Tag Archives: racism

Racism in a Costume

26 Sep

If you haven’t heard about it already, Disney has a new movie coming out (Moana), featuring Maui – a revered figure in Polynesian culture.

That’s a topic all of it’s own; that a company will take culturally significant figure (particularly an Indigenous one) and make a movie with it. But that’s a post for when the movie comes out – because in addition, they chose to make a costume for kids to wear at Halloween.

Here’s the problem:

Think about the history of colonization, genocide and racism with regard to Indigenous people worldwide (past and present).

Then think about what it might mean to have a North American company (read: white) take one of the most meaningful Polynesian Indigenous figures, and make a movie about them.

And then, sell a costume so that kids all over the world can dress up like someone Indigenous Polynesians consider a key figure in the history of their culture (and an ancestor for some).

I’m trying to think of an equivalent that might help this hit home. Maybe if people dressed up like Jesus? Or maybe Moses? But it’s a moot point, because those are revered figures that are known in mainstream culture and therefore wouldn’t be messed with. Period. But somehow it’s ok to do this with a revered figure from an Indigenous culture.

It’s called racism.

But it’s worse.
The costume wasn’t just an outfit – there is a costume that is Moana’s outfit. Sigh – Maui’s costume included tattooed brown skin!!

Hold on.
Yes. You read correctly.
Brown material meant to be skin, for your arms and legs.
With tattooes that are sacred.

For kids to wear so they can look like a revered ancestral figure in Polynesian Indigenous culture!!!! In what reality is that ok?!

I’m so mad, I’m speechless.

Thankfully there was backlash, and the costume has been pulled.
But someone thought it was ok to put it out there in the first place.

It’s another example of the way we disregard and disrespect ways of being that aren’t ours – Indigenous cultures in particular.

See more.

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


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Systemic Racism in many forms…even dolls!

27 Jul
Last week in Calgary, a woman was shopping for dolls for her children at Toys R Us and made a startling discovery – the “dark skinned” doll was priced lower than it’s “lighter skinned” counterpart (those are the words from the CTV new report).toys r us dolls
Image from: http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/toys-r-us-says-doll-pricing-discrepancy-due-to-an-operational-error-1.2997459

So, that’s a problem.

The woman was horrified and called the manager who told her that they were aware of the issue, and had already taken it to corporate (where pricing is set).

Also a problem.

The price has since been noted as an operational error and corrected – both dolls are priced at $22.99 (the lower price).

I’m going to go with the operational error explanation – but here’s what comes up for me.

Corporate knew about it, and did nothing until someone complained.
How many other people were in that store, looking for dolls, and didn’t say anything? And why is that?
I’m going to argue that it’s because we have a deep bias that dark skin colour lowers value. And not just in toys….

Then, let’s think about this:
If a Black woman had complained, what would this have looked like?
Often when people of colour advocate for themselves around issues of racism, we are seen as:

  • taking things too personally
  • being too sensitive
  • having an agenda
  • and let’s not forget the “angry Black woman” stereotype!

So I would bet that if a Black woman had raised the issue, we at the very least wouldn’t have the same news coverage.

And why do I say if?
Because many people probably picked up that doll and said nothing. And some of those people were likely people of colour. Over time, when you are inundated with messages about your worth (or lack thereof) you begin to believe it. So I use if, because raising the issue would mean that they would expect something to be done – and that’s an expectation that (sadly) I’m not sure is always realistic.

Allies are important. They shine lights on issues of injustice and exclusion in a way that often makes it possible for the mainstream to hear and take notice.

But in that noticing, there is a bigger issue for us to come to terms with – we live in a society where some people are not seen as equal.
Not really.
And that needs to change, no matter whose voice is shouting it from the rooftops.

See more. 

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

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Talking about Race & Racism

21 Jul

Last week I was part of many conversations about race and racism – in organizations, with the people in my life, in the community.

