A conversation with the Honourable Jean Augustine, P.C., C.M., O.Ont, C.B.E.

June 7, 2023
Kimberly Duong

by Kimberly Duong, Criminology Honours Major, 4th year at York University

When you reach adulthood, you have some success and accomplishments. Still, it is difficult not to compare yourself to others’ achievements – despite having the same accomplishments, success stories and experiences. This could be due to the systems and structures, and more specifically discrimination, in place that keep specific individuals stagnant while others progress. 

At Congress 2023, the Honourable Jean Augustine discussed how there are limited opportunities for Black Caribbean women, with only a few streams made available to them: clerical work, domestic work, and teaching. She chronicled her experiences being a Black woman in all spheres of her life, contending how she was often the only Black woman in the room and in her position. This brings us to think about how we are regarded and seen are essential in conversations on equity, inclusion, and diversity (EDI).  

Despite Canada’s multicultural ethos, the actions we take and the structures we have must embody this. We must ask, what do Canadians look like? And do we see them represented? In this conversation with the Honourable Jean Augustine, she spoke about how “[Black people are] not there in the history books, in discourse, and not sitting at important tables, and parliament itself is a man’s place to do men’s work.” This speaks to the lack of representation of Black individuals broadly and to Black women’s experiences of not having the space and visibility in history, politics, and social life historically and contemporarily.  

In On Being a Black Woman: A Conversation with Honourable Jean Augustine, she spoke of her experiences as a Black woman in Canadian society. She provided insights into systems and structures that have operated in favour and subsequently against some individuals and groups. The conversation illustrated how race and gender impact and intersect with experiences of racism, oppression, and discrimination.  

The Honourable Jean Augustine said this beautifully: “we know where we should be, but we are not there yet.” If we wish to re-imagine a world that is more equitable, inclusive, diverse, and just, we should acknowledge and understand how this freezing out in systems continues to marginalize women, especially Black women, rendering them stagnant and prevented from fulfilling their potential.