Journalist says cultural competence bridges racial gaps

At first, the racial slur his former boss made about him didn’t bother him. It had been 17 years since Hamlin Grange had worked with him at the Toronto Star. That’s when another working colleague, John Miller, told him about the derogatory remark.

“My wife knew something (had) changed inside me,” Grange said. “She said I looked vulnerable, as if I’d lost something. … She was right.”

This was a defining moment in Grange’s career. He went on to report and anchor on Global TV and CBC TV, and eventually to co-create DiversiPro Inc., a company dedicated to promoting diversity and inclusion.

Grange spoke during a Speaker’s Series event at Centennial College during a Black History Month observance on Wednesday, Feb. 25.

Though Grange says it’s impossible “to know everything about every culture,” understanding it above a superficial level creates “inter-cultural competence.” He was critical of the way the public and media often view different cultures too superficially.

“Red boot multiculturalism: (People don’t) dig deep … into these communities to understand the people who wear these costumes and eat these food,” Grange said.

Instead, he said, Toronto’s multiculturalism can create opportunities for conversations about cultural difference and bridge racial gaps. Exploring outside their comfort zone helps people to accept and promote understanding.

“Represent people as they are and it may mean getting out of your comfort zone. … When you’re in the learning zone, you’re engaged. You’re curious. … The more you stay in the leaning zone… (the more it) becomes your comfort zone,” Grange said.

For the past year, the Black Lives Matter movement has swept across the United States before making its way to Canada. It sparked conversations around racial injustice and misrepresentation by shedding light on inequalities.

“Take a look at these people in these protests. … It’s multiracial. There are black folks, white folks (and) South Asians. … There are women (and) there are gays. They’re all there to say the same thing: ‘Something must change,’” Grange said.

The movement is sometimes misunderstood as exclusionary. But Grange said it represents a pro-black stance that is not against other races, but is rooted in equality. He said it’s the opposite of racial profiling.

“It sends a strong message. … If your black kid, neighbour (or) friend can be stopped and frisked, so can you… It can happen to anybody,” Grange said.