Perhaps the most profound change has taken place in the realm of language. The death of George Floyd was a catalyst for conversations about racism between people everywhere. The Black Lives Matters had already begun generating engagement and attention – because there have been countless other tragic and traumatic encounters between innocent Black men and women and police officers in recent years – but the brazen and unmistakable disregard for the life of George Floyd instantly brought the movement to the forefront of social and political discourse, where it has remained ever since.
In one sense these are old conversations. Particularly among people of colour, whether Black, Indigenous or Asian, for whom these incidents are old news. And yet they are also new conversations, invested with new urgency and new ambitions, shared through new media, and led by a new generation of citizens demanding an end – once and for all – to systemic racism.
At the University of Ottawa, even during the pandemic, these conversations have resonated down telephone lines, through social networks and in the media. We have all been talking – and not always calmly or civilly either – about race and about language, about personal responsibility, and institutional responsibility, about where freedom ends and oppression begins, and about how and why we feel the way we do. Even more importantly, we are listening to one another. Most of the time anyway. This is an extremely positive development. I urge us all to listen more, and to listen compassionately.
And yet words are not deeds. Ultimately it is actions that are needed. At the University of Ottawa, it is actions that we are currently working towards in our newly formed action committees. The President of uOttawa has mandated us to develop an ambitious and meaningful program of anti-racism actions to be implemented this fall. These may take the form of new approaches and new policies, new hires and new roles, new courses and new curricula, new funding and new standards. Our intent is to put an end to embedded privilege and rather to embed radical inclusion to genuinely level the playing field to enable the full participation and inclusive excellence of members of all those communities who have suffered racial discrimination in the past at uOttawa.
I do not say that we will reach this goal overnight, but our words and deeds are now aligned, and they are supported by an open and engaged discourse about the genuine lived experiences of racialized members of our uOttawa community. This welcome convergence of collective energy and institutional accountability is in part an outgrowth of the global anti-racism movement, and thus indirectly tied to the fateful events of May 25, 2020.
I urge us all to continue to work together to ensure that uOttawa becomes a beacon for true equality, diversity and inclusion, and a valued leader in the global struggle to relegate racist ideas and behaviours of all kinds to a distant, deplorable past.