Race and racism are tricky to talk about. People feel cautious – even afraid – to say the wrong thing, or to be perceived as ignorant (or worse, as racist). The trouble is that this often means that we are not having these important conversations. Because we don’t know how. Remember the “practice makes perfect” your parents likely said to you when you were a kid? Perfection is a lofty goal, but it sure is true that the more you practice, the easier something can become.

The spectre of political correctness is still with us. And while it’s important to think about what we are saying and the impact it might have, it’s also important that we connect with people, ask questions and learn about each other. How else will we learn what their lives are like, what matters to them, what they need, and how we experience things differently – and therefore what needs to change?  Because we can be in the same situation, organization, conversation, community, etc and be having a completely different experience because of race (or any other identity).

Take the recent shootings of two Black men in the USA by police officers for example. Firstly, these deaths were due to (at the very least) systemic racism. They were tragic, heartbreaking, and unnecessary. But if you are a person of colour, there was likely also grief and anger. I heard a lot of “no words” from Black people as we grappled with the reality that we are still not seen as equal, still not living the lives we should be on this continent, still not safe. Same incident, different experience.

When we open ourselves to see more about another person’s reality, it’s because we are beginning to recognize that we move through the world and experience the world differently. That things may be obvious for some and that others may be oblivious to those same details. This is an important first step. But what comes next?

We have to listen. Really listen to what is being shared.

And then we have to use that information and our privilege and commit to creating change by being allies (more on that later). We have talked about it long enough – we need action. Because action, not words, shows us you get it – and change doesn’t happen without it.

See more. 

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

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Why the Oscars are White

21 Jan

Last year was the first year I remember there being a wide unrest about the “colour” of the Oscars. Hashtags abounded. This year, there has been a stir as well – including an amazing video by Jada Pinkett Smith where she talks about it maybe being time to stop asking to be included, because it makes us small.

Here are a few thoughts, from my D&I lens:

The Oscars are white because that’s how bias and unconscious bias work. The colour (and gender) of the nominees (and the winners) should come as no surprise given that the Academy is 93% white, 76 percent male and an average age of 63 (stats taken from an article in Toronto’s Metro News from Friday January 15, 2016).

I’m not saying it’s ok, I’m just saying it makes sense. Here’s why.

First, the age. People in their 60’s were born in the 1950’s. The U.S. civil rights movement was beginning, but it took time for people to see each other as equal. We’re still working on it, by the way.

So when we consider this, it’s no surprise that 93% of the people they attract and bring into the Academy are white. In addition to personal bias, unconscious bias means that we lean towards (figuratively) people who we even think we have something in common with (to read more, check out Blind Spot). Skin colour is obvious, so it can be a powerful common denominator. Same for gender.

What I’m saying then, is that unless the people inside the Academy change, the nominees aren’t likely to change, and the winners aren’t likely to change to be reflective of the population and the vast talent among non-white and female actors. Unless the Academy becomes more diverse (and inclusive) that vast talent will not be recognized, simply because actors of colour and female actors will just not be on the radar in the same way, with the same respect and true recognition. Their work will not be valued or appreciated in the same way. They will be seen, but not really noticed.

Sometimes we need to start something new, because there are too many barriers to progress in the way things have always been. Who says the Oscars have to continue to tell us the who’s who of Hollywood? That’s another example of taking on “the way it is” without asking questions (like “why?” and “who says so?”). Maybe we could, as Jada Pinkett Smith suggested, rethink how we value diversity and DO something about it, rather than complaining about what isn’t happening.

Just saying.

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

Radio Show Host – Creating Families


Sexual Harassment and Intersectionality

4 Nov

Thanks to Jian Ghomeshi, there has been a lot of talk over the past two weeks about sexual violence and sexual harassment.
It’s good that we are talking about it.

Yesterday I caught the tail end of an interview on CBC radio about sexual harassment in the workplace, and why women don’t come forward.

And I thought, what about intersectionality? Have we interviewed women who are not white, or who are lesbian, or who don’t have a post secondary education (for example) about their experiences of sexual harassment at work?

