Camille Dundas Takes Canadian Leaders ‘Beyond the Underground Railroad’

May 03, 2023

This article in an excerpt from Jason McRobbie’s Tech Talent North’s PACT Newsletter interview with Camille Dundas, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief,, Canada’s #1 Black online magazine. Camille recently launched The IDEA Practice and Canada’s first online, micro-learning course in Inclusive Communications via Dalhousie University. Read the full article here.

“I think that as Canadians we really enjoy having a moral high ground over the US, so we’ve indulged in this narrative that we are better than them,” said Camille Dundas, principal educator with The IDEA Practice. “The narrative being that racism, slavery, all these horrible things: it only happened over there and we were the good guys. We had the Underground Railroad and we saved Black people from all of the ills of the world.”

“It’s not to say that the Underground Railroad isn’t true. It’s absolutely a part of our history, but it is exactly that—a part of it. What’s concerning is what seems to be a very intentional erasure of the other parts of our history that are not so warm and fuzzy to look at.”

Those erasures include being stripped of their names and dehumanizing claims—which linger even on medical campuses to this day. Camille cited a 2016 study which showed that half of medical students surveyed, believed that there are biological differences between Black and white people, specifically that Black people do not feel pain the same way white people feel pain.

“When Black people were enslaved, one of the narratives that was created to justify slavery was that Black people were somehow more genetically suited to withstand pain. “People don’t realize that these kinds of beliefs are passed on through generations,” says Camille.

Unfortunately, this sinister narrative root persists as Black women are more than three times as likely to die in childbirth today because their pain is not taken seriously. Along similar lines, but with biting irony, the Canadian opioid crisis has taken far fewer Black lives than white.

“This will resonate in Vancouver. The opioid crisis is known as the one time that racism saved Black people. Due to bias and racism, Black people are less likely to be prescribed pain medicine by a doctor. They are assumed to be ‘on drugs’ or ‘wanting drugs’ as opposed to actually needing pain medication. And if you look at the faces of the opioid crisis, they are mainly young white people, not Black people,” said Camille. “Then look at how much sympathetic attention the opioid crisis has received as opposed to the war on drugs that vilified the Black community. Officials very quickly determined it was a ‘crisis’ that needed resources. There is a marked difference in empathy levels, depending on who is suffering.”

These are the kinds of facts that stun—and connecting them to our corporate present to change the future workplace and world we live in is what The IDEA Practice, an innovative online micro-credential course through Dalhousie University, called Inclusive Communications, is all about.

Another example that goes to the heart of the disparity is that Black people could not own homes and property at one point in Canada, Camille noted.

“If you think about the creation of wealth— land ownership is one of the keys to creating intergenerational wealth. This was written into our legal books that a white person could actually be penalized if they sold a piece of property to a Black person,” said Camille.

Case in far too modern point, Camille noted out that it was only a few years back that a Vancouver city councillor found just such a racist clause dating back to 1928, but still included in 1965—and lingering today: "That the Grantee or his heirs, administrators, executor, successors or assigns will not sell to, agree to sell to, rent to, lease to, or permit or allow to occupy, the said lands and premises, or any part thereof, any person of the Chinese, Japanese or other Asiatic race or to any Indian or Negro.”

“For the record and make no mistake, Canada was an equal opportunity racist when it came to these things because Black people, Jewish people, Asian people, all ethnic groups were discriminated against in Canada,” said Camille,

Unfortunately, Camille pointed out, the past is still very much present as racist real estate practices are still a reality for Black Canadians.

“There is an entire Facebook group called ‘rentingwhileblack’ and the reason this group has so many members is because so many Black people have experienced THIS: they call to rent a place, they show up and then, suddenly, it is filled or not on market, but they check and it IS still on the market,” said Camille. “Sometimes, it is more overt. A friend of mine who showed up to look at a rental straight from work in his suit was asked, ‘Are you on welfare? How are you going to pay for this?’”

Another friend who is a realtor has run into scenarios where white homeowners still refuse to even sell to a Black person.

“So that Facebook group is where Black homeowners will post listings and Black people will apply. This is a hack that Black people have come up with to connect with Black landlords and owners because so many people have problems,” said Camille. “These are the old stereotypes that have just stayed with us over the years. Yes, slavery was banished, but people’s minds didn’t change overnight. People always say, ‘But that’s illegal now. You can’t do that.’ That doesn’t mean it’s not happening.”

With The IDEA Practice’s targeted take on micro-learning, Camille is seeking nothing short of bold action at the heart of corporate Canada.

“When the course gets into the workplace, we take a look at how all of that history we just learned actually manifests today. Clearly, we’re not in shackles, but there are different things happening and we give examples of what that looks like,” said Camille. “That takes us deeper into hiring and recruiting and how racial inequity and discrimination shows up in every aspect of our workplace. Then we look at allyship and solidarity and examine ‘What can we do about it? What is our action plan?’”

It is that call to action that Camille brings to every platform.

“We need to start looking at our own houses. Leaders can’t go out there and say ‘Black lives matter’ if the Black people who work with them don’t feel they’ve been treated like they matter,” said Camille. “Regardless of role, all of us have to start by looking within.”

As with Canada’s own historical past, Camille encourages nothing less than organizational authenticity.

“If you are a leader, BEFORE you go on social media and post that boilerplate statement supporting #blacklivesmatter—or whatever it is—look into your own organization and look at your own numbers of representation and whether people who work there feel that they can speak up when they feel that have been wronged,” Camille said. “Ask yourself, ‘Do people who work here feel supported? Do we have any pay equity issues by race? Can they show up here and actually be themselves or do they feel burdened by what they see in the news because they have to explain it to everyone else?”

That last point is critical to getting equity right in the workplace and a primary focus for The IDEA Practice micro-credential course in Inclusive Communications.

“People forget, not all Black people are experts on this. We don’t all know what to say or how to address the issues all the time, so I wanted to be able to give everyone language to bring people along when they run into those issues,” said Camille.

Connecting our historical understanding of the Black Canadian experience, while providing racialized Canadians with the language to build more equitable future foundations for business, Camille seeks neither accolades nor compassion, but further action.

“Compassion is not my end goal in this world because I feel that all humans should act with compassion no matter what. I really want people to examine themselves and take that back to their organizations,” said Camille. “Addressing social injustices is all about having an authentic response and the only way to do that is to educate yourself on the issues.”

“You have to be able to connect the dots between something that happened in the news like George Floyd to the experience of Black people in your workplace,” said Camille. “You might say, ‘Well no one is being killed in here.’ But the cold and calculating dehumanization of a Black person is really what led to George Floyd’s murder. Are you willing to examine what ways Black people are being dehumanized in your workplace?”

Join us on May 31st for Camille’s keynote at Tech Talent North, addressing micro-aggressions in the workplace.