Groundbreaking project explores Black experience in the GTA

Good detailed coverage in the Star and Globe (not much if anything in the Sun):

Whenever he is asked about his racial identity, Carl James always says “Black” instead of Antiguan, especially in Canada, where race is often defined by skin colour.

But there is more to the York University education professor’s preferred response to the question.

“I generally see myself as a Black person who happens to be from the Caribbean,” said James, who came to Toronto in the 1970s as a university student.

“It’s the politics about being Black that we are thinking in skin-colour terms. That’s the way we have come to define and see ourselves in our struggles.”

He is not alone in feeling that way.

According to the Black Experience Project, a groundbreaking survey of 1,504 self-identified Black individuals in Greater Toronto, 53 per cent of the participants identified themselves as Black regardless of their heritage, country of origin, and ethnocultural and other identities.

The participants were sampled to represent the population across census tracts, taking into account age, gender household income and ethnic/cultural backgrounds.

The study led by the Environics Institute, released Wednesday, posed 250 questions to participants about their daily experiences as Black people in the GTA. Most interviews were conducted in person and each took between 90 to 120 minutes.

“What struck me is how the experience of the Black community is so similar,” said Marva Wisdom, the project’s director of outreach engagement, whose family moved here from Jamaica 40 years ago.

“Being Black is an important identity for us despite our diversity. It is our shared experiences that help bind us together.”

Black people make up 400,000, or 7 per cent, of Greater Toronto’s population and the community has more than tripled in size over the last three decades.

Until 2011, young Black adults living in GTA were much more likely to be born in the Caribbean than in Canada, but the trend has reversed. Black youth today are twice as likely to be born in Canada than in the Caribbean, while those from Africa have been on the rise.

While people with Caribbean heritage make up 55 per cent of GTA’s Black population, those with African origins now account for 31 per cent of the community, with the rest being a mix of both and/or with other ethnicities.

The study also found:

  • Two-thirds of survey participants said they frequently or occasionally experience racism and discrimination because they are Black;
  • Eight in 10 reported experiencing one of several forms of day-to-day “microaggression” such as having others expect their work to be inferior or being treated in a condescending or superficial way;
  • Although those with lower incomes are affected more intensively by these incidents, when it comes to getting randomly stopped in public by the police, those in the higher socio-economic stratum are not immune;
  • About four respondents in 10 said they felt accepted by their teachers “only sometimes” or “never”;
  • One-third identified challenges in the workplace linked to being Black, whether those involved explicit racism or discrimination, or an uncomfortable workplace culture in which they do not feel they are treated professionally accepted.

“Teenagers growing up feel they’re experiencing all these things on their own. You feel you have to work hard to prove Blackness is a positive thing. Now we can confirm and validate our experiences with data,” Wisdom said.

“There have been incremental changes, but things haven’t changed that much, either.”

Source: Groundbreaking project explores Black experience in the GTA | Toronto StarBlack Experience Project a heart-rending snapshot of Black lives in Toronto: Paradkar

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Carl James, an education professor at York University and one of the researchers behind the study, explains the lasting effect frequent police interactions has on the black population as a whole and how wealth and education offer little protection against profiling.

Half the black people you surveyed said they’ve been stopped by police in public but that number surges to 80 per cent when it comes to black males between 25 and 44. What’s behind the targeting of this demographic?

I think it has to do with how black males are thought about in society. These stereotypes operate to influence the relationship we’re going to have with the police, with teachers, with our neighbours. The sense [police] have of these people is that they are probably up to no good, probably mischief makers. In order to prevent any of those things that might take place, let us take pre-emptive action.

Get the latest political headlines.

What’s the effect of having so many of these interactions with police?

One youth sent me an e-mail where he talked about going home at 11:30 and police stopped him and searched him and in the process roughed him up. We then think we can’t be out at 11 at night or drive a nice car or live our lives. It affects how we might trust police or a teacher.

We’ve seen a lot of reports in the past couple of months prepared by judges or human-rights organizations that look at policing and the recommendations are always the same: collecting race-based data, providing implicit bias training to police. Are these the right solutions?

I think collecting the data is absolutely important and critical but what we do with it is important afterward. Even though the data might be there, in a society where institutional racism exists, people might not believe the evidence because that’s not their personal experience.

With personnel training, I’m not sure it helps unless people start thinking about how they’re complicit, and also responsible for working at the issues, instead of, “I got some training. Black people aren’t exactly all what I thought.” I think we need a deliberate attempt coming from federal policies and programs.

We need different representations in media. It’s not just when we hear about issues related to blacks that we get a black person on the radio. If a personal story is the only way that the larger society can be able to respect and understand and get to know the black person, I think that’s a very sad situation.

Your results show that black people from the GTA from all class backgrounds had negative interactions with police. Your social standing, your education, it can’t really protect you. Was that surprising?

No. If you’re a doctor, a lawyer, a professional, the fact is, outside of those contexts, you’re seen as who we construct you to be. We have to shift the thinking, shift the ideas to challenge the stereotypes.

You have a Ph.D. You’re a faculty chair at York University. How does that have an effect on your experience being black in this city?

There are assumptions of what my research might be about. Assumptions I might be biased based on how I come to my research. The assumptions of how I might teach or perceive some students. We all are marinated in the same stew of stereotypes and we’re going to bring that to the world and interactions we’re going to have.

Eighty per cent of the people you surveyed said that they believed that others – specifically non-black people – saw them in a somewhat negative or very negative light. Do you think it’s worthwhile trying to change the perception of adults? Or are those stereotypes too ingrained?

We have to get at the perception of adults. These are the people that set the laws, set the rules, set out the school curriculum, set out the kinds of processes that people need to live by. If they are allowed to maintain their ideas, nothing will change. Even if we worked with kids to have them see the world differently than the adults, after a while, they’re inculcated by ideas held by adults and are going to think they’re right. To be able to succeed, you might not be able to challenge the existing ideas, the status quo, so sooner or later these kids will have to fall in line.

I don’t think it’s just the individual ways it must be done. It has to be done with institutional practices. Since the police occupy a very significant place in society in which we live, the government’s going to have to play a significant role in bringing them into understanding and respecting the role that they play and their relationship with the community.

Source: Majority of black people in Toronto feel targeted and disrespected: study 

Other commentary of note, from a more activist perspective:

Black Experience Project exposes Canada’s big lie: Mochama – Multiculturalism is a national policy that promises to embrace diversity while doing nothing to address a long history of punishing Black people.,

The tragic echoes in the cycle of Black death – As a verdict loomed in the Andrew Loku inquest, Pierre Coriolan was killed in Montreal—reminders of why Black Canadians fight for change


About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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