Exposing the Apathetic Ally: An Examination of Diversity and Race in Health and Social Service Organizations

By Uppala Chandrasekera and Lahoma Thomas.

Published by The International Journal of Organizational Diversity

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This paper examines how diversity, race, power and privilege are manifested in health and social services organizations in Canada. Drawing on theories of anti-racism, Critical Race Theory, and Black Feminist Thought, we critically examine the application of anti-oppressive practice within health and social services organizations. To ground this discussion, we present two narratives that reflect the experience of systemic racism and racial microaggressions within social services. Through our autoethnographic accounts, we explore how racial and gender performance expectations are intrinsically linked to which voices are welcomed and granted legitimacy in the workplace. The paper concludes with a critical examination of the role of allies in the anti-racism project. We propose a shift in the existing conceptualization of allies by asserting two distinct types of allies: the Apathetic Ally and the Authentic Ally. In sharing our lived experiences of racism, we lay the foundation for the reader to reflect on their own encounters with discrimination in the workplace.

Keywords: Ally, Anti-Oppression, Education, Race, Racism, Social Justice, Social Work

International Journal of Organizational Diversity, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp.17-30. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 634.120KB).

Uppala Chandrasekera

Social Worker and Consultant, Authentiq Consulting, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Uppala Chandrasekera, M.S.W., RSW, is a Managing Partner at Authentiq Consulting. Uppala provides education, training, and consultation services in the area of human rights, anti-racism and health equity. Through her education, research and work experience, Uppala has developed expertise in anti-oppression and social justice work, focusing on the areas of health disparities and the social determinants of health. She holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Toronto and a Master of Social Work degree from Wilfrid Laurier University. Uppala brings a wide perspective on health care from her work experiences in human rights and social justice-related work in a hospital environment, health promotion in a community health setting, and health and public policy-related work at the provincial and federal levels. Her research focuses on the health inequities trajectory and examines the salience of race and its impact on mental health and wellbeing. Uppala is committed to advocating for health equity and anti-racism in the health care system.

Lahoma Thomas

Social Worker, Consultant and PhD Candidate, University of Toronto, Faculty of Political Science, Authentiq Consulting, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Lahoma Thomas, M.A., M.S.W., RSW, is a Managing Partner at Authentiq Consulting. A doctoral student in Political Science Department at the University of Toronto, her research focuses on various aspects of conflict, both at the micro and macro level. Her primary research interests are situated at the intersection of ethnicity, gender, coloniality and violence. She holds a M.S.W from University of Toronto, M.A in International Development Studies from Dalhousie University, and an undergraduate degree in Psychology from McGill University. Lahoma works as a counsellor in the area of trauma, sexual abuse and interpersonal violence. She has contributed to a number of community-based projects that promote awareness to issues such as sexual and gender-based violence, gender inequality, and the feminization of poverty. She conducts education and training locally, nationally, and internationally on topics related to traumatic stress. Lahoma endeavours to bring a more complex race and gender discourse into social work practice.