Newcomers see few people like them in positions of authority
Canada is widely seen as one of the most tolerant, multicultural and racially progressive counties in the world.
But racism exists here, as it does everywhere. Sometimes racism is public, as it was in Peterborough when Kevin Goudreau of the racist antiimmigrant organization Canadian Nationalist Front tried to organize a rally here.
Peterborough reacted well. Goudreau was denounced by the city leadership. His rally never came off, but a pro-immigration march in response did and drew a large and passionate crowd.
In general, though, issues of race and acceptance are less public and more nuanced. That doesn’t make them less important, only harder to get a handle on.
The hiring of a white Canadian-born man as the new executive director of the New Canadians Centre and public criticism of that hiring by the chair of the Community Race Relations Committee of Peterborough is a prime example.
Charmaine Magumbe, the CCRC chair, has a history of reminding Peterborough that immigrants here have to deal with racism. Her “speak truth to power” approach is necessary and serves the community well.
Last week, in a statement issued to local media, Magumbe called out the NCC for hiring a white, Peterborough-born male to head an organization that represents immigrants.
Magumbe wrote that she was shocked and disappointed. She argued that the new executive director could not relate to an immigrant’s experience and that the NCC had fallen behind on its history as a community leader in hiring staff who are female and non-white.
The NCC board of directors’ response said, in part, that it was confident its new leader “will continue to champion the goals of equity and inclusivity for our community and to support our diverse staff in maintaining the highest quality of service to and support for our clients and volunteers.”
A majority of the NCC board are immigrants themselves. They no doubt considered the optics, and realities, of hiring a white, non-immigrant to lead the organization and chose to go with the person they felt was the best candidate.
But Magumbe has a very strong case that only an immigrant, and a non-white immigrant, can be the best representative of what the NCC does and the place it holds in Peterborough.
A new immigrant to Peterborough can’t help but notice the people in charge here are almost entirely white. That includes not just the traditional power structure of government, police etc. but the leaders of social agencies, educational institutions, the media, health care and charities.
Peterborough’s federal member of Parliament, Maryam Monsef, is one obvious exception, an immigrant from Afghanistan. Two first-term black city councillors are another. And many immigrants are delighted to see those reflections of “the other,” of themselves, in public office.
The New Canadians Centre’s response did not directly answer Magumbe’s concern. Their executive director likely will be good at the job, champion the organization’s goals and support his staff and the immigrant clients they serve, as the board’s letter states.
He will not, however, be the representative face of Peterborough’s increasingly non-white immigrant community. The NCC has missed an important opportunity to give immigrants confidence that they, or someone who looks like them, can be a community leader in Peterborough.
If they cannot get that example from the New Canadians Centre, then where?