By listening to Black, Indigenous and People of Colour in the industry, we can gain a better understanding of what work needs to be done
By Jackie Clark
Since the murder of George Floyd on May 25, individuals and communities around the world have come together to speak up against racism, in all its forms. In the agricultural industry, this necessary conversation remains fairly new.
“Racism isn’t being talked about in ag. It’s not something you always feel comfortable talking about,” Himadry Singh told Farms.com. She’s a marketing coordinator in the ag industry, based in Saskatoon. She’s speaking out about racism that Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) face, citing her experiences in the industry.
Initially, the ag industry was notably silent on the topic of racism, although the broader society focused on the issue. When the conversation started in ag communities, many individuals denied the existence of racism in the industry.
“When I went through ag twitter, and I was scrolling through it for a while, I really had to reach out to my support system. I didn’t feel like I belonged in ag,” Singh said. “I felt like an outsider, just from some of the comments that were said and the lack of awareness on what was going on.”
To prevent our BIPOC colleagues and community members from feeling this way, how can we identify and address racism in ag?
“It starts with recognizing the biases that already are there,” Singh said. Racism is not always obvious slurs or derogatory terms.
“Sometimes, it’s in the subtle things. … If I’m at a trade show, people ask where I’m from. If I say Saskatchewan, some people will ask where I’m really from,” she explained. “You wouldn’t ask a white person that.”
Similarly, people often ask Singh how she got into the ag industry, as opposed to simply asking her white peers how long they’ve been in the industry. Those small differences are examples of microaggressions that show how we can, even unconsciously, treat BIPOC differently.
“Those actions are what builds up to a bigger problem,” Singh added.
Institutional and systemic racism can also show up in the ag industry. Everything from stock images in marketing materials in the industry to how agricultural colleges recruit students can reflect an unconscious bias of what we think people in the ag industry should look like.
Once we identify covert racism or unconscious bias, how do we address it?
Internally, companies can look at how they hire, as well as biases in who they market jobs to or contact for interviews, Singh explained. “How are you getting BIPOC through the door or even interested ag?”
As an example of bias in hiring, often BIPOC will be asked or advised to change their name to something more English sounding, she said. “And lots do, because they recognize that, if their name is more English, they might actually get the interview. If they leave their original name, it already creates this bias.”
Educational institutions can also be mindful of who they target.
“At ag colleges, are you recruiting in a way that would reach minorities?” she asked.
Representation of BIPOC in the ag industry could also be improved.
“It’s the same way where, years back, you wouldn’t often see a woman on a panel,” Singh said. Event organizers can consciously give BIPOC experts opportunities to have their voices heard in the industry.
“Ag has a lot of trade shows and a lot of events that we love to host. Why not have a range of diverse speakers?” Singh asked.
For a long time, a burden has been on BIPOC individuals in the industry.
“I always have to show up and prove myself. My worth is only determined after I prove myself, whereas other people are given that benefit of the doubt,” Singh said.
“When BIPOC face racism, you don’t know if you can stand up, you don’t know what the expectations are,” she explained. She does not always know if she will be supported by her peers or employers in speaking out in such situations.
We must all contribute to combat overt, covert, systemic and institutional racism.
“It’s really about the industry coming together,” Singh said.
People may want to deny racism exists in agriculture “because it takes a lot of work (to address). It’s very uncomfortable to look at yourself and realize that you are part of this problem. But I hope (people) realize that, just as much as you’ve been a part of it, you also can be part of the change. You can create an environment where people are included,” she explained.
Besides advocating for systemic and institutional changes, individuals within the ag industry should stand up to racism every time they hear it.
“It’s about standing up, even when there isn’t a minority in the group, when those jokes are made. You might be at an event and someone casually makes a joke (or comment). Your silence is also accepting what they are saying,” Singh said.
“It’s very uncomfortable to stand up. But it’s also important to remember what a minority feels. That discomfort you feel is only a fraction of what a minority feels when a comment like that is made.”
White people can use their privilege to stand up for racialized minorities in such situations. Fighting racism is hard work, but individuals in the ag industry are no strangers to hard work. Anti-racism in any space requires dedication to ongoing learning.
“When this movement came, it put a lot of pressure on people of colour,” Singh explained. Educating peers about racism involves a lot of emotional labour for BIPOC. We can ease that burden by seeking anti-racism resources and education tools, abundantly available in books and online.
That learning may involve understanding the history of racism and how that history continues to affect BIPOC people today, or familiarizing yourself with how the customs of a co-worker from another culture may be different than your own.
“It’s taking responsibility to dive deeper, know what you don’t know and dig in,” Singh said. “It’s important to realize what you can do, and how to lessen the burden of others. To some, this fight is new. But for a lot of us, we’ve been living this our entire life.”
Anti-racism work can be hard and uncomfortable. But “it’s not the responsibility of BIPOC to make this a comfortable conversation. It never will be a conversation that is comfortable,” she added.
Singh hopes people continue to support groups within the industry that haven’t had an opportunity to have their voices heard.
“This is a long-term commitment,” Singh said. “It starts with you. It’s understanding what you have and haven’t done. It’s understanding what change you can create and using your white privilege in a way that can support others. Part of that is having very different conversations with your family and friends.”
Through increased BIPOC representation, ongoing education, and individual accountability, we can all make agriculture an anti-racist community.
Click here for a look at how to have those tough conversations about racism.
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