Groundbreaking research aimed at shedding some real light on the attitudes, realities, and resilience of the some 400,000 members of Toronto’s black community found that more than half of its participants felt targeted because of the colour of their skin.
The study is called the Black Experience Project. It was conducted by the Environics Institute along with the United Way of Toronto, York Region, the YMCA of the Greater Toronto Area, Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute, and the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora at York University.
In-depth, one-on-one confidential interviews were held with over 1,500 people from across the GTA. Although the project was meant to look at the diversity and real-life experiences of individuals who self-identify as black and/or of African heritage, and to provide a better understanding of the lives of people in the black community, the negative experience of being labelled and stereotyped has overshadowed some of the successes.
According to the study, among the greatest challenges facing the black community are racism and stereotyping at 35 per cent, distrust and lack of unity at 29 per cent, internalized racism and lack of confidence at 26 per cent, and lack of education and ambition felt, also at 26 per cent.
Participants interviewed recalled regular occurrences where they were targeted or labelled because of the colour of their skin.
“Institutional racism is quiet violence. It is stuff that goes on behind the scenes that you don’t even see but you feel,” one participant is quoted as saying.
“It’s a personal racism, that quiet violence gets legs. It moves, it becomes seen rather than unseen. It’s the pimple not the dirt.”
Others talk about having a harder time starting a business, and feeling safe at school because they are black.
One student is quoted as saying, ”I’ve watched my friends and kids get bullied because of their skin colour. People don’t like other people because of their differences. Everybody finds it hard to connect with people on a level because they aren’t the same or with people who look different or act different.
“I hope for the best in the future, but it doesn’t look like anything will change because nobody wants to accept they are wrong, which makes things worse and causes more problems”.
The study found that 67 per cent of respondents say they experience unfair treatment because of the colour of their skin, and that includes harassment by police. Here are the numbers: 55 per cent say they have been stopped by police in public places – 79 per cent were men aged 24-44 years old – while 38 per cent reported being harassed or treated rudely by police.
Global News spoke with Marva Wisdom, director of outreach and engagement for the Black Experience Project, about the findings and what needs to be done to move forward towards solutions.
Wisdom said although the findings are startling, they are not surprising. She says the focus now will be on working with law enforcement and other agencies to educate and remove the stigmas faced by Toronto’s black community through policy and other initiatives, and to help the community focus on its successes, to expand on them, and to make the Black community more inclusive within the GTA.