The Region of Durham is facing backlash from residents after details were shared online about a scavenger hunt created as a part of Black History Month which asked people to do things like dance to a Reggae song and identify a Black employee with whom participants speak.
“An activity like this really shows how desperate workplaces are to avoid talking about Black people’s real issues,” Desmond Cole, a Toronto-based journalist, author and activist, told Global News in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
Cole posted a picture of the activity on his Twitter account earlier in the day. The task cited opens with the question, “Can you rise to the challenge,” and participants were asked to complete it between the dates of Feb. 1 and 6 and email the responses to “email@example.com” by 5 p.m. on Monday.
Participants were asked to complete six tasks: Read (and name) a poem by a Black Canadian author; “spend a few minutes to learn about Africa” and answer three geographic questions; dance to a Reggae song and list the name; cook an African or Caribbean meal and describe it; have a conversation with a Black employee and name them; take a photo of an item in the home that reminds the participant of Black history and explain why with an accompanying picture; and unscramble and identify six words in the phrase EYGULLEECCAATTHOIONNERS.
More than four hours after Cole’s tweet, there was a statement posted from the Region of Durham’s Twitter account.
“We hear you,” the tweet said, including a picture of a statement.
The statement, which was sent to Global News about 20 minutes before the tweet when officials were asked about the activity, said “addressing anti-Black racism is a priority” for the municipality. It said there are activities throughout the month for staff to learn about Black history, Black culture and achievements within the Black community.
“Through engaging with the community and Regional staff we acknowledge that mistakes will be made when addressing anti-Black racism. This challenge activity is one of them,” the statement said.
“We continue to learn and strive to do better. Open dialogue and honest conversations allow us to better understand one another and create an anti-racist environment. We recognize we have a long way to go.”
When asked about the activity, Celina Caesar-Chavannes, an author and the former M.P. for the riding of Whitby, said it is “the definition” of anti-Black racism.
“(It’s) a very poignant example of systemic racism and what happens when you do not have enough Black employees around the table to vet these kinds of things before they go public,” she told Global News Wednesday evening.
“This is a juvenile, insulting attempt to trivialize not only Black History Month but Black constituency in Durham Region as well as employees.”
Caesar-Chavannes said the matter has raised many questions while also noting there were other proposals made to better educate residents on Black history such as featuring prominently pieces by local artists.
“Dancing to Reggae or cooking an African meal — not a South African, east African, west African, north African, African as a whole as if it’s a country — how does that celebrate or educate about Black history? How does talking to a Black employee educate about Black history?” she said.
Caesar-Chavannes also raised concern about the statement issued by the Region of Durham on Wednesday.
“That farce of a P.R. statement did not even have the decency to include the words, ‘We are sorry to the Black community,'” she said while calling for accountability from officials.
Twitter users reacted swiftly after Cole’s tweet with hundreds sharing their anger and questioning how the activity could be published.
“I feel like what they really needed to do was have that conversation before when they first thought up this ridiculous idea. Like…what? How many people saw this before it went to print. No one thought it was…a bad idea?” Jael Richardson wrote.
— With files from Brittany Rosen