Systemic racism: What it looks like in Canada and how to fight it?  

Woman raising her hand in the First Nations Longhouse

Systemic racism: What it looks like in Canada and how to fight it?

At UBC, our commitment to building an open environment and a diverse workforce makes us stronger. It increases the complexity of our knowledge, with which we can transform systems of oppression and support emerging leaders to better shape the university and the broader society. However, we recognize that even in a diverse institution like ours and in Canada, systemic racism still exists as a challenge for racialized communities and Indigenous peoples.

What is systematic racism?

Systemic racism, also known as institutional racism, refers to the ways that whiteness and white superiority become embedded in the policies and processes of an institution, resulting in a system that advantages white people and disadvantages BIPOC/IBPOC, notably in employment, education, justice, and social participation.

Systemic racism in Canada

In a settler colonial state like Canada, systemic racism is deeply rooted in every system of this country. This means the systems put in place were designed to benefit white colonists while disadvantaging the Indigenous populations who had lived here prior to colonialism. This power dynamic continues to be upheld and reinforced in our society, extending its impact on new racialized citizens.

According to a 2016 report from Statistics Canada, both Black women and men were less likely to obtain post-secondary education compared to women and men in the rest of the population in Vancouver, with a difference of about 10%. And the unemployment rate for the Black population was approximately one and a half times higher than that for rest of the population. In terms of socioeconomic impact of COVID-19, around one-quarter of Indigenous people living in Canadian urban areas were in poverty, compared to 13% of non-Indigenous population in these areas.

How to fight systemic racism?

Systemic racism is a ripple effect from years of racist and discriminatory practices, and as individuals it is normal to feel discouraged and powerless. But know that from being more mindful of the ways systems work to promoting social accountability, you too can take a lead in initiating change.

1. Reflect

Accepting that racism lives within our society is an important first step. Reflect on the ways systemic racism and your position has impacted you and your perspectives. The experiences of marginalized groups can also vary, so don’t forget to apply an intersectional lens when you consider the ways different groups face oppression. You may feel uncomfortable, but this sets a solid foundation for you to explore the complexities of racial discrimination, challenge your notions of race and culture, and see anti-racism in new ways.

2. Educate

In order to move forward, it is essential to confront our past with racism and oppression as a country. Having knowledge and understanding in Canada’s history with racism provide us with the necessary foundation to the fight against injustice.

This Racism in Canada timeline, developed by the BC Teachers’ Federation, provides an overview of systemic racism in Canada from the 1600s up until 2018. As you study this timeline, ask yourself the following questions: How have the laws changed? Is the targeted group still experiencing the effects of this event today? Were you familiar with this historical event? If not, what is the significance of you not knowing about this event?

3. Speak up

Challenge yourself and your communities by bringing conversations into your spaces. Regardless of our intersectional identities, talking about racism is no easy task, but your ability to have more meaningful and productive conversations will grow as you practice more.

We also encourage you to read our article on the four steps to navigating difficult conversations about racism for more guidance on this topic.

One step at a time

We each have an active role to play in working against oppression and towards equality, and finding ways to elevate historically and systemically marginalized groups. Education is key to effectively defeat systemic racism – here are some resources that can help: