Canadian Government Executive - Volume 24 - Issue 07

32 / Canadian Government Executive // February/March 2019 POLICY By Tari Ajadi responsibility of mediating community concerns, but also with interpreting the litany of injustice that anti-Black racism presents to primarily white colleagues. This work is exhausting and unproductive. It stunts creativity and confidence, poten- tially forcing these representatives to re- lent from suggesting original approaches to complex issues. The upshot of these concerns is a form of policy stasis, where surface-level ap- proaches to mitigating inequities even- tually win out. No diversity seminar will transform the prison system, nor will they address significant unemployment rates among African-born immigrants. Instead of waiting for the next incident of negligence, indignity or violence to prompt a change, public servants may want to use the opportunity created by Black History Month to work differently. African Canadians across the country engage in the process of imagining and producing better futures for themselves and their children every day. Why not tap into that potential? By facilitating the de- velopment of well-resourced policy net- works with stable funding helmed and I t is soon to be February, which means that it is Black History Month (or Af- rican Heritage Month). A familiar scene typically awaits participants in the various events that federal, provincial and municipal governments hold during February: kente cloth hanging in council chambers, proclamations of unity and un- derstanding, references to pan-Africanism and quotations of civil rights icons like Dr. Martin Luther King in a commitment to promoting equality. These acts are – to be polite – unfit for purpose. They do not achieve their stated goal of acknowledging the challenges that Af- rican Canadians face, nor do they foster the kind of authentic goodwill that may engender trust between the public service and underserved communities. They risk becoming apologies that ignore ongoing harm, opting instead to issue toothless ac- knowledgements of discriminations past. African Canadians confront systemic barriers in their participation in the social, political and economic life of this country. This fact has been widely acknowledged in the highest reaches of government. As lawyer Anthony Morgan notes, however, Black Canadians must suffer the harmful effects of these barriers loudly and pub- licly to prompt significant shifts in policy. Black communities across Canada have a significant capacity to develop respon- sive and creative social policy to improve community outcomes and orient public services towards equity. This capacity is largely being ignored, in favour of con- sultation processes that rarely harness the diversity of perspectives and insights required to move the needle. These con- sultation processes fail to produce com- munity buy-in, often feel like an after- thought, and lead community members to feel like their concerns will be housed in yet another report to gather dust on a senior policymaker’s shelf. Worse still, in an attempt to develop more ‘diverse’ decision-making bodies, a single black representative is appointed or elected to represent an entire community’s issues. This person ends up being placed in a double-bind, tasked not only with the supported by African Canadians, govern- ments in all jurisdictions may find that they significantly increase their policy- making capacity. Engagement sessions tend to run more smoothly when community brokers can trust that what they articulate will be re- flected in policy. Evaluation processes may become more honest when members do not have to re-articulate the most funda- mental aspects of their life experience. Most importantly, being treated as an equal and engaged partner means having a stake in the success of a project. These kinds of partnerships have, when implemented, produced fantastic results. The Nova Scotia Brotherhood Initiative, for instance, emerged from a collaboration between the provincial government, the Nova Scotia Health Authority, and com- munity groups like the Health Associa- tion of African Canadians, as a project to deliver culturally-specific care for African Nova Scotian men. The project is widely regarded as a success, and is embraced by the community as an example of a well- designed and implemented program. Ensuring programs like the Nova Sco- tia Brotherhood Initiative succeed means trusting methods of cooperative policy deliberation that uplift African Canadian voices, and it means following through with the funding required to realise com- munity visions fully. By finding a way to engage marginalised voices authentically, governments can enhance their decision- making processes for everybody. That’s the kind of unity that Black History Month should inspire. Tari Ajadi is a PhD student in Politi- cal Science at Dalhousie University and a Junior Fellow at the MacEachen Institute for Public Policy and Gover- nance. His research focuses on the use of policy networks to combat racial health inequities. Thinking Differently about Black History Month Martin Luther King press conference, 1964. Photo: The Library of Congres