Learning From Our Past
In hindsight, it seems obvious.
A January press release sent to media outlets to promote the launch of Uncle Ray’s Food & Liquor in Toronto featured a combination of imagery and language that was hurtful to the Black community. There was absolutely no malicious intent in any of the messaging, but that is largely irrelevant. We now understand that the choices made in our branding and communication were discriminatory to members of the Black community. As a company that has always stood for diversity and inclusivity, offending the Black community and its allies – a group which we have always considered ourselves proud members of – struck us to our core and led to a tremendous amount of self-reflection and ongoing education.
We sincerely apologize for the insensitive and offending nature of the press release. We have understandably received criticism for our handling of the situation, and pledge to be a better and more proactive organization moving forward.
When this was brought to our attention, we immediately removed the offending imagery and language from our website and social media, but that was the easy part. The more challenging part was to ask ourselves the right questions and take the proper steps to ensure this type of oversight would never happen again. More importantly, we want to establish a culture that sees our organization as part of the solution instead of part of the many ongoing issues perpetuating the systemic racism that is rampant in our society.
Here are some of the most important questions we’ve explored since this incident, and how we’ve responded:
How did we address our team so they understand this is not what we stand for?
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In the first 48 hours after the press release, we travelled to each of our restaurants to speak with as many of our team members as possible. These were tough conversations, but extremely important. This amazing group of diverse and talented people put their trust in us when they chose to work for our company, and we needed them to know that this was not reflective of our beliefs.
How did we allow this to happen?
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The answer to this is obvious to us now and would have served us well many months ago. Despite the best efforts of our ownership group to be inclusive and culturally sensitive, our shared life experiences led to us also having many common blind spots. Our failure to understand and address this played a significant role in our lapse of judgement. Not only do we acknowledge our need to be much more aware of these blind spots, we are committed to addressing this in every significant decision we make from this point forward.
How can we prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future?
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To paraphrase Maya Angelou, now that we know better, it’s time to do better. Acknowledging our shortcomings is a start, but using this knowledge to further educate ourselves and make meaningful change is what matters most.
We are incredibly sorry, but we know an apology is not nearly enough. We need to take this unfortunate situation and turn it into a big leap forward for our company. While we are very proud of the work our team has done thus far, we recognize that this is just the beginning.
We know we don’t have all the answers, but we will continue to educate ourselves and our team about the various ways we can make a difference. If you have any suggestions or know of any groups that are in need of assistance, please contact us via email at email@example.com.
The owners and staff at Uncle Ray’s and Open Concept Hospitality stand in solidarity with the Black community in Canada and throughout the world.