by Rayan Saied
When we aim to tackle anti-Black racism in Canada, bringing to the forefront the realities of systemically ingrained and often subtle oppression so that it can be addressed is an important foundational step. Thanks to funding from our partners Frayme, and working alongside the Delmore “Buddy” Daye Learning Institute, Wisdom2 Action has taken part in this work with the Anti-Black Racism Project. The Anti-Black Racism Project aimed to understand and address the ways that systemic anti-Black racism impacts Black and African youth accessing social services (healthcare, education, justice system & recreation) across Nova Scotia. With the report now shared, we can reflect on some of the report’s findings, specifically the reporting of microaggressions and the lack of representation across all of the surveyed sectors.
In discussions about racism today, and specifically anti-Black racism, the term microaggression is one you will come across quite often. Microaggressions are defined as subtle, indirect, or unintentional forms of discrimination against a marginalized group that causes harm to those groups (Sue et al, 2007). Often microaggressions are seen as being akin to a white lie: a ‘light’ or less ‘bad’ form of racism experienced regularly by marginalized folks and that exists routinely around us, made less severe by the lack of awareness of those perpetuating the microaggressions. While they may be perceived as small incidents, they enforce one of the most powerful systems of othering in the world, and the damage they cause is tangible. In essence, they are the acts that remind Black people that they are othered and reinforces their alienation.
Our survey uncovered experiences of microaggressions from Black and African Youth such as being tokenized, hearing inappropriate comments about their skin, hair, and bodies in school, and offhanded and offensive comments by medical practitioners. Couple this with the finding that 69.6% of respondents in our survey said they had experienced some type of racial discrimination within the education sector, and another 33.37 % of respondents that said they felt somewhat, not very, or not at all understood by their healthcare providers. These findings show us that there is indeed a problem that Black and African youth in Nova Scotia are facing wherein those they rely on as service providers are also the same people perpetuating harm, meaning Black youth must put themselves at some risk when they enter these spaces.
Furthermore, it was clear youth in our survey did not see themselves in their service providers, with many commenting on a need for more diversity across sectors. Within the healthcare sector, only 32.45% of respondents said they felt represented by their local healthcare providers. These findings further cause concern as the likelihood of experiencing microaggressions increases significantly within interracial interactions (Sue et al, 2007). When Black and African youth are largely left to interact with a body of service providers who are white and non-Black, especially when care has not been taken to educate said service providers on the realities and nuances of anti-black racism as they exist today, we create an environment in which it is almost inevitable that Black youth will face discrimination and be impacted by microaggressions.
Anti-Black racism and the alienation of Black and African youth, even at a micro-level, causes real harm and maintains the same violent systems that work against Black people and their communities. There is a damaging notion that Black people are able to handle a greater weight of pain, struggle, and oppression than others. Comparing ‘microaggressions” to centuries of slavery and segregation and it can be easy to think “look how far we’ve come” – but what we often fail to see is how those systems of slavery, segregation, and violent racism have insidiously mutated and ingrained themselves within our society today, repackaged so that it is almost invisible to all of those it does not directly impact. What we are left with are governments and services which at every level continue to uphold anti-Black racism and cause harm to Black communities. It may be easy to think that racism has been reduced to ‘just’ microaggressions but when these microaggressions are only one symptom of a greater problem we realize how much work is left to be done. With the Anti-Black Racism Project, we hope we can contribute in a meaningful way to the ongoing and challenging fight against systemic anti-Black racism in Canada.
Sue, D. W., Capodilupo, C. M., Torino, G. C., Bucceri, J. M., Holder, A., Nadal, K. L., & Esquilin, M. (2007). Racial microaggressions in everyday life: implications for clinical practice. American psychologist, 62(4), 271.
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