Intersectionality means that we have many identities that intersect and impact our experiences of discrimination or harassment. In a culture of silence (still), bringing a complaint of sexual harassment forward is already tough enough. Racism or homophobia or classism (for example) on top of this can add further layers of silence as people try to negotiate their safety and justice in a world that doesn’t want to see them for all that they are or what they contribute – which spills into how (and if) they are heard. Coming forward with a serious complaint against someone who likely has more social power than you – in more identities than gender – would require even more courage and fortitude.

I’d like to hear a discussion on the radio about that.

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Copyright 2014 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker and facilitator on issues of diversity and inclusion

The Subtleties of Systemic Exclusion

4 Dec

Last weekend my partner and I went to see The Delivery Man (don’t judge me – new parent movie criteria includes close to home, not too late and a few good laughs. check, check, check).

In the movie, Vince Vaughn discovers he is the biological father to 533 kids because the sperm bank he donated to as a college student used his sperm exclusively for the better part of a year.

He proceeds to get to know some of the young adults whose profiles he has. He meets about 10 of them one on one, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the writers did an okay job of mixing things up a bit: one kid is nonverbal and in a wheelchair, one is biracial, one is gay, one is a drug addict, one is of larger body size. When we pan over the larger crowd of offspring, there are a few more kids of colour that are visible. A thoughtful mix for a fluffy movie. A nice surprise.

And a few “ughs” on my part:

– The kids with whom Vince has passing encounters (at a bar, at a grocery store) aren’t given names in the movie, but of course are listed in the credits in context-specific ways that we would recognize them: “young boozer” “bag boy”. In terms of plot, perhaps the way he met them “in passing” did not allow for him to use their names. Still, too bad.  

– The “young boozer” is a young man of larger body size who is stereotypically jovial. In this case, a happy drunk.

– All of the kids he actually meet in a meaningful way are thin.

– And one of the two females he meets is a hot mess and overdoses. Great. At least it wasn’t the biracial girl.

– The biracial girl works in a spa and Vince has a manicure and pedicure and so they chat over those. Seems she has her stuff together and doesn’t need help – nice change. But of the 6 kids or so whose names we DO get to see as he reads their profile and decides to track them down (usually at work) she is only one who doesn’t appear in the credits by name. She is simply “The African American Spa Girl”.  Sigh.

Picky? Maybe. But all of these are good example of systemic isms and how subtle they are at reducing worth. It’s my job to notice.

Oh, and the star basketball player was white. They cleverly dodged that stereotype. Interesting choice.

See more.

copyright 2013 Annemarie Shrouder
Author, Speaker and Facilitator on issues of Diversity and Inclusion.


Questions about Slavery

7 Nov

Last week my partner and our daughter were at a Royal Ontario Museum program exploring the Mesopotamia exhibit.

 The guide was explaining the ins and outs of Mesopotamian civilization, which included the “Free Pass” for slaves that had been freed by their owner. This is when one of the moms in the group asked “Why would they want to do that?”. 



The guide answered the question, but not before a few of the moms looked at my partner (the only person of colour in the group), perhaps hoping she would say something, perhaps looking for her reaction, perhaps to share a silent “can you believe it?!” She chose to sit this one out.

Why would you want to free a slave is not a question I imagine I would hear from someone my age in 2013. It makes me sad. It’s about basic human rights – and slavery isn’t just a thing of the past.

People don’t always realized what they are saying, or the impact of their words. It may be possible she was thinking about the logistics of getting work done and not expressing ignorance about human rights. If the guide had asked “what do you mean by that?” we would have more information.

What do you mean by that can give you time to pick your chin up from the ground, think of how you want to respond, plan your exit strategy or take a deep breath and brace yourself for what may come next. It gives the person who spoke a chance to explain what they have said, which can clear up a misunderstanding and avoid a possibly unnecessary conversation. It can also lay the groundwork for a needed conversation, but one in which we have more information to work with.

What do you mean by that. Five words that can make a big difference. 

See more.

Copyright 2013 Annemarie Shrouder
Author, Speaker and Facilitator on issues of Diversity and Inclusion

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