DT News interview: Seyi Okuribido-Malcolm, the Director of the Anti-Racism Secretariat

Video / May 26, 2021


(E) The Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces recently announced the launch of the Anti-Racism Secretariat – an important step in fostering an environment anchored in equity, dignity and respect for all Defence Team members.

Today, we’re joined by Seyi Okuribido-Malcolm (S), the Secretariat’s Director to discuss how the group plans to address anti-Indigenous, anti-Black, and other forms of racism and discrimination.

(E) Seyi, thank you so much for joining us today. I was hoping you could start by shedding a little light on what exactly the Anti-Racism Secretariat is, and how it's hoping to impact the Defence Team.

(S) Yes, I would love to. Before I go any further, though, I do want to respectfully acknowledge that I am speaking to you as a settler in Ottawa, from the traditional and unceded and unsurrendered territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people.

For the Secretariat, we really do want to take a hearts, hands and minds approach to this work. And I say that in the sense that, from a mind perspective, we're going to like take an academic review, identifying where the barriers are in the system, and from a hands perspective, we at the Secretariat, really are going to roll up our sleeves and see where we can really look to dismantle the system by reviewing policies and enacting accountability measures like putting in place practical measures that will change the outcome and impact that has traditionally been disproportionally negatively impacting indigenous, black and racialized people. One thing that’s fundamental to us too is the heart. So really approaching this from a place of deliberateness but also with compassion and intentional compassion.

(E) The next question I'm sure you get all the time, but maybe you'll help us understand a little bit more about why the Anti-Racism Secretariat is focused primarily on the anti-indigenous and anti-black racism.

(S) Yes, I do get this question quite a bit. And I just need to say upfront, the Anti-Racism Secretariat is mandated to address all forms of racism for all indigenous and all racialized people. We have been asked to pay particular attention to anti-indigenous and anti-black racism. This has been communicated as an area of particular focus for this Prime Minister and the Clerk of the Privy Council.

You know, we subscribe, within the Secretariat, to the principles of universal design which state that when you're able to design for those users at the margin, you increase your chances of producing something that works for most people regardless of age, size, ability or disability or any other identity factor that may cause a barrier. So anti-racism work looks at how we can incorporate universal design as we revamp the system for all.

(E) Seyi, I was hoping that you could leave us with a practical example or a tangible way that individuals can work in their everyday lives to help eliminate systemic racism and to be anti-racist within the Defence Team.

(W) Yes. Definitely, I can do that. But to be honest, to resolve the problem of systemic racism, it requires it to be addressed from three levels. The individual, the institution and the organization cultural level.

On an individual level, if we, as the Defence Team, can develop an anti-racism mindset, that would go a long way. We need to learn how to interrupt our biases by challenging ourselves daily. So when we're making assumptions or declare something to be true, we need to ask ourselves why.

I’d like to just end on this quote by Ijeoma Oluo, author of So you want to talk about Race?. In her book, Ijeoma shares: "The beauty of anti-racism is that you don't have to pretend to be free of racism to be anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including yourself."

(E) Seyi, thanks for that powerful sentiment. Thank you for the practical advice. Thank you and your team for your effort within the Defence Team to help dismantle the barriers that exist. And thank you especially for your time here today.

(S) No, thank you.

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