Canadian citizenship study guide should tell the truth about racism

At this crucial time of confronting systemic anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism, the Canadian government must take responsibility for its enduring role in propagating racism. This includes through its misleading self-portrayal in Discover Canada, the official study guide for the test taken by Canadian citizenship applicants.

Issued in 2011, the guide aims to teach prospective citizens about Canada’s history, geography, culture, and political and justice systems. Disgracefully, the document whitewashes colonialism, conceals genocide, minimizes systemic racism and its inhumane consequences, and portrays these as remnants of the past even as the guide itself engages in racist discourse.

We write as women faculty members at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto. Our perspective on these issues is borne of our shared concerns yet differing relationships to “Canadian” nationality. One of us is Algonquin (Timiskaming First Nation); another is a woman of African ancestry, born in “Canada,” surviving transatlantic enslavement; two are new-ish Canadians (white European heritage, from the United States and South Africa); another is a permanent resident from the U.S. (from Venezuela).

Revising the guide

 

Recognizing Discover Canada’s flaws, the government set out in 2016 to remove certain offensive elements, including the portrayal of immigrants’ “barbaric cultural practices” and the glorification of military exploits.

A draft shared with The Canadian Press in 2017 incorporated coverage of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 2015 report, as well as discussion of discrimination against people of racialized backgrounds, people with disabilities, LGBTQ2S+ people and other marginalized communities.

Despite an expected 2017 release — during Canada’s sesquicentennial — the new version, inexplicably, never came to light.

We have anecdotal evidence: We see loved ones, friends, ourselves and respected community leaders struggle with the emotional and physiological impacts of racism on a daily basis. While anti-Black racism’s effect on the health of Black communities is documented, studies from the U.S. are more illustrative.

In one U.S. study, researchers studied 1,574 Baltimore residents of which 20 per cent reported that they had been racially discriminated against “a lot.” This same group had higher systolic blood pressure than those who perceived they had been discriminated against very little. Additionally, over a five-year period the group that felt they had been discriminated against “a lot” had higher declines in kidney function.

In a 1997 to 2003 study on racial discrimination and breast cancer in U.S. Black women, researchers found that perceived experiences of racism resulted in increased incidents of breast cancer, especially among young Black women. In 2011, a pivotal study on the impact of racism on health scholars linked lifetime experiences of discrimination to higher prevalence of hypertension in African Americans.

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Specializing in the areas of intersectionality and ethics in health work; health and race; transnational Indigenous health; and anti-oppression/anti-colonial approaches to mental health, Dr. Timothy has extensive teaching experience in universities, colleges, and in social service organizations and community settings, with particular expertise in critical health theory and social justice health policy development and implementation.
Dr. Timothy prioritizes critical and creative approaches to knowledge production that reflect experiences and aspirations of migrant, refugee, African/Black diasporic, and transnational Indigenous communities. Her scholarship contributes to critical race theory by examining how factors such as gender, class, sexual orientation, gender identities, (dis)abilities, transgenerational connections, and historical and contemporary intersectional violence impact African/Black communities’ health. Dr. Timothy centers community resistance through innovative decolonizing health practices.

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