Building anti-racist communities is founded in principles of equity and understanding.
Without changing the power structures themselves, we can’t create the anti-racist world that we seek, said Zahra Dhanani of Community Solidarity Against Racism in Construction (CSARC) during a recent webinar.
Dhanani, one of the speakers at the Building an Inclusive Anti-Racist Society event hosted by the Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN), said when nooses were found on Toronto construction sites last year and started getting media attention, the leaders of some of the organizations on these projects were not aware of what was happening and what to do about it.
“If these power structures are not examined, interrogated, unpacked and changed it doesn’t matter how much work we do on the ground. It doesn’t matter how many Black people, Indigenous people we put on the frontlines,” she said. “It’s these power structures themselves that need to change.”
CSARC is a grassroots group that formed directly in response to these incidents. Concerned community members approached Dhanani at Old’s Cool General Store, a store in East Toronto that is billed “a movement for human kindness and connectedness.”
“We couldn’t fathom a more violent act than the erection of a noose for a Black worker to find.”
They quickly realized the issue is not a new one.
“What we realized after the first noose went up and we started talking to Black, Indigenous, racialized, gay, lesbian, disabled, female construction workers is this kind of violence has been going on in the construction industry with impunity since its inception,” Dhanani said. “We started meeting with unions and we started hearing from really traumatized people within these organizations that this is just par for the course. A noose on a construction site is not a big deal. We also started to find that the powers that be in these construction companies were not doing enough, if anything.”
Within weeks of the initial incident, a second set of nooses went up at site near the Regent Park community in Toronto. CSARC partnered with Mothers of Peace community group, which is run by BIPOC, mostly newcomer women in the community.
“We came together as a collective on July 1 and planned a protest and since then we have done six protests with regards to these nooses on several construction sites,” Dhanani said. “We have had a multi-pronged, multi-media, multi-response approach to this incredibly serious issue.”
The group has met with federal and provincial politicians, the mayor of Toronto and started a change.org petition, End Racist Violence in Commercial Construction and Building Development, with close to 7,000 signatures.
Rosemarie Powell, executive director of the TCBN, said following the incidents last year the community mobilized and the industry recognized it is a time of reckoning. People came together to look at what can be done to root out the vestiges of anti-Black and systemic racism in society, she said.
“We all have the power to be able to contribute to it and to take leadership in our own ways and in our own neighbourhoods,” said Powell.
“We cannot give up. We want to find some hope in all of this. We know that when we work together with community, with labour, with the industry we can make change and we are seeing some change and we know that we can do better.”
The webinar series will occur monthly with the next one scheduled for Oct. 14. It will explore global best practices and lessons learned when it comes to community wealth building and community benefits.
Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.