Pluralism and the Pandemic

Looking to understand and address racism? Pluralism can help

Publication Date: June 2020

Blog from the Global Centre for Pluralism

COVID-19 has not only provoked a public health crisis, it has also provoked deepening inequalities and, now, social unrest. With the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the ensuing demonstrations and police brutality against protestors, the events of these past weeks have led individuals and institutions, in the US and around the world, to deeply reflect on how to engage in discussion and take action against racial prejudice.

Police violence and the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans are dramatically salient examples of racism today. COVID-19 has highlighted similar trends of disproportionate violence against racialized groups in many other parts of the world. From countries spanning South Africa, Kenya, India to Palestine, communities that have long suffered from economic repression and government neglect because of their racial, ethnic or religious composition are the ones now being hit hardest by police enforcement of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. A recent example, that is being compared to the George Floyd case, is the assault and death of a black South African, Collins Khosa, at the hands of the military for allegedly not obeying COVID-19 rules while at his own home in the township of Alexandra.

In Canada, we are not immune. COVID-19 has underscored that health inequities exist along racial lines, with experts saying that racism accounts for why we see worse health outcomes for Black Canadians.

The dangerous convergence of coronavirus fears, heightened police presence, and economic uncertainty, with persistent marginalization, have created the perfect storm for instability and violence in many parts of the world. The need for tools and resources to dismantle systems of oppression within institutions and foster understanding across groups has never been more urgent.


Addressing racism through pluralism

At the Global Centre for Pluralism, our research and educational initiatives focus on addressing inequality and exclusion around the world. Inequality is profoundly interconnected with racism.

There are many ways in which people are marked as “different” in society, for instance, because of their race, ethnicity, language, indigeneity, religion, class, gender, age, sexual orientation, and so on. It is most often along these lines of differences that inequality happens. Racism coincides with inequality because the groups that are subjected to racism also face socio-economic and political exclusion, creating deeply harmful, unjust outcomes.

At the Centre, we believe that every person must be treated with dignity and respect; that is pluralism. To build pluralistic, peaceful and just societies, inequality cannot be left unaddressed.

To combat inequality and exclusion, and build pluralism, change must happen at the institutional level (society’s “hardware”) and at the socio-cultural level (society’s “software”). A ‘hardware-software’ approach can inform a response to racism. Racism involves prejudice and discriminatory behaviors—these cultural or “software” aspects of racism must be remedied, at least in part, through anti-racism education and awareness. Racism also becomes embedded in institutions through policies and practices–these “hardware” aspects must also be corrected. Affirmative action policies, more oversight on police and increased funding for social services are among the many policy solutions that can help.

Achieving systemic change is a long journey, a process that takes commitment, and must include actions at the levels of “hardware” and “software”.


A new initiative from the education program

Education is critical to achieving the long-term, transformative changes in behavior and attitudes needed to tackle all forms of discrimination. In this vein, today the Centre launched a new initiative in partnership with the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, offering professional development sessions for teachers on how to have conversations about race in the classroom. Facilitated by inclusion and anti-racism consultant, Destine Lord, these dialogue-based small group sessions will provide educators with the key definitions and racial concepts necessary to get these conversations started. Together, participants will discuss how to create braver spaces, which encourage student engagement.

Participants will walk away with techniques that help them listen with intent, validate emotion, model empathy and challenge students to question their own bias and assumptions. Leaning into discomfort, with openness and humility, is one of the most important things that a teacher can model for their students.


For additional resources to support learning, teaching and talking about race and racial injustice, here are some tools and articles that we have found helpful.

We invite you to share your recommended resources with us. Share them on social media using the hashtag #ViralPluralism.


Anti-racism resources: Teaching tools

Teaching Tolerance: Teaching about Race, Racism and Police Violence

Webinars and articles offer teaching tools to support teachers looking to approach racial justice issues and solidarity in the classroom.

“The resources can help spur much-needed discussion around implicit bias and systemic racism, but they can also empower your students to enact the changes that will create a more just society.”

National Museum of African American History and Culture: “Talking About Race” Web Portal

A new online portal designed to help individuals, families, and communities talk about racism, racial identity and the way these forces shape every aspect of society, from the economy and politics to the broader American culture. The online portal provides digital tools, online exercises, video instructions, scholarly articles and more than 100 multi-media resources tailored for educators, parents, caregivers, and individuals committed to racial equality.

“Since opening the museum, the number one question we are asked is how to talk about race, especially with children. We recognize how difficult it is to start that conversation. But in a nation still struggling with the legacies of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and white supremacy, we must have these tough conversations if we have any hope of turning the page and healing.”

  – Spencer Crew, interim director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Facing History and Ourselves: Reflecting on George Floyd’s Death and Police Violence Towards Black Americans

This Teaching Idea is a guide for teachers to begin conversations with their students about George Floyd’s death and the events that surround it. Such conversations are always difficult for teachers to facilitate, and distance learning presents added challenges to teaching sensitive material. Despite these challenges, it’s critical to make space for students to process the difficult and deeply painful events of the past week.”

National Film Board of Canada: Anti-Racism Films

“This playlist features films that confront racism. They are a small selection of films from the National Film Board’s collection that look at instances of racism in Canada, and support dialogue on equality and diversity.”

Films include Journey to Justice, a documentary about the struggle of six different Canadians who took their racism cases to court; and Remember Africville about the painful relocation of Black residents from this community in Nova Scotia.

UNESCO: SDG Resources for Educators on Reduced Inequalities

A variety of pedagogical resources and classroom ideas for early childhood, primary and secondary education aimed at building empathy for others, and exploring our shared humanity, in support of the Sustainable Development Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities.

Commentary, panels and podcasts 

Intersectionality Matters with Kimberlé Crenshaw: “Under the Blacklight: Narrating the Nightmare & (Re)Imagining the Possible”

Leading authors from India (Arundhati Roy) and the US (Viet Thanh Nguyen and Kiese Laymon) discuss the intersections between the COVID-19 crisis and racial/caste-based identity, as well as the power of storytelling and artists to narrate injustice and creatively explore and analyze vulnerabilities.

“So much of the world has been devastated to “make America”, after 9/11, how many countries have been destroyed. The wars of capitalism have devastated populations after population. We have to get out of patriotism, to a much more universal space.”

 – Arundhati Roy

Learning Equity Center’s podcast: Episode #36 “Being Kind is not the Same as Being Anti-Racist with Dr. Terri Watson”

Dr. Watson works with teachers looking to build equitable schools. Her research examines effective school leadership and looks to improve outcomes for under-served students and families. She challenges notions of “kindness”, “resilience”, “mindfulness” and “grit”, and argues that these approaches must go further to pro-actively challenge and dismantle racism.

“If you are really about the revolution, tell me, what are you teaching young people? How are you helping them be critical consumers of their reality? More importantly, how are you giving them tools to be successful so that they can understand these systems and then find ways to deconstruct schools and materials and challenge the things we are forcing down their throat. How do we help them push back to make us all better, to move us all forward?”

Dr. Terri N. Watson, Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at The City College of New York.

Colour Code: A Podcast About Race in Canada from the Globe and Mail

“If there’s one thing Canadians avoid, it’s talking about race. This podcast is here to change that.”

The Globe and Mail’s Denise Balkissoon and Hannah Sung look at how to approach and cope with discussions of race and identity at home, at school and with friends and family.


For further reading

Do the work: an anti-racist reading list

“People are currently asking themselves what can we do in this moment. How can we show up both in the streets, and in our homes? And how can we do so in a way that is smart, sustainable and effective?”

– Layla F Saad