Kathy Hogarth says she attends every convocation ceremony she can at the University of Waterloo.
Graduations can take between two and three hours each, and are often skipped by tenured professors in favour of working on their research or other activities. But Hogarth, an associate professor at the university’s School of Social Work and one of just six Black tenured professors at the university, puts on her academic regalia anyway. She walks in each procession and makes sure to go on stage.
“Many people can go through these systems never seeing, never, ever having a Black professor in all of their education. They can go from (junior kindergarten) straight through to PhD and never interact with a Black educator,” she says.
“Why do I do it? Because I need those Black and Brown bodies on the other end to see themselves represented.”
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As Black History Month continues across Canada, a new poll has found that the majority of Canadians believe systemic racism is built into the country’s institutions.
An Ipsos poll conducted exclusively for Global News surveyed 1,000 Canadians between Feb. 2 and 3 and found that 54 per cent said they believe racism is built into the Canadian economy, government and educational system. The sentiment was highest among Canadians between the ages of 18 and 54, at 57 per cent — but that number drops to 48 per cent among Canadians aged 55 and up.
The generational divide is nothing new. Studies have shown that younger generations consistently shift to the left of their predecessors to become more liberal, more inclusive and more accepting of new change.
Shanze Khan, an account manager with Ipsos, said younger Canadians are no exception.
She also said the poll’s results indicated older Canadians “potentially haven’t experienced systemic racism as much themselves.”
“When you haven’t seen that much of it yourself, you perceive that it’s less of a problem overall,” she said.
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At the heart of the results is education. Those numbers are underscored throughout the Canadian public school system, where only 46 per cent of Canadians agree schools adequately teach Black history. Notably, Canadians over the age of 55 are most likely to disagree that public schools effectively teach Black history, at 61 per cent.
According to Khan, this showed that adults are “reflecting on what they were taught” and realizing their education was skewed.
“Younger Canadians who potentially have been more exposed to the diverse histories of the country do not feel that way,” she said, noting that “there must be a correlation between education and whether you believe there is systemic racism or not.”
Much has changed in the curriculum taught throughout public schools over the last 40 years, but so has the way children and teenagers learn. Social media and television have become dominant tools for absorbing and disseminating information, which Hogarth said makes racism much “harder to deny.”
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The Ipsos polling echoed that sentiment, with two-thirds of respondents (66 per cent) saying they agreed police treat Black people less fairly than white people throughout the country.
This year’s Black History Month is drastically different from previous years. The annual celebration dedicated to celebrating, understanding and honouring the lives of Black Canadians comes in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd — a Black man who died in Minnesota after a white officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes during an arrest.
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The events that took place last year provoked public outcry as Floyd’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” echoed across the world, triggering mass investigations into anti-Black racism in police forces.
“What has happened to aid the education system today is we see a lot more racial injustice in your face,” Hogarth said.
“So we see a younger generation saying, ‘Well, no, this is a problem.’”
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But as far as education has come, Hogarth said there is still more work to be done.
“Understand that a lot of what is still being taught to be in an elementary school system, in our university system, what is still being taught today is an inaccurate, is an incomplete history,” she said, adding that “Black history is still not regarded as Canadian history.”
The viewpoint that racism is built into the foundation of Canadian institutions is also reflected in the workplace.
Just 29 per cent of respondents said they viewed racism as a barrier to the corporate success of Black employees, but that number varies depending on how much money someone makes. Only 16 per cent of Canadians who made more than $100,000 annually agreed, as opposed to Canadians who made less than $100,000 per year at 36 per cent.
Half of respondents who identified as a visible minority agreed that racism is a barrier for Black employees, but that number drops to 19 per cent with white respondents.
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Khan said the “stark” difference in perception among white Canadians and visible minorities speaks to an awareness issue.
“Maybe they have blinders on, given that they’re just less likely to acknowledge that racism is a barrier compared to Black Canadians or visible minorities in general who clearly believe that it is, in fact, a significant barrier to success,” Khan said of non-diverse communities.
“The lived experiences of minorities are clearly very different than white Canadians perceive them to be.”
According to the poll, Black Canadians make up 3.5 per cent of the country’s population, but other studies have found Black people are nearly non-existent in leadership positions in Canada’s workplace.
A study released last year by Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute analyzed the data from 9,843 board of directors members from 173 corporations across Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Halifax, Hamilton, London and Ottawa, where visible minorities collectively make up 28.4 per cent of the population.
Among 1,639 corporate board members, the study found that just 13 — less than one per cent — were Black. Just 0.3 per cent of corporate board members in Toronto were Black, despite Black people making up 7.5 per cent of the city’s population.
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Hogarth said this lack of representation is part of the problem.
“Folks will say things like, ‘Well, everyone has equal access to the workplace,’ but we know that’s not true,” she said.
“When you get into the workforce, who’s at the top of these systems? It’s not the Black and Brown bodies.”
It’s important to understand how multi-faceted systemic racism is, and how it intersects with different sectors, Hogarth said — “or else we can end up with, ‘Well, they’re not trying hard enough.’”
“Representation matters. Representation isn’t the only factor, it cannot be, but representation matters because it sends a message to us about how we can dream about where we can be in this society,” she said.
“If the only thing you see yourself represented in is being janitorial staff — and nothing’s wrong with janitorial staff — but if that’s the only place you can ever see yourself represented, if the only place you can see yourself represented is at the bottom rung of the ladder, then how do you aspire? Where are the supports in the systems to push you further?”
These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted between Feb. 2 and Feb 3., 2021, on behalf of Global News. For this survey, a sample of 1,000 Canadians aged 18+ was interviewed online. Quotas and weighting were employed to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the Canadian population according to census parameters. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within ± 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadians aged 18+ been polled. The credibility interval will be wider among subsets of the population. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.