Racism in Canada || Racism in Corporate Canada

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Kemet 28, 506 otd

How White Supremacy Works in Corporate Canada

Written by: jkm

The first time I really felt the sting of white supremacy was when I attended Dalhousie University. I was an MBA student, and at that time, Dalhousie would send out the resumes of its graduating class to introduce them to Canadian companies and to make industry leaders aware of the school’s new crop of future business leaders. Dalhousie assisted the students with the preparation of their resumes. We had classes, there were assigned readings including the book What Color is Your Parachute. We were told how important it was and how many students from last year’s class got job offers right out of school through this process. I thought: great, Dalhousie is going to introduce me to companies, and I will have that wind in my sails when I hit the job market for real. I never got that support because Dalhousie only sent out the resumes of Canadians. Canadian for Dalhousie is defined as white and if they were not white then certainly a Canadian would not have an African name. Those two things: my black skin and my African name have made me a lesser, and in many cases like at Dalhousie, an outright non-Canadian. How did that affect me? I was so upset at what you, Mr. Stockwell Day, would refer to as a “few idiot racists” at Dalhousie that I stop studying. I stop going to classes, and in a few weeks, I wasn’t only behind; I was in real danger of failing. Fortunately, I came to my senses, and even though my final grades were not what they could have been, I still managed to graduate. That wound would hurt every time I had a job interview. I expected that an interviewer would pull out the Dalhousie book of resumes and accuse me of lying about my qualifications because my resume isn’t in the book. As painful as that first sting was, it taught me my greatest lesson. It taught me that I should not let the systemic racism in Canadian society destroy me and my family.

Mr. Day, I know that you are thinking right about now, that you are right, there is no systemic racism in Canada because I was in graduate school before I got my first real sting from white supremacy. I said it was my first real sting, but it was not my first experience with racism. Dalhousie hurt because I had attached economic value to it. If I had gotten an introduction to the right company, my career may have landed me on the Board of Telus. My first experience with Canadian racism took place in the afternoon of February 5, 1974 (Nubia 5, 458 otd). My family and I were on a bus in Montreal, and yes, Mr. Day, one of those “few idiot racists” was also riding and objected to us being on the bus. There are two interesting things about that incident. The first one is that I was in Canada for less than 24 hours but more important and luckily for my family, there was a Black man on that bus, and he stood right up and defended us against one of your idiots. Growing up in Montreal, I didn’t give much thought to racism, not because there was no racism in Montreal but because I grew up in a community that protected me. I attended Northmount High School, which had more than 50% Black students, I played basketball in the Black community league, I attended the Rastafarian church. My world in Montreal was one my parents and my people built for me and it was Black. The one white man I would see in my community on a regular basis was a Jewish man who had extended credit to people in my community. He saw a business opportunity because there were a few of those “idiot racists” managing the Bank of Montreal, CIBC, Royal Bank of Canada, et al. and they were not extending credit to the Black communities. You are probably thinking, Mr. Day, that the banks had good reasons for not supporting the Black communities. You are probably thinking that my community was one of high unemployment and menial jobs. That’s not true. There were lots of people in the community with menial jobs, no doubt; we are Black in a white supremacy country. Some women nannied for the rich whites in Hampstead and there were men who had janitorial and other essential but low paying jobs. But there were also a significant number of men in my community who worked in the auto plants around Montreal and women who were teachers and nurses. That school I attended had a significant number of Black teachers among its staff. It may have taken me until my mid-twenties to get my first real sting from white supremacy but that is not because there is no systemic racism in Canada, it is because as a child I was protected, as much as possible, by my parents and my community from that oppression.

The next time I felt the sting of white supremacy and white entitlement was right after Dalhousie. I was job hunting for real and my resume ended up in the office of a CEO and president of a company that I had targeted. The president sent back a rejection letter that included the words “there is absolutely nothing that you can do here.” Before I could internalize his message, my wife took the letter and told me “don’t bother with him; he is an idiot.” I guess in that moment Mr. Day, my wife would concur with you, there are idiot racists in Alberta. The only reason I am not giving you his name is that he is dead. Let’s agree to let the dead have their just rewards. I would be surprised Mr. Day, if you did not know him when he was alive because he was from one of Alberta’s premier families. I suspect that when you are thinking of a “few idiot racists” in Canada, those are not the people you are thinking about. But those are the people who maintain systems in our society. Whether it is the transit system, power system, telephone system or racism system, those type of people have a role to play. So, let’s be clear, in sending me that letter he was playing his role in supporting white supremacy and white entitlement. A simple no thank you Mr. Mbdw would have sufficed, but he had to take his shot at putting his knee on my neck.

