By Preet Lidder (she/her), teacher, Burnaby and Shanee Prasad (she/her), Local President, Burnaby
The labour rallying cry,
An injury to one, is an injury to all!
has always struck us as strange. If this call to solidarity was true, then perhaps our working conditions would not be typified by racism. As racialized teachers that identify as women, we have sought refuge in our union, because in our working lives we have had to experience one injustice after another. Much of the difficult and uncomfortable work involved in speaking out against racism, demanding resources focused on BIPOC experiences, and fighting for equitable rights and opportunities falls on BIPOC teachers. The net result is acute fatigue, anxiety, and demoralization.
When we advocate for anti-racist and anti-oppressive schools, our work is synonymous with the BCTF’s position on better working and learning conditions. The role of racism in shaping working and learning conditions is undeniable, and improving working and learning conditions is at the centre of all union work. Thus, it was natural that we would turn to our union for sanctuary.
It is here where we learned an awful, but necessary truth: racism is systemic, so even our union is not free from it. Governance meeting after governance meeting, workshops, one-to-one interactions, all have the residue of systemic racism. To be tokenized and then dismissed all at once is a grievance that we can not file, yet a violation of human rights law we live with every day. Policy and procedures serve the interest of the dominant group. We then raise the question, “What is solidarity?”
The truth is we all care about our schools; we care about the standard of education in BC, and we know we must do better, as a union and as a province. The only way we are going to do better is to work together, all of us united. The Federation’s Commitment to Solidarity lays the framework for what unity and diversity within democracy can look like. The principles of equitable treatment, mutual respect, and safety and dignity for all members are noble ideas that are within reach if we listen to the excluded ones: we are the ones who know how integral solidarity is. Our collective voice is strongest when it includes all members. Racism needs to be viewed as an injury to all, not just a misfortune that falls on some.
We are in a better position to achieve the gains we need as teachers when we are anti-racist and anti-oppressive.
This work is guilt-free, shame-free, blame-free; it is about responsibility and accountability. As long-time organizer, educator, and abolitionist Mariame Kaba said in her June 2020 interview with Rebel Steps, “... I don’t believe in allyship, and I’m super bored with the concept of performativity. I believe in strugglers and I believe in co-workers and I believe in solidarity.”
We seek to show that the injury of oppression is a detriment to all, and we need all hands on deck to be the collective for social justice that we profess to be.