For Cecily Pouchet Alexander, who arrived in Edmonton, Canada, in 1969 at age 19 to attend university, the reality of racism was “immediate and shocking.”
“It wasn’t until many years later with political correctness that racism changed from overt to covert in the form of micro-aggressions and micro-invalidations in the workplace,” she said of her experience as an immigrant.
Those experiences are chronicled in her book, Immigration, Race and Survival from Trinidad to Canada…Living in Parallel Worlds.
“My life of classism in Trinidad is chronicled before my immigration,” said Alexander.
She described the book, her second, as a self-discovery. She was able to examine racism through different lenses and her understanding of race and prejudice became clearer through new definitions of race like micro-aggressions, critical race theory, implicit bias, and more. She believes her memoir may move a few white readers to take up her challenge to be more than not racist and become anti-racist.
Alexander explained: “This challenge isn’t easy! The antiracist needs to have an anti-racist agenda. It needs reflection, understanding of the forms racism takes, understanding of white privilege and even engaging in critical race theory.
“Understand white supremacy in your work. Being an anti-racist is understanding that racism takes different forms. Think of becoming an ally. If you work in a classroom or university, ask if your classroom is racist. Be aware that communities of colour have seen multiple police killings of black men, women and boys. Embrace EDI (equity diversity and inclusion).”
She added: “I came to learn that there are significant differences between Trinidad and the United States. Trinidad is a country where politicians and governments are run by blacks or people of colour and Trinidad’s history of slavery is different from the US. Slaves were treated as people, not property,” she said,
“The powerlessness of covert racism speaks to externalising racist incidents that do not work in power relationships where your boss can fire you. Your job is how you identify yourself, your career, and how you provide shelter, food, clothing and other necessities for your family. In two work experiences, I had managers whose main goal appeared to be how to find a way to fire me. One succeeded and the other almost did.”
Alexander said race played a part in all of her employment experiences. Her first job cracked it right open. After six months of job hunting following an internship in Montreal as a dietitian, she was considered for a job in London, Ontario, at Victoria Hospital. That was in 1978. Three positions were available for which she qualified, but she was only offered a six-month maternity relief position rather than one of the two full-time positions.
She recalled: “I excelled at my job and went above and beyond what was expected. Both my manager and the director of Food Services recognised my worth and I was offered a permanent position at the end of the six months. The next year I married my university sweetheart in London. He lived in Kitchener but I would not give up my job in London and move to Kitchener after marriage. I wanted to get a job in Kitchener first.”
Alexander went on from there to secure several jobs at hospitals where her experiences over the years made her look at the future with lenses she hopes everyone else will wear. She remains concerned about anti-immigrant rhetoric and referred to an incident in her hometown where four members of a Muslim family were.
“It is impossible to give up bias that has been acquired over a lifetime of media exposure and real-world experiences, but my optimism is with our future generations. Please work with our young, they are our future,” she said
Still, Alexander said she loves Canada.
“It is the best place on earth I think to live. I have so many white allies and I am optimistic. We are 73 per cent white. A percentage of this number is prejudiced, but think of how many others are not. There are a lot of white allies out there.”
The mother and grandmother of three has a degree in nutrition from the University of Guelph and a Master’s in business administration with a specialisation in organisational behaviour.
Her book, published in July last year in Canada, is available locally at Paper Based Bookstore, Normandie and RIK, Long Circular Mall and online at Amazon.com, Indigo and Barnes and Noble. For further information: +1.519.859.5819 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.