I do not know, Mr. Day, if you have ever wondered how much better your career in corporate Canada would have been if you were not harassed, if your job prospects were not limited and your rights as a citizen of Canada have not been so often violated just because you wear glasses. I have wondered how much better my career might have been if I did not have to overcome white supremacy and white entitlement. I cannot tell you Mr. Day how much further than sitting on the board of one of the biggest going concerns in our economy you would have gone but I know that if I did not have to defend myself against white supremacy in corporate Canada, I would have gone a lot further. I might have even made it all the way to the Telus board because, you see Mr. Day, without white supremacy and systemic racism, the unconscious criteria for being on Telus’ board would not include being white.

You and I may have more in common than you may think. My first job out of Dalhousie was a contract position working for the Alberta Government’s Treasury Department. One of the Heritage Fund’s project that I worked on was issuing Telus shares to the market. So, you see, Mr. Day, we both have Telus experience. That job was my doorway into what I considered to be the real corporate world (i.e. non-government). I landed a job at TransAlta Utilities, as a Treasury Analyst, I was beside myself with joy. I don’t know how you got your first job Mr. Day but I am willing to bet that it was an extension of the summer job your mom or dad got you in the corporation that they worked at. Those opportunities are not open to Black people. Those types of jobs are a part of white entitlement and can actually be considered a type of special program for white people. I had to win my TransAlta and every other job I have had. They were posted in the newspaper and I had to beat out every other candidate to get them. So, you can understand how happy I was to get the job. My plan was to go from Treasury Analyst to Treasurer then to CFO and then to a corporate board, maybe even Telus’, but I was naïve. I knew that I qualified for my job and the two guys who hired me knew I was the best candidate for their role. But no one else believed that a Black man could possibly qualify to work in a company like TransAlta.

My first year at TransAlta was challenging. I was reminded on a regular basis that I did not belong. Other employees would show up at my office and demand, in the way that superior white people demand explanations from Black men, that I explain to them how TransAlta’s affirmative action program works. All of those people assumed that there is no way that a Black man could qualify for a role at TransAlta. They had high school diplomas and I had an undergrad degree in economics and mathematics plus a masters’ degree in business administration and they believed that the only way that I could qualify to work at TransAlta is if the company had a special government program. Without a doubt, there were a “few idiot racists hanging around” TransAlta but it goes without saying, that I could handle a “few idiot racists.” What I could not handle is when one of those idiot racists became my supervisor. One of the features of my career in corporate Canada is that just about every time I got a new supervisor I was fired. Idiot racists, Mr. Day, do not want to have black men working on their teams. That’s what happen to me at TransAlta. The two guys who hired me got new jobs and the new treasurer just did not believe that I was a good fit for his team. This has happened to me often enough for me to know that if Alberta’s unemployment rate is low, at the time of my firing, it will be a year before I am back in the saddle.

Every company I have worked for calls itself an “equal opportunity employer.” That is an empty claim. There are no equal opportunity employers in Canada, not the publicly traded companies nor the closely held or private companies. They cannot demonstrate that they are fair in their hiring practice. Mr. Day, how many times did the board have a committee to audit its hiring practice to determine if Telus is achieving its goal of being an “equal opportunity employer”? Equal opportunity employer is an easy claim to make, just like many of the recent show of support for Black lives, but no one cares about it. It is not measured. It is not a KPI. It is not an objective on anyone’s performance contract. It has no impact on anyone’s bonus and that’s why no one cares about it. The only person affected by the statement “equal opportunity employer” is the Black person, who has somehow outsmarted white supremacy and dodged white entitlement to land a job at a Telus or a TransAlta. The Black person might think that he or she qualifies for the job, but every other employee believes that he or she is there because the company has some kind of diversity hiring program. This is often the reason for the poor treatment of the Black employee because unlike everyone else, Black people are not entitled to work in corporate Canada.

