Cicely Blain helps organizations promote respectful workplaces with insights into complexities of identity

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      In the lead-up to the Vancouver Pride parade (which takes place on August 5), we’ve compiled profiles of LGBT community members that, together, offer just a brief view of how multiple identities overlap, interplay, and interact to make up each individual’s totality. To see more of our Pride 2018 coverage, click here.

      Vancouver doesn’t have a large population of people of African ancestry, but that didn’t discourage Cicely Blain from cofounding a local chapter of Black Lives Matter (BLM) more than two years ago.

      “We really recognized this need to make BLM a national issue and have people in Canada recognize that racism is not just an American thing,” Blain said during an interview in the Straight boardroom. “I think there’s definitely a lack of acknowledgment around racism in Canada in general.”

      Blain, who prefers the pronouns they and them, had been involved in campus activism at UBC and recognized that BLM could focus attention on issues that weren’t receiving the recognition they deserved. For people of African ancestry, racism is obviously a huge issue, but another concern is disconnection because people are so spread out across the Lower Mainland.

      “A lot of other cultural groups in Vancouver have a specific cultural centre, a place where they meet and gather,” Blain noted. “We’ve really tried to create those spaces where people can come, watch black performers, listen to black poetry, and stuff like that.”

      But Blain’s interests go well beyond this community. A major inspiration has been Kimberlé Crenshaw, a U.S. law professor who coined the term intersectionality to describe how overlapping identities are linked to racist and discriminatory systems and structures.

      This perspective has given Blain, who was raised in London, England, a keen appreciation for the challenges faced by others, whether they’re Indigenous, immigrants from the Global South, or people of colour.

      “We don’t just have one single identity or one single story,” Blain said. “We’re all made up of different facets of our identity. Within that, for some we experience privilege and for others we experience oppression.”

      To illustrate this point, Blain acknowledged having privilege as an educated middle-class person from a western country. But as a queer person of African ancestry, Blain can be disadvantaged. “We have all these many layers of our identity,” Blain continued. “I try to view it from the perspective of allyship. In the places where you have privilege, you have a responsibility to be an ally. Some people have a lot more privilege than others. They hit the lottery in terms of identity.”

      Since graduating from UBC with a major in modern European studies and a minor in Russian, Blain has become a diversity-and-inclusion consultant, helping organizations create more respectful workplaces. This can involve everything from changing codes of conduct to reexamining hiring practices.

      Blain revealed that people don’t always appreciate hearing that everything they’ve accomplished in life didn’t come solely as a result of their hard work. As a consultant, Blain's goal is to encourage people to be more compassionate with one another and be a bit more vulnerable, which isn’t always easy for people in the workplace.

      “I’m definitely not any less of an activist, but I also recognize that some people feel quite scared or threatened—especially if you’re a white man.”

      Blain’s mother, Antoinette, is a teacher who “doesn’t take shit from anyone”, and Blain often accompanied a grandmother to protests to try to bring about positive change. In Vancouver, Blain has been impressed by veteran antiracism activist and educator Sadie Kuehn.

      “I find her incredible and really inspiring. She just has so much wisdom.”