Addressing Anti-Black Racism

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A 1980s court case involving CN Rail and the Canadian Human Rights Commission determined that CN Rail would need a ‘critical mass’ of women in its employment to break the continuing cycle and culture of systemic discrimination and harassment of women workers within the organization. This case laid the groundwork for subsequent employment equity laws across Canada.

The concept of ‘critical mass’ is important if the potential of racialized and Black teachers and education workers is to be realized within the education system. They need to see themselves represented in the system as part of a welcoming and inclusive culture.

That is also true for Black students:

“We know that anti-Black racism is operating within education because of the outcomes we see for Black students. Disproportionate streaming into the lowest streams, over-representation in suspension and expulsion rates, lack of representation of Black staff in the school’s physical environment, lack of curricular inclusion of Black people and Black ways of knowing, over-representation of Black students pushed out of education (otherwise known as the drop-out rate), lack of Black student involvement in academic and leadership spaces, and over-representation in athletic programs… As a result, Black students learn that they are both invisible and hyper-visible at any given time… They question their capabilities and begin to understand education as an unsafe space and experience for them.” 1 

Kike Ojo-Thompson, Principal Consultant, Kojo Institute

There must be a concerted effort among all stakeholders to address barriers in recruitment, hiring and retention policies and procedures. Anti-Black racism training for all education leadership, staff, teachers and education workers is key to achieving institutional and systemic change and to creating organizational cultures that are welcoming and inclusive of Black educators and students. The Ministry of Education and other organizations must adequately fund and resource initiatives that address anti-Black racism. 

Collection of Race-Based Data

All educational institutions and organizations must collect race-based data as both a benchmark and an ongoing measure of progress in evaluating efforts to end anti-Black racism.

School Boards/Ministry of Education:

  • All school boards are to be collecting race-based data as it pertains to students by 2023. Data collection should be standardized across school boards.
  • For Black students, it is important that the data on expulsions, graduation rates, suspensions and Special Education placements be analyzed to understand how they are disproportionately impacted by these measures. 
  • For staff, it is critical to track Black teachers, educational assistants, and designated early childhood educators that are full-time contract and occasional/casual staff.
  • Tracking should also identify race-based data in the hiring process and the leadership/advancement of Black staff members.
  • Confidential exit interviews with Black educators should also be conducted to determine the reason they have left the employ of a school board or have left the public education system.

Faculties of Education: 

  • Race-based data on candidate applications, program acceptance, graduation, and premature exiting of candidates before degree completion will help determine a benchmark for anti-Black racism initiatives.

Ontario Principals’ Council (OPC):

  • Tracking the number of Black teachers currently in administrative positions will provide a benchmark for anti-Black racism initiatives.
  • Tracking should also identify race-based data in the hiring process and the leadership/advancement of Black staff members.

Education Unions:

  • Race-based data on the hiring and retention of provincial staff, self-identification of members and member participation in union conferences, events and workshops will provide benchmarks for assessing where barriers and challenges to union participation and access by Black members exist.

Ongoing Training of Administration, Trustees and Others

It takes time to identify and change prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination against Black people. These issues may stem from personal beliefs and attitudes or can be inherent in organizational and institutional systems.

To achieve institutional and systemic change there needs to be an understanding of what anti-Black racism is among leaders and administrators of school boards, including trustees and faculties of education, This understanding must include the impact that daily occurrences of racism, including microaggressions, have on relationships, procedures and systems, as well as on individual mental health. That institutional awareness and change permeates all levels of the system, including awareness among teachers, education workers and staff.

Trainers dedicated to equity, diversity, inclusion and anti-oppression are best equipped to support institutional and systemic change within organizations by designing programs for all tiers of an organization. 

Recruitment and Retention of Black Educators/Candidates

Recruitment of Black candidates in education is a key element in building a critical mass of Black educators to ensure public education is reflective of the people it serves and provides a better experience for Black youth and adults.

School Boards:

  • It is important to address equity and diversity in recruitment and hiring, and foster an environment that attracts, retains and nurtures diverse talent in the teaching profession.
  • Hiring practices must create predictable career paths that ensure equity for Black, Indigenous and other racialized teachers and education workers, with real opportunities to access secure employment. 

Faculties of Education:

  • In the past, some faculties of education, such as those at York University and the University of Toronto, had programs to reach out to racialized members, but these have been discontinued.
  • It is vital that faculties of education develop initiatives to attract and retain Black candidates and demonstrate that their organizations are committed to inclusivity and anti-oppression.
  • Faculties of education could also explore opportunities for mentorship to attract and retain Black candidates.

ETFO Partnership Initiatives:

  • In partnership with Black educator groups, ETFO plans to host an online webinar/conference for Ontario Black teacher candidates focused on addressing anti-Black racism in Ontario public education.
  • ETFO will also explore a public symposium with Black community organizations on the recruitment of Black teachers.

Curriculum Reform and Associated Training

ETFO supports calls by the Ontario Black History Society, Black families and others for the Ontario government to make Black studies a greater part of the public elementary curriculum. 

Racism is a learned behaviour that can be mitigated through education of Ontario’s youngest learners. While there are topics in Ontario’s curriculum that relate to anti-racism and anti-discrimination, and options for more in-depth teaching, explicit learning expectations related to Black history and issues must be built into the curriculum.

  • More Black scholars and historians are needed to fill in the gaps and provide comprehensive curriculum and resources, including Black Canadian contributions and Black Canadian history. Curriculum should be presented through an anti-oppressive and anti-racism lens. The Harriet Tubman Institute at York University and, to a lesser degree, the Ontario Black History Society continue to provide a great deal of historical, intellectual and human resources for Black programs and resources. 
  • Teachers and education workers need access to resources to assist them in delivering teaching from an anti-Black racism perspective as well as resources for the classroom.
  • A key issue that must be addressed is how to integrate issues of discrimination and racism into teaching through a critical race lens. The instruction and learning must be ongoing. One-off lessons are not sufficient to bring about the necessary awareness and knowledge of the impacts of both anti-Black racism and Black contributions to Canadian society.

Ministry of Education:

  • The Ministry of Education must work with the Anti-Racism Secretariat and Black scholars to develop more substantive Black curriculum.

School Boards:

  • Boards must deliver professional development for teachers and education workers on teaching Black history and current issues in an age-appropriate manner, including the effects of anti-Black racism and systemic discrimination on students and the broader society.

Faculties of Education:

  • There should be a mandatory program or curriculum overview on Black studies for faculty students that sets out curriculum delivery expectations for teacher candidates.


The Ministry of Education and publicly-funded school boards must collect and maintain race-based data, and must use that data to improve conditions and opportunities for Black educators and students. In addition,

  • The Ministry of Education must hold school boards accountable for establishing policies and practices to eradicate anti-Black racism in recruitment, hiring and retention practices for Black educators and administrators, as well as training regarding anti-Black racism for trustees, administrators and educators;
  • Boards must also be accountable for a decline in anti-Black racism incidents at both the board level and in schools; and 
  • School boards must adopt anti-bias approaches to progressive discipline that avoid perpetuating negative outcomes for Black students. 

 Ontario College of Teachers:

  • Standards of practice with respect to incidents of anti-Black racism must be consistently upheld.

College of Early Childhood Educators:

Standards of practice with respect to incidents of anti-Black racism must be consistently upheld


1 Learning to Critically Address Anti-Black Racism: Voice in Conversation with Kike Ojo-Thompson, Principal Consultant, Kojo Institute. ETFO Voice (Summer 2020)