My job after TransAlta came in a similar way. There was a newspaper ad, I sent my resume and got an interview. The only difference was that when I went to the interview the guy sitting behind the desk was my son’s soccer coach. I got the job and even though I was interviewed by everyone on his team and the senior VP, I did not want to take the job. After my experience at TransAlta I did not want to have anything that would throw shade on my qualifications and skills. I did not make VP at TransAlta, but I still had hopes of doing so. There I was with a job offer in hand but the impact of a “few idiot racists” was causing me to vacillate. I did not want people at IPL Pipelines (now Enbridge) to say that I didn’t qualify for my role because the guy who hired me had a child on the same soccer team as mine. Black people are not shareholders in white supremacy; we are not entitled to its residual value. Under it, we don’t only lose economic value, it often causes us to make decisions that are not in our best interest. Fortunately for me, I had used up my savings and was burning through by line of credit, so I couldn’t afford to not take the job. That’s how I started at Enbridge, questioning the type of experience I am going to have even before I got there. It wasn’t long before I was working on major energy projects. I loved Enbridge. I loved the job in Corporate Planning. Above all, I loved the clear vision the company had, the confidence with which it moved, the yeah, we are doing something great here attitude. I really felt like I was one of them. But Enbridge’s leadership and the people who work at Enbridge are not from out of space. They grew up in the same environment as you did and their mental culture is the same as yours, Mr. Day. I am absolutely certain that when you talked about a “few idiot racists hanging around in Canada” you were not thinking of the people at Enbridge. Well, here is my experience with white supremacy and white entitlement at Enbridge.

I knew that for a Black man to be considered for anything at Enbridge he would have to do something spectacular. One of the things I did for Enbridge was to build them their wind power business. As my boss had once said to me, “a good idea has many fathers,” so I am not claiming that the idea to get into wind power was mine. When we started, it was just me and my boss, which means I did all of the initial work. Then an engineer was hired, and he did the engineering and I did everything else. I had dreams of building Enbridge a big power business that would include wind power, PPA’s, distributed generation, etc. I thought that this was the best way to move from being a planning analyst to a VP role. So, I worked hard; I looked for ways to add value. I remember pitching a senior VP the idea of getting into power generation in the elevator, when Alberta was de-regulating its power industry. I was looking for anything that could be a good fit for Enbridge and accretive to earnings per share. The VP rejected the idea in the elevator. He did pause before he said, “there are companies out there that could run that business better than us”. My opportunity came with wind power, I thought that if I could grow wind power into a significant business unit, I would be able to get a director or VP position in it. But Malcolm X was right, “Having a seat at the table does not make you a diner.”

All the years I worked on wind power I never had a full-time role in the business unit. I still had my regulator position in corporate planning and project evaluation. As luck would have it, we won a bid to build one of the first commercial wind farms in Canada. That’s when I got another lesson in white entitlement. After that project and another in Alberta, people started showing up at my boss’s office asking him to give them a wind job. I was still in the process of creating the wind job that they wanted. In the case where he obliged, she did not hang around for long because it was too much work. The business unit had not grown to the point where it could support a full-time finance/business development person. So, while I worked on growing the wind business unit, I still had the Gateway pipeline project to work on. Shell had assets that needed to be purchased, the purchased and reversal of spearhead pipeline had to be done and yes, there was still the five-year strategic plan to do. Since I am not an entitled person, I thought that hard work had its rewards and my reward was going to be a VP role in Enbridge Wind. But I was about to get my greatest lesson in how white supremacy takes care of its shareholders. The business grew, they celebrated the opening of the first wind farm without extending an invitation to me. But I knew the time was getting close, my next performance evaluation I would ask to be moved into the wind business unit full-time. Before, my performance review came up. I was introduced to the new Senior Business Developer for Wind. I did not know that we advertised for a full-time role in the group. The job I had worked to create for myself was gone even though I was sitting there at the table. What happened to this senior wind developer (let’s call him “John”) shows how white supremacy and white entitlement operate in corporate Canada. What happened to John is how white supremacy takes care of its own. Enbridge did not post a wind job. John met the president of Enbridge at a social event and gave him his resume. I am sure Mr. Day that even with your glasses you will not be able to see the mechanics of white supremacy here. So, I want to spell it out for you. When my resume, a Black man, ended up on the desk of a president of a company, I get told that there is absolutely nothing at that company that I can do. In other words, being black made me so incompetent that I did not even qualify to wash the floors or clean the bathrooms. One of white supremacy’s rules is to beat down the Black man as much as it can, whenever it has the opportunity. When, John, a white man, a shareholder in white supremacy; when his resume landed of the president’s desk, he gets a dream job. If you are wondering, John had no experience in wind power development.

To Enbridge credit, when I got a new supervisor I was not fired. But my new supervisor was a little too enthusiastic when the idea of transferring me out of the department away from wind and into the audit group came up. I took the job in the audit group; I knew I had failed to beat white supremacy that time and it was over. So, I packed my calculator, my pen and my highlighters and I moved on. The real sting of that loss to white supremacy and white entitlement would come a few years later when that wind power business unit, which I midwifed into existence was sold to the Canada Pension Plan for over a billion dollars. I know Mr. Day, that you shouldn’t cry over spilt milk, but for a moment, I wondered what if, what if I had won that one against white supremacy.

