New StatsCan data ‘indispensable’ for understanding systemic anti-Black racism, says professor

Some good commentary by Malinda Smith, Afua Cooper and Carl James. My one note to Afua Cooper’s comment about Canadian Blacks being a voting block is that the very diversity of the Black community, more so than other communities, combined with their relative distribution across ridings, make it less simple than that:

Data released by Statistics Canada over the past year and a half could help to dispel the myth of a single, uniform Black population in Canada, and will be “indispensable” for researchers studying systemic racism in the country, say professors from three universities across the country.

Statistics Canada has released a spate of data on the Black population in Canada in stages since February, 2019, to honour the International Decade of Peoples of African Descent, which runs from 2015 to 2024. The studies span a 15-year period beginning in 2001 and use data from the census, the general social survey, academic studies, and more.

The data shows the diversity of the Black population is often “obscured” by anti-Black racism and stereotypes that lead to a view of a “single” Black community in Canada. That belief exacerbates the effects of systemic racism, and leads to policies and practices that fail to account for the unequal effect of certain policies or practices, say Canadian researchers.

“This data…is really important for us to see the implications of racism and stereotypes on the life chances and outcomes for the Black Canadian population. Regardless of background, educational achievement, who they are, the stereotype prevails,” said Malinda Smith, professor of political science at the University of Calgary and the vice-provost of equity, diversity, and inclusion at the school.

Prof. Smith served on an advisory council created by Statistics Canada to help interpret the data. The data, Prof. Smith continued, “is indispensable for understanding systemic racism. What it helps you to see is the disproportionate impact of a certain practice on specific groups.”

Both the “breadth” and “depth” of the Statistics Canada studies make them particularly valuable, said Afua Cooper, an historian, sociology professor at Dalhousie University, and the coauthor of the university’s report on Lord Dalhousie’s history on slavery and race. Prof. Cooper also served on the Statistics Canada advisory panel.

“I’m going ‘wow’ all the time,” Prof. Cooper said, adding that the studies have been incorporated into her teachings

The breadth of the new data allows for change, or lack of change, to be accurately observed over a longer period of time, said Carl James, professor of education and senior advisor on equity and representation at York University.

“It would be good to look at this again five years from now, so we can see if there have been changes. What accounts for those changes if there are changes? How can we know the extent to which issues we identify now have been addressed? We can only know that if the data exists,” said Prof. James, who was also a member of the panel.

Statistics Canada began releasing the first set of data during Black History Month in February 2019. Titled “Diversity of the Black population in Canada: An overview,” the  study focused primarily on demographic characteristics and sought to “highlight the diversity of the Black population in terms of their ethnic and cultural origins, places of birth and languages,” the document reads.

The studies collected data from people who self-identified as Black on Statistics Canada surveys.

The first study shows that the Black population in Canada doubled in size between 1996 and 2016, to 1.2-million people—roughly 3.5 per cent of the population. The Black population is about a decade younger, on average, than the population as a whole, with a median age of 30.  It also showed that just more than half of Black adults in Canada were born in another country—170 different countries in total.

The second release came a year later, also during Black History Month, on Feb. 25, 2020, a few weeks before COVID-19 lockdowns were imposed. It included two studies, both focused more on socioeconomic factors such as education, employment, and income.

The first study, titled “Canada’s Black population: Education, labour and resilience” said that “compared to the rest of the population, employment rates remain low and the prevalence of low-income is more common among the Black population.

“Despite these challenges, Black individuals have high rates of job satisfaction and high rates of resilience,” the study reads.

The study showed that from 2001 to 2016, the Black population had unemployment rates about four percentage points higher than the rest of the population. The finding was consistent for both men and women. Even when an individual had  postsecondary education, in 2016 the rate for the Black population was 9.2 per cent compared to 5.3 per cent in the rest of the population.

Prof. Smith wrote on Twitter that the resilience finding “does not surprise me. It might surprise those inclined toward deficit stereotypes. There’s a fierce optimism among the Black community in Canada.”

“There’s a lot of negative stereotypes of Black people as angry or violent. The findings of the resilience study was that Black people were more likely to be optimistic about the future. They thought about the potential for change,” Prof. Smith told The Hill Times.

“Black youth have desires to get into university, however they didn’t think it was going to happen because of discrimination and bias. But they have the highest aspirations. I don’t think many Canadians think of Black youth as having high aspirations for education,” she continued.

The study also said that “challenges facing the Black population may present themselves differently within specific groups” such as differences between immigrants and non-immigrants in terms of postsecondary education. Black women born in Canada were more likely than women in the rest of the population to get at least a bachelor’s degree, but Black immigrant women were significantly less likely than women in the rest of the population to get a postsecondary degree.

The second study focused on the socioeconomic outcomes for Black youth. It found that Black youth were as likely as other youth in the rest of the population to have a high school diploma, but that Black youth were less likely to have a postsecondary diplomas or degrees. It also found second- and third-generation Black youth were less likely than a first-generation Black child to have a postsecondary degree.

“The gap between postsecondary graduation rates for Black youth and other youth remained after accounting for differences in socioeconomic and family characteristics. Other factors not measured by the Census of Population could be the source of these differences,” the study reads.

“The education system was designed for particular kinds of students in particular ways. It was not designed in a way that would address, welcome, and make inclusive the experiences of Black students,” Prof. James said.

For Prof. James, the explanation lies in the fact that Black youth tend to have worse educational outcomes the longer their family has been in Canada.

“That means those who have gone through the education system and have been socialized in Canadian society do not do as well. That tells us something must be dealt if we’re going to address the issues of Black students,” he said.

The most recent Statistics Canada release came on Aug. 13, and looked at the changes in socioeconomic outcomes of the Black population by generation, immigrant status, sex, and country of origin compared to the rest of the Canadian population between 2001 and 2016. It provided many of the same findings as the previous studies but was disaggregated to include more information, such as immigrant status, on the same questions.

Taken together, Prof. Cooper said, these studies send a message to Canadian political leaders and gives them a base of evidence to work from.

“The 2016 census tells us that there’s 1.2-million Black people. That’s a voting bloc. In terms of political survival, you have to take the Black population seriously,” she said.

Despite the clear political incentive, Prof. Cooper said these data sets show that Canadian politicians and other institutions have a duty to “ensure that Black people may be brought into the Charter.”

“How are we going to make this data work and matter? It has to matter in the day-to-day material life of Black people in this country. [Statistics Canada] has built a wonderful document. What kind of commitments do the federal government or other Canadian institutions [have] to ensure that Black people may be brought into the Charter? In criminal justice, in health, in education, [which] we have not experienced,” she said.

“Is this just going to be another report that sits on the shelf? It has to matter in the lives of Black people,” said Prof. Cooper.

Source: New StatsCan data ‘indispensable’ for understanding systemic anti-Black racism, says professor

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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