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The daunting question is, “Where are you from?”

Dr. Habiba Mohamud

I always feel uncomfortable when asked the question, where are you from? This question elicits so many responses from anyone asked, including even feelings of it containing discriminatory overtones. I pause for a few minutes before sharing my answer. I am from Africa, yes, but this response may not be sufficient enough as it is not a straightforward answer. The reality is Africa is a continent with 54 countries of different and diverse cultural, linguistic, and religious persuasions. It is difficult to come to terms with what I’m implying by giving this obvious answer. I am Canadian; speak three languages, yet I have an accent in each one of them. It is difficult for most people to understand the complex nature of my answer as I struggle to emphasize the relevance of my Canadian identity to the question asked.
I feel discomfort due to the biases my answer might invoke. These biases are intertwined with the very fabric of our society. The narrative sheds light on how we, unintentionally or intentionally, recycle racist ideas. For example, if you are Asian you must be good in math, if you are African you must be from a desolate place and if you are European or white you must be intelligent. The result is preferential treatment for certain identities-and institutional scepticism by those who are perceived to not possess likeable traits. 
Over the years, I learnt that human beings are equal, long to be accepted, understood, respected and treated fairly. However, most of us feel the opposite at times due to systemic barriers and other challenges in our society or workplaces.
If equality was cherished and practiced in its entirety, there would be no need for diversity, equity and inclusion departments in government circles. The reality is we are a heterogeneous society with inequitable and exclusionary tendencies. In the wake of 2020 and 2021 events where a number of visible minority people were killed or attacked and mass graves of Indigenous children were found, the world started to come to grips with the realities of injustice. We saw issues of intolerance, anger, global protests and governments; organizations and communities were forced to confront racial injustice, inequities and exclusion.
 In Canada, we witnessed federal government announcement on the establishment of Housing, Diversity and Inclusion Department. I understood the magnitude of the task at hand and felt I could contribute in a meaningful way. I asked myself what it means to be a truly inclusive Canada, where every Canadian has equal chance to reach their full potential, contribute their best, and be rewarded for their hard work. I reflected on the occasions I felt excluded, deliberately misunderstood, overlooked and/or disrespected. I feel fortunate to have been able to navigate these challenges, which made me the person I am today.
I feel extremely hopeful about diversity, equity, respect and inclusion in our country because of the resourcing and impending strategic support provided by IMPACT Institute of Canada. The IMPACT team dedicates itself to ensure that it meets its objectives to provide leadership and appropriate innovative research and analysis with policy recommendations for creating more diverse, equitable and inclusive systems.
Do you have suggestion(s) on how your organization can help improve the diversity, equity, respect and inclusion practices in Canada? We would like to hear from you! Get in touch.