RACISM & THE CYCLE OF POVERTY

Introduction

According to the Colour of Poverty (2019), Canada has a number of factors that negatively affect the health of Black and Indigenous People of Colour (BIPOC), including: “the psychological stress of living in a racist environment; unequal economic opportunities; poor housing; lack of food security; inequitable access to education and other social resources; disproportionate exposure to environmental toxins; employment in dangerous and precarious work; mistrust of the health-care system; and underutilization of screening programs” (Color of Poverty, 2019). Racial categories and stereotypes are often not based in science or biology, but on differences that society has chosen to emphasize, causing significant harm to people’s lives. Oftentimes, the harm intersects into multiple facets of an individual’s life, resulting in inescapable hardships. Ultimately, the racialization of individuals, compounded by structural violence, causes adverse health outcomes, limited opportunities for success, poverty, and potentially, jail time.

Evidently, poverty is at the core of the cycle of discrimination, as racialized groups in Canada experienced a 361% increase in poverty between 1980 and 2000 (Allahdini, 2014). Black individuals comprised about a quarter of all homeless individuals living in Ontario. Of all-Black communities, women and girls are the most vulnerable as they are twice as likely to experience poverty compared to their male counterparts (Allahdini, 2014). Poverty impacts all aspects of an individual’s life, including the pathways and opportunities individuals have to exit poverty.

Education System

Potential exit pathways from poverty include: obtaining higher education levels, stable employment, and consistent housing prices. Unfortunately for the Black community, only 53% of Black students graduate from high school, compared to their White counterparts with 81% graduation (Colour of Poverty, 2019). Additionally, Black students are twice as likely to be enrolled in Applied programs compared to Academic, limiting the number of individuals reaching university-level education (Chiwanza, 2019). 12% of Toronto's students are Black but represent 48% of expulsions, which is indicative of the fact that the educational institution fails to serve Black students and makes it difficult fo exit pathways to be clear.

As a result of the intersecting effects of poverty and under-funding, Black individuals find themselves with the short end of the stick. Although Black people are more at risk for poverty and undesirable situations, there are fewer opportunities for Black individuals to escape. Moreover, Black students are at a significant disadvantage at school, further fueling the cycle of poverty.

Justice System

Racialization runs rampant within the justice system. Although only comprising 7.5% of Toronto's population, Black individuals are 40% of inmates in the Toronto South Detention Center (Color of Poverty, 2019). The high representation of Black individuals may be due to the fact that police forces are amplified in more "vulnerable" neighbourhoods and schools. Oftentimes, residents in these areas are predominantly Black, increasing the likelihood of arrests compared to non-Black neighbourhoods. Due to the over-policing, rates of incarceration in Black communities between 2005 and 2016 have increased by 70% (Alladhi, 2014). Additionally, Black individuals make up 37% of police brutality victims in the city (John Howard Society, 2017). Over policing and arrests perpetuate racial stereotypes and do not solve root issues of why these neighbourhoods are labelled as "vulnerable."

One inmate in federal prison costs $115,000 - $120,000 (John Howard Society, 2018). Unfortunately, that amount can pay for three students to go to post-secondary school for four years. At the rate of incarceration where Black people are getting jailed, governments could have invested this money into "vulnerable" schools and neighbourhoods. Improvements in these areas can provide better education and opportunities which further lead to better educational outcomes, careers, and less likelihood of arrest for petty crimes.

Social System

It is evident through the incomes of Black people and the social assistance they are offered that structural racism heavily impacts the Black population. Ultimately, structural racism hinders their progress, stacking multiple odds against them, and further fueling an endless cycle of intersectional disadvantages. According to Statistics Canada (2016), the gap in median annual wages between Black men compared to their counterparts in the rest of the population has persisted over time and continues to persist. Seemingly like a self-fulfilling prophecy, Black men see their employment rates drop, and their unemployment rates rise. 9.2% of racialized Canadians were unemployed, compared to only 6.2% of non-racialized Canadians (Statistics Canada, 2016). The 2016 Census also showed that 20.8% of peoples of colour in Canada are low-income compared to 12.2% of non-racialized people (Statistics Canada, 2016). Recent immigrants were spending more than 50% of their income on housing; 15% spend 75% or more of their income on housing (Color of Poverty, 2019).

