In collaboration with several other organizations, McMaster Womanists have taken on a bottom-up approach to addressing racism within the city of Hamilton through the Anti-Racism Action Initiative.
The Anti-Racism Action Initiative is a grassroots, discussion-based series of events hosted by the McMaster Womanists meant to tackle the various intersections of race and community issues. The first event took place in late Nov. 2016 and gathered over 250 people to discuss their experiences of racism in Hamilton and to incorporate them into a report that outlines over 30 demands of Hamiltonians regarding racism within their city.
The first event was held in response to the shortcomings and criticisms of the Sept. 26 Anti-Racism Directorate’s community consultation, in collaboration with McMaster Indigenous Students Community Alliance, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice, The Presidents Advisory Council on idling an Inclusive Community, New Generation Youth Centre and the office of Councillor Matthew Green.
Held at the Central Hamilton Public Library, the Anti-Racism Action Initiative served as a more accessible venue for community members and students to discuss their experiences of racism and xenophobia within the city of Hamilton. The event was set in focus group discussions surrounding a series of topics, and amplified the voices of community members by allowing them to use their lived experiences to draft strategies for the change they would like to see in the community.
"Making sure that we're staying informed on what's going on locally and globally is important. The issues of racism are always tied to broader concepts of colonialism, imperialism and can't be removed from larger contexts."
Demands of this report surrounded topics including the intersectionality of disability, carding and police brutality, anti-Indigenous racism, community backlash, labour discrimination, hate crimes and gentrification.
On March 31, the Anti-Racism Action Initiative held a Community Report Back, an event that gathered over 150 people to discuss the full report summary from the first Anti-Racism Action Initiative event, in addition to community updates of race related happenings in the city. Taking form through discussion groups assigned to each topic in collaboration with the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, the Report Back allowed the community to decide what the next steps were.
“Staying involved and making sure that the demands that came out of the initial report are being worked on is a good step,” said Sarah Jama, co-president of the McMaster Womanists and co-planner of the event. “But also making sure that we’re staying informed on what’s going on locally and globally is important. The issues of racism are always tied to broader concepts of colonialism, imperialism and can’t be removed from larger contexts.”
Following the event, Jama released a statement to her Facebook page regarding an incident with a security guard that occurred during the Anti Racism Action Initiative Community Report Back. As noted in her statement, during the event, a security guard allegedly refused entry to individuals who came to the event late and refused reentry to individuals who stepped out briefly, including Jama’s mother, although the McMaster Womanists had booked the space.
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The security guard allegedly told community members and volunteers that if they left the event or came to the event late, that they would be refused entry, without the knowledge of the organizers. Jama’s mother, who had volunteered to help with child minding at the event, had left the event briefly. Upon her return, she was denied entry, but had returned to the event to supervise the children in attendance amongst the traffic of individuals leaving.
The security guard had allegedly yelled at Jama’s mother in front of the children in the room, asking her to leave the library despite a white ally explaining that Jama’s mother was a volunteer. The security guard then allegedly threatened to call the police because they were afraid that Jama’s mother was being aggressive.
Jama noted in her statement that they will be filing a formal complaint against the security guard, and stressed that the issue with the security guard, not the Hamilton Public Library.
The McMaster Womanists are to review the minutes from each table discussion from the Anti-Racism Initiative Community Report Back and will assign the demands noted within each discussion to various community groups and activists who will take on the responsibility of accomplishing them. The group plans to reconvene next spring to update the community on the work that is being done.