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Dorothy Rhau’s creative approach to breaking barriers for Black women

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WATCH: One Montreal woman is doing her part to carve a space for more Black women in society. She says members of her community often face double discrimination and have to fight more than most to be seen. As Phil Carpenter reports, Dorothy Rhau is using two platforms to try and change that. – Feb 22, 2022

Dorothy Rhau sees herself as someone who will always have a reason to laugh.

“When I die I want people to see me in the coffin with a smile,” she laughed, speaking from her LaSalle borough office.  “I used to tell my mother that if I stop laughing, it’s because something is wrong with me.”

For years she supported herself as a comedian, blazing a trail as the country’s first Black female Francophone standup comic, even winning a Black Canadian national award a few years ago.

“Yes, in 2014,” she declared.  “Best entertainer of the year.”

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Through her character, Mémère, she used the stage as a platform to address issues affecting Black communities.  Born and raised in Montreal she said she’s used to racism.

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“Since I was a little girl I’ve had to fight for my space,” she recalled.

Five years ago out of frustration with what she sees as the invisibility of black women, she created a new stage, a non-profit organization called Audace au Féminin.

She explained, “for me it was time for us to have a platform so people can hear our voices, can include us in part of the decisions of society.”

The aim, she said, is to support Black women who, she pointed out, face not just racism, but sexism too.

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According to her, though the mission of Audace au Féminin is to help Black women entrepreneurs through events and education, they support women from all backgrounds.

The organization also hosts the annual Salon International De La Femme Noire where mostly Black women entrepreneurs from across Canada and overseas meet, network and coach each other.

“It’s a way also to give tools and it’s a safe space for Black women to celebrate,” she told Global News.

This summer’s edition will be the third.

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The city of Montreal helps host the event.  Bochra Manaï, the city’s commissioner for the Fight Against Racism and Systemic Discrimination, stressed that events like it help to sensitize and educate people who don’t experience racism or discrimination.

“But it’s also a way to give space to these voices who deal with racism and with discrimination in their everyday life,” she pointed out.

Manaï added that the event also helps to bring Black communities and city’s institutions closer.

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Claire-Anse Saint-Eloi who said she’s inspired by the fair is relieved to have the space.

“Our diversity of experiences and being is presented, and there’s a space where we can learn more about what other Black women were doing in Montreal,” she emphasized.

Though Rhau hopes the event will continue to grow, she says she wants to return to comedy eventually because, according to her, she still has a lot to say.

“I’m going to shock people, because that’s my thing,” she laughed.

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