Furthermore, in the housing and welfare sector, Black people continue to be disadvantaged in a system that scarcely provides relief in its oppression. Statistics Canada (2016) highlights that 1 in 5 Black adults live in a low-income situation. Moreover, according to the Colour of Poverty (2019), over 50% of people of colour households in Canada live in homes that are not affordable, and could lead to homelessness; are inadequate, in need of repair; and unsuitable, overcrowded and unsafe. A recent study also concluded that Black children and youth are heavily over-represented in the child welfare system. In Toronto, Black Canadians constitute 8.5% of the population, but 40% of the children in care (Colour of Poverty, 2019). Additionally, the welfare system does not do much to protect Black children who are vulnerable to racialized forms of abuse and culturally inappropriate treatment in foster homes. Colour of Poverty reported that One Vision, One Voice (2016), a report documenting systemic anti-Black racism in Ontario child welfare services explained that White foster parents frequently shave off the hair of Black girls placed in their care, causing psychological harm (Colour of Poverty, 2019).

Healthcare System

Racism also proves itself problematic in the healthcare system, as BIPOC report being subjected to rude, disrespectful, harsh, or dismissive treatment by health care staff, due to racially discriminatory stereotypes. The Ontario Human Rights Commission found in 2017 that health workers often do not treat Black patients seriously and their symptoms of sickle cell anemia are frequently dismissed as pain related to drug habits. Examples like this serve as institutionalized racist practices that hinder fair, just, and equal treatment of Black people. Unfortunately, the psychiatric system is highly “white-centric,” and lacks diversity in its views, values, and practices, further contributing to a disproportionate increase in Black people suffering from mental health issues. Moreover, it is evident that Indigenous peoples and Black people receive less health and mental health supports and are often at disproportionate risk of harm. One study looked at 104,000 medical charts of ambulance patients between 2015 and 2017. Researchers found that minority patients were less likely to receive morphine and other pain medication compared with white patients — regardless of socioeconomic factors, such as health insurance status. Leslie Gregory, a physician assistant, asks, "How can a person of colour not disrespect a system that is constantly studying and talking about these disparities, but does nothing to fix it?" (Black Alliance, 2020).

Conclusion

Institutionalized racism is embedded in a lot of institutionalized systems. The factors affecting education, income, employment, experiences with law enforcement, and the healthcare system ultimately lead to a never-ending cycle of injustice. As a result, black communities and other people of colour experience the cycle of poverty at a disproportionate rate. The remedy to these issues does not simply come from policy changes but starts at the education of professionals to recognize the bias and injustice that is embedded in social structures. Additionally, lumping different groups’ demographics together into one “racialized” or “people of colour” category ignores the unique needs and struggles that these diverse groups face. These institutionalized injustices ultimately set particular demographic groups at risk for high incidences of adverse health and career outcomes, while making it more difficult to escape their circumstances. Immediate action must be taken in order to change practices.

References:

Allahdini, S, The Colour of Poverty: Understanding Racialized Poverty In Canada Through Colonialism (2014). Social Justice and Community Engagement. 1.

Colour of Poverty - Colour of Change. (2019, June 18). Colour of Poverty - Colour of Change. Retrieved from https://colourofpoverty.ca/

Financial facts on Canadian prisons. (2019, July 11). Retrieved from https://johnhoward.ca/blog/financial-facts-canadian-prisons/#:~:text=According to federal data the,US per year in 2015).

Race, Crime and Justice in Canada. (2017, October 19). Retrieved from https://johnhoward.ca/blog/race-crime-justice-canada/