Why March 21st?

About us
Equity, diversity and inclusion
Student handing paper to receptionist.
On March 21st, 1960, South African police opened fire on a group of black people peacefully demonstrating against the apartheid laws in Sharpeville. As a result of this gunfire against this unarmed group of citizens, sixty-nine black people were killed. Six years later, the United Nation’s General Assembly adopted Resolution 2142, in which section 21 recognizes March 21st as the “International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.”

In taking this action in October 1966, the United Nation’s General Assembly was recognizing an important fact: Racism exists, internationally.

I would like to remind everyone at uOttawa that racism is not an individualized act or practice.  Racial discriminations occur only when social conditions allow such practices to take place. Racial discrimination and intolerance are therefore, always, socially constructed. This is to say that we, as individuals or as free human beings, are not born racists. The society we live in creates the conditions that would make us become racist.

Reflecting on the African students stranded on multiple borders in Ukraine, denied boarding on busses and trains leaving the war zone simply because they are black, reminds us that racism is a serious disease requiring serious remedies.

While Canada is not South Africa in the 60s or Ukraine at war in 2022 – of course – Canada is not, either, free from racial discrimination. In Canada, as in many countries around the world, racial, ethnic, cultural, religious, and gender discrimination occur on daily basis.

At the University of Ottawa, we need to remain vigilant, to make visible the invisible systems of racism. We need to create avant-garde living conditions free of racism for our community, conditions that are already embedded into our institutional regulations.

We need to fight against any sort of discrimination. And one of the ways to take action is by opening our student services, our hiring, our research, and our teaching practices to different conditions of possibility. Let’s be a little bit courageous: let’s decolonize some of our internalized practices. The Office of the Special Advisor for Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence is here to assist you in doing that work... You are welcome anytime to chat, reflect on, and be part of the ongoing anti-racism movement at the University of Ottawa.

Boulou Ebanda de B’béri
Special Advisor, Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence

"The only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it—and then dismantle it."
- Ibram X. Kendi