My next job was at EnCana Corp. and Cenovus Energy. As much as I loved Enbridge; I hated the EnCana/Cenovus environment. Yes, I got the job at EnCana because there was an ad in the newspaper. EnCana at the time was assessing the development of a pipeline and was looking for an analyst. If you have read this far, Mr. Day, you are probably thinking that my career is proof that there is no racism in Canada because I have been able to find work at good companies. If you think that, it is because you may not fully understand how white supremacy in corporate Canada operates. That’s okay, because as a shareholder, you don’t need to know the operating details. In corporate Canada, before a job is posted, it is shopped around. The manager has asked everyone he knows if they know anyone who could fill the role. If no one could be found in the system to fill the role, then the role in posted and a Black man like me could apply. That is why all the jobs I have gotten appeared in the newspaper and it is also why I could not have gotten the job I created for myself at Enbridge Wind. That job became a part of the residual value of white supremacy and it was distributed to a shareholder as if it was a dividend payment. Getting a job in corporate Canada does not prove that the company is an equal opportunity employer or that there is no racism in Canada. Every time I started a new job I was starting over. I had to overcome the same racist assumptions at EnCana as I did at TransAlta and Enbridge. But EnCana/Cenovus was a completely different animal. I have never been in a place where there were such blatant racists. There were two people who ran the Marketing floor at EnCana/Cenovus and those two people (let’s call them “Pat” and “Rick”) made my work life at EnCana/Cenovus a living hell. My opinion of them is that they are card carrying members of the klan or as we call them here in Alberta, Reformers. They had a simple belief: a Black man should not be working for EnCana/Cenovus period. They first tried to do to me what West Point Military Academy did to Henry Ossian Flipper. I am amazed, Mr. Day, at how white supremacy never forgets its tactics. I could not get anyone who reported to Pat or Rick to speak to me about EnCana/Cenovus’ business. I don’t know if it was a direct order to their staff but just about everyone fell into line. I remember my supervisor inviting me to a meeting with Pat. She walked into the meeting room and the first thing she said was “what is he doing here?” You could replace the word “he” with whatever pejorative for a Black man, you like. She didn’t say it, but she meant it. My supervisor, a transplanted American who had been sold the “nice non-racist Canada” idea that you believe in, Mr. Day, was shocked.

When silencing did not work, and I was still working there, doing well; contributing in ways that they didn’t think was possible, they started to enlist the help of external consultants to support their claim that a black man should not have a job at EnCana/Cenovus. At first, I was surprised at how easy it was for them to get consultants from firms like PriceWaterhouseCooper to be highly unprofessional and racist. The consulting reports all had the same conclusion which shows that it is not something the consultant developed but it was what they were told to say. They would say that the organization structure in Marketing where Pat and Rick managed all activities is perfect. The only area of concern is the group managed by Mr. Mbdw. What was interesting, they would write their conclusion without talking to me or anyone in my group. The first time this happened I wanted to defend my team, but my supervisor told me not to bother. Of course, as a Black man I had to tread lightly; I wanted to avoid being labelled - an angry black man. Telling people what you think of their behavior will just get you labelled. If you are a man you become “an angry Black man” and if you are a woman, you become “difficult”. That will end your career at any company. After nine years of battling white supremacy at EnCana/Cenovus I was fired. My supervisor retired and the person who replaced him had never been in an office with a Black man. Her fear was palatable. If she managed a Tim Horton’s or a Starbuck café and a Black man walked in, she would call the police. She did not believe that I was a good fit for her team but instead of just firing me, she first had to try to humiliate me. Then, she tried to convince me that I had no skills. The one thing I will say for Pat and Rick, even though they are racists, they recognized my skills. It is probably because I battled them to a draw for nine years. So, when my new supervisor tried to tell me that I have no skills, I knew that I would be starting over again. So once again, you and I have something in common, Mr. Day, we are both job hunting. One of us has an advantage, as a shareholder in white supremacy you are entitled to a job in corporate Canada. I don’t know if you are worried about finding your next role, but I can assure you that you are only six degrees away from your next board appointment. On the other hand, I have to wait until Alberta’s economy recovers and there are more jobs than there are white people to fill them. I don’t know Mr. Day where you think the “few idiot racists” in Canada hang out but I can tell you from my experience with white supremacy and white entitlement, a lot of them hang out in corporate Canada.