New­com­ers see few peo­ple like them in po­si­tions of author­ity

The Peterborough Examiner - - OPINION -

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?

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