chosen: some famous things (Niagara Falls), some quintessential Canadian things (wheat?). And it seems that the images go from West to East across the country. I wonder what the debate was like during the selection process, and what other images didn’t make the cut – and why.

But what strikes me every time I see it, is the lack of visible cultural diversity represented in a land that prides itself on the multicultural mosaic we have created.

Some of the images are hard to make out, but only two of the people represented that are clearly visible are not white: what I’m assuming are an Inuit elder and a Chinese child (who’s face we only see to just under her nose. I’m assuming she is a girl because of the hairstyle).

Imagine that I’m coming to Canada for the first time, and this is what I see as the representation of the country I am visiting or may be calling home. It’s in stark contrast to the line up I will encounter in customs in just under a minute.

Welcome to Canada.

Our home, and Native land – although the only Indigenous person on the image is Inuit. And there are no brown or Black people represented in the image at all. With images like this, is it any wonder that people still ask their non-White fellow Canadians “where are you from?” – and keep digging until they get an answer that explains the amount of melanin in our skin, if in fact we (or our parents, grandparents, or great grandparents) were born here?

See more.

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

Thoughts on the Safety Pin

27 Nov

Since Brexit an interesting phenomenon has appeared – the use of the once innocuous safety pin as a symbol of safe space. It has popped up in the USA post-election as well.


It’s heartening to see people recognizing that spaces are not safe for everyone. Check.     It’s also great to see that people are recognizing that those who don’t feel safe need allies. An ally is someone who stands up for and speaks up for those who are being victimized, oppressed, marginalized, harassed, harmed, etc because of who they are. Check.

Those are the good things about the safety pin phenomenon, and if it’s helping to make people more aware of, sensitive to, and likely to intervene re: racism, xenophobia, islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, etc. when they see/hear it, then that is a step in the right direction. IF however, they are a cute symbol to pin on and show that one is supportive and an ally – and it’s not backed by awareness and followed by action, then they are dangerous and misleading and actually making spaces LESS safe.

Often we think of isms, oppression or marginalization as individual and personal, requiring an individual response. But there are other more insidious ways that undermine people’s safety- and these are systemic. Speaking up and standing up against those are also necessary – and more challenging because it’s hard to see these inequities if they are not impacting you. And so often they are not seen, and not spoken up or stood up against.

Which is where the safety pin causes some consternation and anger.

Unsafe spaces did not begin with Brexit or the US election. They have existed for too many years. Some see the safety pin and wonder where it (and more importantly, the sentiment) has been all this time – this symbol and expression of solidarity, safety and the promise of allyship. It’s a good question.

Wearing a safety pin also suggests that someone can know what a safe space feels like for someone else, which is questionable. But if we ask questions, and learn about each other, we can perhaps help to make spaces safer.

In the end, I’m torn about the safety pin.

I understand the anger about it. That it seems like the fashionable “in” thing to do, that it’s easy and safe for the person wearing it, that it is a pin rather than action.                    And I hope that maybe it’s also the beginning of people seeing more, of considering how different life can be experienced, of speaking up and stepping up against the isms, the phobias – against hatred. Some people may be late to the game, but if they are ready to play, then there will be more allies on the team. And isn’t that a good thing?

The safety pin could be an amazing symbol of action, mobilization, solidarity, courage, and hope. But to accomplish this is requires awareness of self and others, understanding the bigger picture, recognizing your privilege and using it to create change (among other things). It could signal a much needed change in how we see each other, what we notice and what we fight for and against – to make the world a much safer place for everyone.

But if you aren’t educating yourself about the issues, if you don’t know what it means to be an ally, if you’re not willing to step up and stand up, then it’s just a cool thing to do that will pass when you get bored or you think enough time has passed – in which case, please don’t wear one.

Either way, I encourage you to be open to hearing people’s reactions to them, and being willing to have a conversation about it – in order to see more and learn more about the people around you.

See more.

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

Thanksgiving…and Atonement

10 Oct

This week there is an interesting convergence of two holidays in Canada. While one is religious and one is not, I’m finding the timing quite meaningful.

