Canada’s experience over the last year has shown that the pandemic continues to have a greater impact on Indigenous, Black, and racialized communities. They are significantly more at risk of exposure to COVID-19 and experienced far higher rates of infection and mortality than white people because of health, social and economic inequities.
The pandemic has also shone a light on anti-Black, anti-Indigenous, and anti- Asian racism. Recently, women of Asian descent were the target of racism and misogyny that resulted in a mass killing in the United States. Incidents of racially motivated hate, misogyny and violence have a profound impact on the sense of safety and mental well-being of these communities, further exacerbating the disadvantages they face.
The long-term health of Canadians is largely determined by social factors like income and education, which are, in turn, heavily shaped by systemic racism, and put marginalized communities at a distinct disadvantage. Indigenous, Black and racialized communities are also disproportionately forced into precarious, low-paying jobs, often with no access to paid sick leave and limited support for personal protection measures during the pandemic.
In Toronto, for example, racialized people accounted for 83 per cent of COVID-19 cases, even though they make up less than half of the city’s population. In the nation’s capital, Black people make up 37 per cent of cases while constituting just seven per cent of the population. And, in Indigenous communities, the rate of infection is 40 per cent higher than in the general Canadian population, though even this figure is likely underreported.
Racialized women also experienced much higher rates of unemployment than white women during the pandemic because they face systemic disadvantages like lower paid precarious work, fewer career advancement opportunities and less access to basic services and flexible daycare.
As the national vaccination efforts are ramped up and more hopeful signs of recovery from the pandemic emerge, addressing systemic racism must be a central pillar of that process. Governments across the country must work urgently to eliminate systemic barriers blocking the advancement of Indigenous, Black and racialized people and strengthen protections against racially motivated hate, misogyny and violence. Through improved social safety nets and reformed labour and immigration laws, health, social and economic inequities perpetuated by systemic racism can be eliminated. Governments and employers of all sizes must also ensure that workplaces are inclusive and representative at every level.
On March 21, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, we must recognize the systemic racial inequities that persist in our society; honour those who continue leading the fight against racial injustice; and reflect on what role each of us can play in our everyday lives to support and advance the struggle to eliminate systemic racism.