As we move to the second blog of our series about Systemic Racism, it is crucial that we understand what it constitutes. In order to work towards the eradication of an institutionally engrained behaviour, we first need to define it.
Systemic racism as defined by the Ontario Government:
Systemic racism consists of organizational culture, policies, directives, practices or procedures that exclude, displace or marginalize some racialized groups or create unfair barriers for them to access valuable benefits and opportunities. This is often the result of institutional biases in organizational culture, policies, directives, practices, and procedures that may appear neutral but have the effect of privileging some groups and disadvantaging others.
Further, in his presentation to the Canadian Heritage committee in 2017, Mr. Sam Erry defined systemic racism as:
“Systemic racism is often caused by conscious or unconscious biases in policies, practices, and procedures that privilege or disadvantage particular groups of people based on perceptions of race. It’s not always intentional, but whether or not it’s intentional has little bearing on the inequitable outcomes indigenous and racialized people experience.”
What I find to be most important about this definition, is it brings home the idea that be it intentional or not, the outcome is the same, namely unfair and unjust life for Indigenous and racialized Canadians.
As we have seen, across the world, countries and their populations are openly and critically engaging in dialogues that aim to understand what social and intuitional behaviours reflect systemic racism. Consequently, some people perceive these evolving conversations as a personal attack. This misplaced sense of insult then becomes a barrier for acknowledging that systemic racism exists in countries such as Canada.
In reality, Systemic Racism is not about individual behaviours, it is about how a society works. Indeed, if it was about individual attitudes, it would have been easier to fix the problem. A good justice system and some laws can be the antidote, but as we can begin to understand through examining the issue and learning its various definitions, Systemic Racism is far more complicated. People must continue to discuss these definitions and want to learn about what they mean in the context of their own societies. Some may continue to live in denial, but rest assures, the global movement against Systemic Racism is rising and it is here to stay.
It goes without saying that I am moved by the collective anti-racism actions being seen around the world. That said, I see it as unacceptable that it has taken a global movement for these issues to finally be considered at the forefront of Canada’s political concerns.
Publicly, we have a Prime Minister who was the first leader of a G7 nation to kneel at a Black Lives Matter Protest. We have an RCMP commissioner and many parliamentary ministers who now acknowledge that Systemic Racism indeed exists in our nation’s highest institutions, including her own. These admissions reflect a clear failure to ensure the equal protections and rights of all people, regardless of race, in Canada. However, they also demonstrate that those who hold the most power and control over these institutions recognize that the need for change is now and those demanding it will not wait. We all need to do away with the false notion that as a nation, Canada was not complicit in perpetuating racism against its own citizens.
The last residential school for Indigenous children did not close until 1996. Until 1948, Chinese people who sought refuge in Canada were forced to pay a ‘head tax’ for their entry. As we continue to see, the land claims by Black Canadians in Nova Scotia remain largely unsettled.
In spite of these historical wrongs the impact of which we continue to see today, we have to believe there is hope for change. A recent ruling by Justice Jamie Campbell, stated that African Nova Scotians “have been subjected to racism for hundreds of years”. Justice Campbell went on to say that the provincial government has been applying the law incorrectly when considering land claims.
Even as a society evolves, the scars of its past wrongs and inactions remain. We still see the remnants of often untold history and, among other things, it has bred institutional racism. That is, a culture of racism that reinforces a flawed and entirely constructed perception of race which ultimately foster implicit biases and Systemic Racism, as a whole.
Clearly, we know what the problem is and why it exists. My fellow racialized politicians, academics and activists have long been telling us what we need to do. There is no longer any need for more questions and fact finding. Now is the time to be creative and strategic. To further define and understand how Systemic Racism lives unseen in our society, and how it affects people’s lives and futures. As we continue through this series, we will delve further into the lived realities of racialized Canadians.