Everywhere in Canada (except in the Atlantic provinces) Monday is Thanksgiving, and in the Hebrew calendar, Yom Kippur begins Tuesday night at sundown. Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – is the holiest day in the Hebrew calendar and is a day of introspection and repentance.

While it can be relatively easy to give thanks, recognizing the ways and the people who made it possible for us to have the gifts we enjoy is often not; we may simply not think of it, or it may be uncomfortable. Similarly, reflecting on how we have hurt or wronged someone may not be a popular practice; sometimes because we don’t realize we have done it, often because we don’t want to face it.

The two days next to each other are causing me to think about the often stark contrast in the gifts that we have, and the ways many of our privileges exist because of someone else’s hard work or oppression (the land we live on being one example, the clothing we wear being another possibility).

I’m not Jewish, but I imagine that Yom Kippur can be a heavy day, as well as a day of liberation. Taking time to think about our actions over the past year and how they have hurt or negatively impacted people gives us the opportunity to reflect on the impact of our actions. And then to acknowledge it to ourselves and the person(s) affected. This can possibly lead to dialogue, understanding, forgiveness, stronger relationships and healing – and seeing more: More of the person, more of the situation, more of ourselves.

I can’t help but wonder what would happen if the Canadian government approached Indigenous Peoples, Black people, and people of colour in this way. Introspection. Awareness. Repentance. Dialogue. Relationship building. And then action; moving forward differently, with inclusion and human dignity in mind.

Imagine the country (the world) that would create?

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

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Happy New Year!

3 Oct

Happy New Year!

If you’re Jewish, you know exactly what I’m talking about – Rosh Hashanah began last night at sundown. “Shanah Tovah!”

If you’re not Jewish, or don’t have any close friends (or family) who are Jewish, it’s possible that you had no idea. Or, like me, no idea until yesterday.

Which is amazing, if you think about it, because a new year’s celebration is a big deal.
But it happens all the time to holidays that are not celebrated by the dominant culture:

If you are Jewish, you likely know about Christmas and Easter…the big and commonly known holidays celebrated in North America. There are others, but you get the idea. If you’re not Jewish, likely you don’t know when Rosh Hashanah is, or Yom Kippur, or Hanukkah.
Because it’s not your holiday.

Notice a little disparity there?

You bet.
That’s because if you’re not in the dominant group, you have to know the dominant culture to get through the day (and life). But it’s not reciprocal. Because non-dominant culture information is not “necessary” information, and we live in a world that is inequitable.

Rosh Hashanah is one of the holiest holidays in the Hebrew calendar. It is celebrated in the first two days of the Jewish month of Tishrei. And because the Hebrew calendar is Lunar, the dates for holidays such as Rosh Hashanah change every Gregorian calendar year.

(By the way, Rosh Hashanah is followed 10 days later by Yom Kippur – so mark your calendar!)

See more.

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

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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

Rethinking the Toronto Air Show

6 Sep

If you live in Toronto or the GTA, and were home this past weekend, you likely noticed the Air Show. Or maybe your city has an Air Show as well? Read on.



The Air Show is an end-of-summer CNE-closing tradition in Toronto.
Does anyone know why?
I don’t, and I’ve lived in Toronto for 20 years.

Luckily it wasn’t as loud as I remember, so the piercing screams of the jets that come out of nowhere and hijack your senses for a few moments were minimal. So there have been some changes, it would seem. But still.

My mother grew up in Austria during WWII. When the planes thundered over our heads on a practice run on Thursday, she was a little freaked out. She has neighbours that recently arrived from Syria, and the 11 year old said it reminded him of home – but that he wasn’t scared. I was shocked and saddened by that.

This isn’t the first time I have thought about this, and every year it irks me more: We live in a city with many immigrants from war-torn countries (past and present). And yet we continue to have an Air Show – complete with fighter jets – as a festive end-of-summer spectacle of aeronautics. Hmmm…

What’s the impact on our fellow citizens who have experienced war first hand of seeing and hearing these aircraft overhead in their new home? Of having the Air Show be something festive? What does that say about our commitment to inclusion?

If the intention is to bring people together to celebrate the end of summer with some spectacle of delight, surely we can come up with something more peaceful and festive.

See more.

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

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