December 15, 2017 6:40 pm

Liberal MP says racial microaggressions ‘happen all the time’ on Parliament Hill

Celina Caesar-Chavannes, the Liberal MP for Whitby says she regularly experiences racial microaggression while working on Parliament Hill.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail via CP
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A Liberal MP has opened up about her experience with racial microaggression while working on Parliament Hill.

Celina Caesar-Chavannes, who represents the riding of Whitby, Ont., took to Instagram Thursday evening detailing an event of what she called “microaggression” while getting ready for a photo shoot in the women’s washroom.

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“I was in the bathroom of my office building on Wellington in Ottawa. Putting on the final touches of makeup for what was to be an epic photo shoot for an equally epic magazine spread coming out in March 2018,” she wrote.

“I was excited. I was joy personified. My moment was interrupted when two women walked into that fifth-floor washroom giggling. The first, older with sandy blonde hair, walked straight past me and into the stall. The second, the younger blonde, although not natural because she needed to get her roots done, proceeded to put her wallet on the counter by the front door.”

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The morning this picture was taken, I was in the bathroom of my office building on Wellington in Ottawa. Putting on the final touches of make-up for what was to be an epic photo shoot for an equally epic magazine spread coming out in March 2018. I was excited. I was joy personified. My moment was interrupted when two women walked into that 5th floor washroom giggling. The first, older with sandy blonde hair, walked straight passed me and into the stall. The second, the younger blonde, although not natural because she needed to get her roots done, proceeded to put her wallet on the counter by the front door. Not the counter of the little sitting area further into the washroom, but the ledge right by the front door. As she placed her wallet down and our eyes met in the reflection of the mirror, she said, “Don’t steal my wallet ok?” My smile, joy and excitement vanished. She noticed, because she quickly responded with an, “I was just joking” – with a little sprinkle of “like duh??” on the side. Earlier that day the security at Wellington did not open the door for me to enter, even though I have been working in that building for a year (and been a Member of Parliament for two years). By noon of that day, another told me that I needed a pass to get back in the building or I would have to wait in line. To say that these micro-aggressions do not bother me, would be a lie. They do. They happen all the time. “What are you doing here?’ “Show me your pass or you cannot get on the bus?” “Are you with them?” as they point to the White men in suits ahead of me. Each experience draining my energy, sucking a little bit of life out of me, like death by a thousand cuts. So what do you do Celina? You stand. You swallow and you stand. That is what we have been doing for centuries. Enduring lash after lash, and standing. Enduring insult after insult and standing. Swallowing tears because mama said, “Never let them see you cry. Never let them know that they hurt you.” I stand for my daughters. I will accept every micro-aggression and racist insult that is hurled at me for them. I stand for all our daughters. We all need to stand. Love and hugs, Celina

A post shared by Celina Caesar-Chavannes (@mpcelina) on

Caesar-Chavannes said when the second woman put her wallet down, their eyes met in the reflection of the mirror. The women then said, “don’t steal my wallet, OK?”

“My smile, joy and excitement vanished,” Celina Caesar-Chavannes wrote.

“She noticed, because she quickly responded with an, ‘I was just joking,’ with a little sprinkle of `like, duh??’ on the side.”

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Caesar-Chavannes said this is one of many experiences of “microaggression” that have happened to her on the Hill. Earlier that day, she said security did not open the door for her to enter, even though she said she’s been working there for more than a year.

“To say that these micro-aggressions do not bother me, would be a lie. They do. They happen all the time,” she wrote.

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“‘What are you doing here?’ ‘Show me your pass or you cannot get on the bus?’ ‘Are you with them?’ as they point to the White men in suits ahead of me. Each experience draining my energy, sucking a little bit of life out of me, like death by a thousand cuts.”

What is racial microaggression?

The term “microaggression” is usually associated with casual racism. According to Columbia University professor Dr. Derald Sue, it can be unintentional or intentional, but usually contains a hostile or a racial slight towards people of colour.

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“These racial microaggressions may on the surface, appear like a compliment or seem quite innocent and harmless, but nevertheless, they contain what we call demeaning meta-communications or hidden messages,” Sue wrote in a blog post.

Although microaggression can seem harmless to some, it can snowball into a feeling of alienation for others, according to Chi Nguyen, CEO of Parker P Consulting, the social enterprise of the White Ribbon campaign.

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“You then end up carrying this very heavy weight. You feel like you don’t belong to the institutions you represent,” she said.

“We all have a responsibility to learn about the unconscious bias we carry. You should be calling things out if you see this in your workplace,” Nguyen said.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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