Using racial slurs. Making an assumption about someone based on their skin colour. Turning away potential tenants because of their race. Providing different medical care to different racial groups. Paying people of colour less than their white peers.
What do all of these things have in common?
They’re all very real examples of racism that happen every day in the world around us. However, just because they’re happening doesn’t mean we have to stand for them. We can all do our part to hold each other (and ourselves!) accountable for addressing and correcting racist thoughts, actions, and systems.
To make real progress, we must first understand the many ways racism is exhibited, along with why anti-racism is the solution for eliminating racism at all levels. Read on to learn more about racism and how you can support anti-racism initiatives.
Racism refers to an ideology of domination where one racial group is deemed superior. This in turn justifies the inferior treatment or social position of other racial groups. Under racism, some people are seen as better than others based solely on racial or ethnic factors. Expressed through prejudice and discrimination, racism can manifest in people, institutions, and societies.
There are many types of racism in the world. Understanding them can help us take steps to counter them. This section will look more closely at three types of racism. While these aren’t the only forms of racism, they are especially common.
Psychology Today defines internalized racism as “the tendency of some individuals belonging to historically oppressed ethnic groups to regularly invalidate, demean, and/or suppress their own and other marginalized groups’ heritage, identity, self-worth, and human rights.”
With this form of racial discrimination, people come to believe—consciously, subconsciously, or unconsciously—that the group to which they belong is “less than” the mainstream dominant group. In Canada and many other parts of the world, “Whiteness” is viewed as superior. So when non-white people grow up in this type of environment that says “white is better” individuals may internalize these ideas believing they’re unworthy of dignity, respect, and equality. Signs of internalized racism include the following:
• Denying their entire cultural identity to “fit in.”
• Avoiding their own racialized group or others, especially when white people are around
• Talking negatively about or discriminating against their race to “fit in” with white people
• Defending or justifying prejudice, discrimination, and racism
• Believing they and their race are ugly and undesirable
A simplified way to think of internalized racism? It lies within individuals. Some people with internalized racism are aware of their personal struggles with their own cultural identities, while others are unaware or in denial about them.
On the other hand, interpersonal racism happens between people. It is what we usually think of when we hear the word “racism,” and includes racist words and acts. Not only is interpersonal racism pervasive in Canada, but it’s on the rise. Here are a couple of eye-opening statistics:
• Hate crimes went up 97 percent in Vancouver in 2020, where anti-Asian hate crimes, in particular, rose by an alarming 717 percent.
• More than half of young people who identify as visible minorities in Canadian high schools say they’ve been called racist names or endured racist comments.
The statistics shared above are examples of overt interpersonal racism. However, interpersonal racism can also be more subtle. We’re talking about microaggressions, a common type of racism. According to psychology professor Kevin Nadal, these are “the everyday, subtle, intentional — and oftentimes unintentional — interactions or behaviours that communicate some sort of bias toward historically marginalized groups.”
Some examples of microaggressions include:
• Assuming a person of Asian descent speaks Chinese
• Expecting all Black people to be good dancers
• Asking someone of colour where they’re really from
Another thing that makes microaggressions different from overt discrimination, also known as, macroagressions? People may not even know they’re doing them. They often come from well-intentioned people who don’t believe they’re saying anything offensive but in doing so perpetuate racial inequality.
And while the word “micro” may imply that these acts are small, the truth is that racism, including microaggressions, can have a significant impact on mental health. According to licensed psychologist and host of Therapy for Black Girls podcast, Dr. Joy Bradford, “Racism can result in a host of mental health concerns including things like increased anxiety and symptoms of depression.” Bradford continues, “The experience of having to question whether something happened to you because of your race or constantly being on edge because your environment is hostile can often leave people feeling invisible, silenced, angry, and resentful.”
Research studies have associated microaggressions with increased risk of depression, self-doubt, frustration, and isolation. The resulting stress can also lead to serious physical concerns, including high blood pressure and sleep difficulties. Because of this, it’s important to understand what microaggressions are and how to stop yourself from exhibiting microaggressive behaviours.
Strategies for preventing microaggressions – and interpersonal racism on a whole – include the following:
• Examining the beliefs, values and racial ideologies you grew up with and reflecting on how they can impact racialized people
• Being more mindful of other people’s emotions and feelings
• Exploring the perspectives of others and embracing empathy
• Not getting defensive if you do get called out
We all play a role in preventing microaggressions and other forms of interpersonal racism. In doing so, we contribute to ending racism once and for all.
Systemic racism refers to how beliefs about the superiority of whiteness have become deeply embedded in institutional processes and policies. This gives white people an inherent advantage across areas like education, employment, the justice system, and social participation while non-whites are disadvantaged across these same measures. Because these advantages are “built-in,” white people may not even recognize them; they just accept them.
Canada’s history of colonization and racism has resulted in pervasive systemic racism. From the moment white people stepped onto land that had been inhabited by Indigenous Peoples for generations, they started building a country that benefited them while hurting Indigenous populations. The University of British Columbia concludes, “This power dynamic continues to be upheld and reinforced in our society, extending its impact on new racialized citizens.”
