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Black History Month: Reflections on “Origin”

This is a personal reflection on the film “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” by Local 79 President Nas Yadollahi. It is part of an effort to further explore equity issues and prolong our focus on equity issues beyond Black History Month.

A few weeks ago, in honour of Black History Month, I attended a screening of the film “Origin,” which documents Isabel Wilkerson’s journey in writing her influential book “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.” Isabel Wilkerson, an American journalist and author, is the first woman of African-American heritage to win the Pulitzer Prize in journalism.

“Origin” follows Wilkerson’s journey in researching the similarities and differences between the oppression of Black Americans, and the subjugation of Jewish people by the Nazis. She further explores the stratification originating in the caste system in India— and finds links between all three systems characterized by the pillars of hierarchy, inclusion and exclusion, and purity.

The film and story are deeply moving, and I found myself contemplating the ways in which hierarchy, inclusion and exclusion, and purity manifest in Toronto, our workplaces, and even our union.

Local 79 likely has one of the most diverse memberships, as the largest municipal local in one of the most diverse cities, in the world. In many ways, the histories of stratification show up in our union, with members feeling the effects of all the so-called ‘isms’. From the colonialist subjugation of Indigenous people of turtle island, to the legacy of slavery and anti-Black racism, patriarchy, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia — we see so much ongoing pain from these histories of dehumanization.

The film and Wilkerson’s book compel us to acknowledge how dehumanization remains a persistent force in global conflicts. Beyond borders, cultures, and histories, the tendency to strip individuals of their humanity continues to be a troubling aspect of human interactions. Black History Month becomes not only a celebration of resilience but a call to address the deeply rooted prejudices that still shape our world.

I can’t help but think how, as a union with such a distinctly diverse membership, we have an obligation to facilitate a process to heal and affirm each other’s humanity. In my position as President, I will be encouraging our union to bring the lessons and type of programming from Black History Month forward throughout year.

One of those activities will be, I hope, to screen “Origin” for members later this year.

What can you do as a Local 79 member?  Ensure your participation in these events. Share your ideas. Join our Human Rights Committee. Be the steward of your own deprogramming of implicit biases.

Only through such reflection and action can we hope to break free from the chains of caste and create a more inclusive and compassionate union, and world.

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Shall replenish. Tree doesn’t face. There which creepeth multiply fish unto of Seed. Behold made two Rule divided. Fruit form.

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