'A slap in the face': Region of Durham under fire for Black History Month 'scavenger hunt'

Published Feb. 10, 2021 10:08 p.m. ET
Updated Feb. 10, 2021 10:16 p.m. ET

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TORONTO -- The Region of Durham is facing backlash after what’s being described as a tone-deaf scavenger hunt meant to mark Black History Month surfaced online.

According to the photos of the activity posted to social media, employees were encouraged to “dance to a Reggae song,” “cook an African meal,” or “have a conversation with a Black employee.”

The Region of Durham would later respond to a tweet regarding the event calling it a “mistake.”

“Through engaging with the community and Regional staff we acknowledge that mistakes will be made while addressing anti-Black racism,” the statement reads, which is not attributable to any specific Durham Region official.

Celina Caesar-Chavannes is one of the many people who took issue with the event.

The former MP for Whitby and current Durham Region resident told CP24 Wednesday evening that the activity, and the response that followed, are a “slap in the face” to community members and employees in the region who are Black.

“I think it’s very unfortunate that the region of Durham not only decided to trivialize Blackness through this game or scavenger hunt, but didn’t even have the decency to apologize to Black communities for what they’ve done,” she said.

“This is the problem when you do not have representatives from communities within your region, within your staff component, and you put something out that is so offensive, so juvenile, so insulting to the Black community. It does nothing to advance anti-Black racism, because you have no concept of what anti-Black racism is.”

In a second statement, the Region of Durham said, "We recognize that missteps were made with this virtual challenge. For that we apologize, and we will continue to do better."

One former employee wrote on Twitter, “I used to work there. So glad I wasn't the Black employee. There was like 2 of us in my division when I worked there. How uncomfortable.”

Toronto-based activist and author Desmond Cole first published the image of the scavenger hunt to his Twitter Wednesday afternoon in a post that has since been retweeted and liked hundreds of times.

Speaking with CTV News Toronto over the phone, he said that while news of the activity is unfortunate, it was not surprising.

“When I shared this [on Twitter], my responses from Black people were a mixture of disgust, ridicule, and disappointment—but nobody was surprised,” he said.

“And these are the conditions that Black people have to work in everyday; conditions where people would think an activity like this is appropriate and even maybe honouring us as Black people. It’s disappointing—we make a lot of jokes and we laugh and it’s so sad to see this carelessness at the Durham Regional government." 

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