Here’s a look at some effects of systemic racism:
• Racialized Canadians earn an average of 81 cents to the dollar compared to other Canadians.
• The unemployment rate for Black people is approximately 1.5x higher than for the rest of the population
• Indigenous Peoples are the most overrepresented group in prisons in Canada • Black people are 20 times more likely than white people to be killed by police in Toronto
COVID-19 further highlighted systemic racism and the racial inequality it caused as people of colour were more likely to be impacted by the pandemic. Data reveals that approximately 25 percent of Indigenous Peoples living in urban areas were in poverty during the pandemic, compared to just 13 percent of non-Indigenous Peoples.
Like interpersonal racism, we need to be willing to call out systemic racism. But it’s going to take much more than that. If we want a country where everyone is treated fairly, we need systemic change. This includes our ongoing journey in truth and reconciliation and effective policies that ensure equity and inclusivity.
Think it’s enough to “not be a racist”? Think again. In fact, many people who commit racist acts are the first to say, “I’m not racist.” This is where “anti-racism” comes in. The opposite of ‘racist’ isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘anti-racist.'”
You may be asking yourself: what’s the difference? In short, while claiming to be non-racist is a passive and reactive position, being an anti-racist is a proactive endeavour that commits to fighting against racism. It involves making room for racialized voices, ideas, and opinions. It’s about identifying racist policies that lead to racist outcomes and helping to eradicate them.
Specifically for white people, being an anti-racist also means examining racial privileges that have been perpetuated and enforced by systemic racism. Additionally, it’s understanding that the responsibility to explain or fix racism doesn’t lie with your friends of colour. Think of it this way. You wouldn’t ask the victim to solve the crime committed against them?
“Canada insists on being surprised by its own racism,” says The Skin We’re In author Desmond Cole. Yet modern-day racial injustices prevail, and the legacy of colonization, slavery, and segregation continue to impact Indigenous Peoples and racialized Canadians. So an essential step in becoming anti-racist is understanding the roots of racial disparities in Canada: a system that has been created to serve white supremacy. All of which begs the question: What are some strategies for becoming an anti-racist?
The first step? Stop being surprised that racism happens in Canada. We need to reflect on Canada’s racist past and the racial injustices that continue to occur in our country. We also need to think about how we act and the thoughts we have towards different races. And remember: just because you’re “not a racist” doesn’t mean you’re not part of the problem.
2. Educate yourself
We should all commit to educating ourselves about racism, what it looks like, how it affects Indigenous Peoples and racialized Canadians, and how it has been perpetuated throughout history. Being more educated will also help us to better understand what we can and should be doing to fight racism. There are many resources out there that you can turn to, including anti-racist reading lists from the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and the Globe and Mail.
Some promising news? So many Canadians are educating themselves that Black and Indigenous booksellers have reported a surge in requests for literature on anti-racism. Let’s keep this up!
Also, take the time to consume media that’s created by people of colour and Indigenous Peoples. Be it music, visual art, books, or podcasts, people from marginalized communities offer a unique perspective that can help you better understand their lived experiences.
3. Take Action
Once you understand more about your thoughts and behaviours and racism and anti-racism, the next step is to do something. We must go beyond token actions, like using the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag on social media or hanging an orange shirt in your window for Orange Shirt Day. Without effective, tangible action we won’t meet our goal of eliminating racism.
Instead, start by opening up conversations at home. Maybe you’ve got an uncle who is known for telling racist jokes at family gatherings. Looking the other way is not anti-racist. Speaking up is. Educator and author Cornelius Minor recommends, “White folks get really brave on social media, but then really scared when they’re around their grandparents. Take that same energy you got for Twitter, and go sit down with your uncle.”
While fighting racism within your own family and community is helpful and needed, anti-racism also means identifying and working to dismantle racist practices and policies. Take standardized testing where teachers are twice as likely to rate a white student “excellent” than a Black student, even when they had the same standardized test scores. Or water advisories, where 1 in 5 Indigenous communities lack access to clean drinking water.
Malini Ranganathan, a faculty team lead at the Antiracist Research and Policy Center explains, “To be anti-racist would be to be bold enough to call out these policies as racist.” This means writing to or emailing your elected officials, raising awareness within your network, or attending rallies. It also means supporting organizations that advocate for anti-racism initiatives across Canada.
4. Commit to it
Finally, it’s important to recognize that anti-racism isn’t a destination, but a journey. Just because anti-racism is trending at the moment doesn’t mean your efforts stop when it is no longer getting headlines. Rather, it’s a lifelong commitment.
There are tons of organizations across Canada that are fighting racism and creating anti-racism programs. Sometimes it can be hard to choose just one to support. Luckily, you don’t have to.
That’s where Unite for Change’s Anti-Racism Fund comes in. This Fund comprises more than 50 registered Canadian charities that tackle racism at the systemic, interpersonal, and internal levels. Together, they are paving the path for real and long-lasting change through advocacy efforts, research, education, intersectionality, healthcare, community building, and more.
Donating to the Anti-Racism Fund is a simple yet significant way to stand beside people of colour and become part of the ongoing fight against racism in Canada. There is a brighter future, but we need to work together to create a safe and inclusive Canada for all. Donate today!