Five charts that show what systemic racism looks like in Canada

George Floyd’s killing at the hands of police in Minneapolis and the ensuing wave of global protests have prompted many Canadians to take a deeper look at systemic racism, and national data reveals the stark racial divide in this country.

The most recent census data from 2016 shows that Black Canadians face far steeper economic challenges than white Canadians and other racial groups. For example, Black Canadians make significantly less money than non-racialized Canadians regardless of how long their families have lived in Canada.

First-generation Black Canadians make an average income of nearly $37,000, compared to an average income of $50,000 for new immigrants who are not members of a visible minority.

That wage gap doesn’t go away over time. Third-generation Black Canadians make an average income of $32,000, compared with $48,000 for Canadians who aren’t a visible minority — a demographic that, due to the way census data is collected, includes Indigenous Canadians, who also experience income disparity.

Those numbers are troubling but not surprising, says Andrea A. Davis, chair of York University’s department of humanities and co-ordinator of the university’s Black Canadian Studies Certificate.

“Often when people see statistics like this, the assume that well, there’s clearly a rational and a good reason for this disparity,” Davis told CTVNews.ca in an interview Thursday.

The reality, Davis said, is that Black immigrants are up against a system that makes assumptions about them based on the colour of their skin. She said many Black immigrants face a tougher time getting hired because employers say they want someone with “Canadian experience.”

“Many of us have heard the stories of new immigrants who are doctors who can’t get jobs, engineers who are driving taxi cabs in Toronto. That sort of reincorporation into the labour force is harder for Black people because they can be weeded out because of the colour of their skin.”

Unemployment rates among Black Canadians are higher than other populations, and are more than double the rate of other visible minorities.

“Some racialized groups are seen as more productive, harder working, smarter — a ‘good minority’ — so they get absorbed far more quickly into the mainstream than Black new immigrants,” Davis said.

But the income gap between Black Canadians and non-visible minorities doesn’t go away for the children or grandchildren of Black immigrants. Davis said that’s because many teachers treat Black children differently than their peers.

“These children go into an educational system that marks them as a deficit, that sees them as problematic, and then they struggle to integrate. And so they under-achieve in many cases and are unable to live up to the desires, the hopes of their parents. And once they enter the labour force, they repeat the struggle of their parents,” she said.

“So it’s a kind of cycle that doesn’t break. And it can be invisible, so many Canadians don’t see it because they don’t know how to narrate it, or it's not narrated for them.”

The data shows that Black youth are keen to achieve a higher education. Nearly 94 per cent of Black young people aged 15 to 25 surveyed in 2015 said they would like to complete a university degree, but only 59.9 per cent thought it was possible.

That gap between hope and expectation doesn’t exist for the rest of the population. Eighty-two per cent of other groups surveyed said they wanted to achieve a university education, and 78.8 per cent believed they could.

Davis said this data falls in line with what she sees in her classroom. She teaches a first-year course on race at York University in Toronto, and the majority of her students are Black.

“They work tremendously hard and their aspirations are great. But very few people have told them they can be successful,” she said. “I don't think it’s about funding. Really, I don’t. I think it’s about the belief in self … 'Do I belong here? Can I do this?'”

As part of her research, Davis studied the impact on violence in youth communities in Toronto and Jamaica. The most profound finding, she said, was how strongly Black youth in Toronto pushed back against the idea that the greatest violence they had faced in their communities was physical violence.

“They insisted that the most sustained, daily violence was the violence of the education system. It was teachers who did not believe in them, who stereotyped them, who over-disciplined and over-punished them, who constructed possibilities for them that were different from the possibilities for other children.”

When it comes to hate crimes in Canada, Black people are far more likely than any other racial group to be victims of hate crimes, according to statistics from the Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety.

Canada is often celebrated as a multicultural nation, but Davis said that doesn’t mean racism isn’t a present and pervasive force here.

“It’s difficult for Canadians to hold in their minds at the same time this idea, this fervent belief, that they live in a democratic and even a multicultural society, and that racism can exist in that same society. When they see acts of racism like George Floyd’s death, they’re convinced that racism is perpetuated by only a few individuals or bad apples, but it’s not widespread,” she said.

“We have to acknowledge that racism can look like hate, it can look like what happened to George Floyd, but that’s only one way it shows up. It shows up in apathy, in silence, in ignorance, in the refusal to really learn.

"The reality is that racism is expressed not just as conscious acts of hate or violence, but it’s far more complex than that. It evolves out of a set of deeply rooted systems in our country. So deeply rooted that it might be easy to miss.”

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