Anti-Black racism in health care workplaces: An applied conversation with experts in the field

This talk was available September 29 to October 1, with an encore presentation October 7 to 9, 2020.

Download a summary of key messages and resources

About This Talk

This event was presented by Centre Talks.

Simone Donaldson and LLana James have wide-ranging experience in health care workplaces including hospitals, community health centres, and research contexts. Together, they will explore some of the realities in health care workplaces in this moment including:

  • Some ways anti-Black racism shows up in health care workplaces, and the impacts on patients, staff and clinicians.
  • Signs that health care systems, organizations, clinicians and staff are working to address anti-Black racism.

About the Speakers

Simone Donaldson is a Registered Clinical Social Worker and consultant who uses an Afro-centric, anti-Black racist and trauma-informed lens. She has vast experience in community health with a focus on the social determinants of health for racialized communities. Simone provides individual therapy for the Black community, and training to support the private, public, and non-profit sectors to improve their cultural and wellness lens.

LLana James is a public intellectual and scientist, with extensive experience in both the private sector and in community health. She currently examines how artificial intelligence (AI) is impacting health care, rehabilitation, and public health. Her interests lie at the intersection of race-ethnicity, health, data privacy, AI and the law. She is a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto, in the Faculty of Medicine.

Key Action Points From the Talk

Engaging complaints processes/pushing for change

  • ‘Gaslighting’ is an important feature of anti-Black racism in health care. Patients, staff and clinicians are often made to doubt their own experiences when they engage a complaints process or push for change.
  • Patients, staff or clinicians seeking to take action in relation to experiences of anti-Black racism are encouraged to seek external support. This includes both emotional support, and advice from a human rights organization, community organization or legal clinic.

Institutional change

As health care institutions begin talking about addressing anti-Black racism, here are some signs that they are “getting it right”:

  • Accountability to external organizations and stakeholders. For example, some institutions are developing committees to address anti-Black racism. These committees must answer to external organizations that have a track record of effectively advocating for and defending Black populations, such as legal clinics that are given the authority to hold both the committee and the institution accountable. If there is no external accountability, these initiatives are counterproductive and will do more harm than good.
  • Committees, advisories or departments that centre anti-Black racism using an intersectional approach. There are many important issues related to racism, xenophobia, and discrimination in health care. They cannot, however, be effectively addressed when “bucketed” together. Anti-Black racism in health care must be addressed in its specificity, with specific strategies, experts in the field, and attention to historical, social and local context.
  • Care for Black staff and clinicians. Many Black staff and clinicians are experiencing racial trauma on a daily basis. Organizations that undertake anti-Black racism work must begin by taking concrete measures to extend care to Black staff and clinicians.

A note on Centre Talks, our relationship to the health care system, and our next steps

Anti-Black racism is pervasive in health care systems, public health and research in Canada. Unity Health Toronto is no exception.

For those of us working in hospitals in Toronto, it can be difficult and risky to challenge racist moments, processes and policies, many of which are built into health care. The September/October 2020 Centre Talks will explore ways to approach these challenges.

It is important to note that we are all positioned differently when it comes to challenging our institutions. Our job positions may cushion us or produce precarity—for example, physicians may have additional protection. Racist hierarchies protect some of us, and produce precarity for others.

Centre Talks struggles with these dynamics, and works to shed light on them at the same time. Our decisions as a committee are based on the understanding that health care institutions must address:

  • Racist policies and practices in research and health care, particularly policies and practices that are anti-Indigenous and anti-Black.
  • The ways that white populations, patients, clinicians and staff are prioritized in research and health care.

Please note: while we remain implicated in the racism that is pervasive in research and clinical practice, we have considerable independence as a group. Our talks do not necessarily reflect the values, policies or practices of Unity Health Toronto, of hospitals generally, or the health care system.

We are working to move our talks online. Some of our upcoming talks will be available to specific audiences, others will be released to the public. Please stay tuned, and thank you for sharing your time with us! We can be reached at

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October 7, 2020  - October 9, 2020