Hannah Sung is a video and podcast producer at The Globe and Mail and a privilege of her gig was producing a podcast series about race in Canada called Colour Code (PS: it shot to the top of the Apple Podcast chart last year). Along with her colleague Denise Balkissoon, they told stories Canada needed to hear so we can recognize the good, the bad and the ugly of our country’s history when it comes to race relations. “In our Sutton episode, we asked why a small town north of Toronto was the location of so many media reports of racism and hate crimes. It was heart-breaking, disturbing and eye-opening for me,” says Hannah. “Today I have a much deeper understanding and knowledge of many things race-related. Once we know what we need to know, we can start to hold each other accountable with respect and armed with knowledge.” We asked Hannah what she learned on this aural journey for herself, for her kids and for us, too.
Did this project change your feelings about Canada?
“Doing this project changed my knowledge in terms of the racist policies upon which our country was founded. That said, I do love this country, because from my experience as the kid of immigrants, Canada is the best possible place on earth for me, in terms of opportunity. But that isn’t necessarily the case for everyone. Being an Indigenous woman, for example, shouldn’t make you many times more likely, statistically speaking, to suffer violence. Or being an Indigenous kid shouldn’t mean that you need to leave your family just to go to school (and after all we’ve learned from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, this still goes on). For some, Canada might be among the worst places on earth in terms of opportunity, and that is something I didn’t always know.”How was producing a podcast different than anything else you’ve done before?
“I talk a lot about race with my friends and I follow these interests when I read but talking about race in a professional capacity was new to me. And like anyone else, it’s hard for me to listen to the sound of my own voice. I spent months cutting this podcast, just listening to myself talking with others—day in, day out—on the topic of race, which is already so uncomfortable….so this project was very challenging, but worthwhile.”
What skills from your past experiences did you bring to its production?
“I wanted this podcast to be as accessible as possible and I’m glad that pretty much all of my interviewing experience has been in that conversational vein. I found myself drawing on my experience [as a VJ] from MuchMusic when I had to try to elicit surprising, new, interesting, confessional thoughts from people with a camera rolling in the background. Cameras generally make people freeze or get inhibited or, as in the case with pop stars, stay on message (I’ve met pop stars who are better than politicians at doing this).
So it’s nice that recording audio has a much lower threshold for the inhibition factor. That’s a nice change that makes conversations easier. Also, writing for audio and internet news video (which is what I do now) are similar in that you have to present your story in a super-chronological, clear, single-strand kind of way and you learn to condense your thoughts into aural, plain language.”
How do you discuss race relations with your kids?
“Honestly, my kids are 5 and 3, so I don’t talk about race with them yet. What I do emphasize is respect for people and I try to dial it down to a very basic level of compassion and empathy for individuals. Every single book we read is an opportunity to do that. I often ask my kids to read the expressions on the faces of the characters in books.
I also try not to point out how my kids look. The world is going to do that soon enough (and already does, really). I try to point out how much privilege we have in our lives and how fortunate we are. Right now, I do point out the class aspect by saying ‘we have enough things’ and one day, it will become a light-skin privilege conversation too, when they’re ready for that. I also emphasize how we need to be mindful and grateful. I practice ‘What I’m Grateful For’ every night in bed with them (the results, from kids this age, are often hilarious and for that alone it’s totally worthwhile).
I think setting up all these ideas will be the backdrop to when they bring up the concept of race with me and I plan on waiting for them to do so and that includes having to correct them on misinformation they will be picking up in the outside world. (For example, we were colouring the other day and my son said he was using the ‘skin’ colour marker, which was tan and I just gently reminded him that if he said the ‘apple’ colour marker, we would have no idea whether that’s green, red or yellow so he should just stick to specific colours in order to get his idea across).
What You Should Know About Race Relations In Canada
Education is the key, 100%. “I became aware of how little we know collectively speaking, mainly because the educational system has failed to give us a full and complete education on Canadian history. And it isn’t just ancient history, the educational system still has major systemic issues. But there can be bits of hope in small gestures, like the fact that the TDSB recently introduced an Indigenous territory acknowledgement every morning.”
Recognize there’s Canada the good—and Canada the bad. “We need to know that Canada did have slavery (of Indigenous and Black people) and that we did have racially-segregated schools, precisely in those areas that Black Loyalists and formerly-enslaved people came to Canada via the underground railroad. So our cherished reputation as a sanctuary and our history of racist policy are totally intertwined. We can’t just keep talking about one side of the coin and not the other.
Yes, we have a multiculturalism policy but prior to the late 1960s, our government talked about Canada being a ‘white man’s country’ and our policies reflected that. And again, it isn’t just ancient history I’m talking about. What’s up with our temporary foreign worker’s program and why don’t people who raise their families and work most of the year on our land have a path to becoming officially Canadian, to gain rights and benefits as they continue to pick our food and clean our hotels and care for our elderly family members?”
Activism Works. “I’m grateful for activists who went out and agitated for the government to finally create a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and apologize for the heinous residential school system. If school boards and other educational institutions follow the Truth and Reconciliation calls to action, imagine what our kids and future generations could do? I’m also grateful for the individual parents who go to the press, at great personal expense, I’m sure, to shed light on racism they experience in the school system. It helps expose anti-blackness in the system via real, documented experiences that no one should be going through, not in Canada.”
The Podcasts She’s Tuned Into
- 2 Dope Queens. “They’re funny, lovable and always on point.
- Heavyweight: Jonathan Goldstein. “He can do no wrong. It’s the apex of emotional storytelling, dry wit and self-deprecating humour.”
- Missing & Murdered: Who Killed Alberta Williams? “This was an amazing example of how great storytelling can bring to life the urgency, humanity and the tragedy that ripples from just one person’s life as part of the larger crisis of MMIWG [Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls].
- Another Round. “The hosts are my imaginary BFFs and I would die to have beers with them. They are funny, smart and tell it like it is and are examples of a new voice of authority and amazing interview styles.”