by Shan Qiao in Toronto 

A campaign to collect books and other resources to enhance educational opportunities for black children in Toronto is gaining support, while the Black Lives Matter Toronto continues to challenge anti-Black racism in the city. 

A book drive took place recently at A Different Booklist, an independent bookstore in Toronto. It encouraged people to purchase books and donate them to Black Lives Matter Freedom School, a summer program focused on teaching black children aged four to 10 about black liberation history. 

“[Children of African descent] do not get exposed enough, if at all, to the history of blacks in Canada or North America and around the world during the regular school year,” said Natasha Henry, an elementary school teacher and author. “The book drive is a way to engage them in their learning, contributing to the community, and really empowering them with knowledge that will help them to continue their education, whether at school or in the community.” 

Movement targets education, police 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We’re fighting for justice, freedom and dignity for all black people.”[/quote]

LeRoi Newbold, a director of Black Lives Matter Toronto and the organizer of the book drive, said the black community should have control over what black children are learning, independently from school boards. 

“In Toronto, 40 per cent of black children did not graduate from high school,” said Newbold. While that number has decreased recently, black students still experience high suspension rates and low graduation rates. 

“It’s alarming and unacceptable,” said Newbold. “We’re not waiting for that system to change. We’re creating our own schools, our own institutions.” 

Black Lives Matter Toronto is also collecting resources for the school through an online Indiegogo fundraising campaign. To date, the campaign has raised $10,361. 

Not far from the upbeat book drive that had a few dozen people packed into the tiny single-unit bookstore, Black Lives Matter Toronto protested for the seventh day in-a-row outside Toronto Police Service headquarters to draw attention to anti-black racism in the city.

The demonstrations began in part to protest the Special Investigations Unit’s decision not to lay charges against a Toronto officer who fatally shot 45-year-old Sudanese immigrant Andrew Loku. The group also announced a lawsuit against the Toronto Police Service for allegedly raiding and searching the home of Jean Montaque, a black mother, without warrant. 

“We’re fighting for justice, freedom and dignity for all black people, and the right for black people to not experience violence [at] the hands of the police force,” Newbold said of the protest. 

Teaching the history of black activism 

[Block quote: sharing a pioneering black activist’s accomplishments and legacy show how the struggling for freedom has evolved over time.] 

Henry was one of the presenters at the book drive, held on Mar 24. She wrote Firsts and African Diaspora as part a 15-book series on black heritage in Canada and around the world. 

“Often of times, historians are very interested in the past, yet young people will say ‘What does that have to do with us today?’” Henry told the crowd. “So it’s very important that we provide the historical context, but mix it with what is going on today in our communities and around the world.” 

In Firsts, Henry focuses on many “firsts” in the African-Canadian community and other African diaspora communities. The cover features an image of Michaëlle Jean, the first black person to serve as Governor General of Canada. 

“When we’re looking at the markers of ‘the first’ African descent, it gets us to think critically about why some of these ‘firsts’ are just happening in the 21st century, despite the fact that Africans have been in Canada since the 16th century,” Henry said. She described how the stories of “firsts” began a legacy of anti-black racism and how that is manifesting itself today. 

“Whether it is over-policing, police brutality, the unemployment rate of young black people – which is much higher than the general population – student dropout rates… these are all a legacy of how black people have been marginalized,” she says. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“What happens to one group affects all of us in different ways.”[/quote]

Henry read a part from the book about Viola Desmond, who was a black businesswoman born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In the 1940s, Desmond fought for her right to sit on the main floor of a movie theatre after being told it was reserved solely for white patrons. Henry stressed that sharing a pioneering black activist’s accomplishments and legacy show how the struggle for freedom has evolved over time. 

Community’s struggles not isolated 

Another presenter, Nadia Hohn, demonstrated traditional African songs and dances during the book drive. Born to Jamaican parents, she is now an elementary school teacher and author and uses traditional music as a teaching tool for kindergarten children. 

“We want our freedom and to live in dignity,” she sang to the crowd, holding one wrist with the other hand, then taking them apart to demonstrate freedom. 

“There are many different groups in Canada that have experienced different degrees of discrimination,” Hohn said. “What happens to one group affects all of us in different ways. It might not be a direct impact, but it has ripple effects on others.” 

Similarly, improvements in one community also have a positive impact on others, she added.

{module NCM Blurb} 

Published in Books
Monday, 21 September 2015 14:43

Debunking the Racialization of Disease

by Lucy Oneka in Toronto 

There is an ever present bias in the historical theories of racialized people being more susceptible to disease, and these theories have been perpetuated by modern day media, say some Canadian researchers. 

Goldameir Oneka, University of Toronto PhD candidate and author of Extra, Extra, read all about it!: Toronto print news media coverage of type 2 diabetes, says the idea of race being linked to disease has long standing historical roots in biomedical research and practice.  

“If you look at the bio-medical literature – historical bio-medical literature – racialized peoples’ were constantly presented as individuals who were inherently diseased,” explains Oneka (full disclosure: she is the sister of this article’s author). 

“So we see theories that mainly linked the presence of diseases in racialized peoples to their so-called race. If they were sick it was because there was something in their DNA that made them sick. While there are some diseases that are linked to race/ethnicity there are many more that are not, and here is where the problem lies.” 

It is this school of thought that has fuelled the idea that non-White people are more susceptible to disease than White people. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“There was very little connection to economic circumstances or changes that happen when people immigrate to a new country.”[/quote]

Dr. Margery Fee, professor of English at University of British Columbia and author of the “Racializing Narratives: Obesity, Diabetes and the ‘Aboriginal’ Thrifty Genotype” in the journal Social Science and Medicine, indicates that until recently it was generally accepted that race was useful in predicting disease – without examining intersection of ethnicity, race and socio-economic status. 

“There was very little connection to economic circumstances or changes that happen when people immigrate to a new country,” Fee says. “There was very little understanding of those social factors which is hardly surprising because scientists are educated in a very narrow way – with very little in the way of humanities education.” 

Rooted in idea of racial hierarchy 

The racialization of disease can be traced back to Darwin and social Darwinism, Fee explains, a theory that stated there was a kind of racial hierarchy with the White race being at the top, and the so-called ‘fittest’. 

As Oneka points out there are several examples of where this theory has come into play when looking at diseases within particular communities. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Racialized peoples once again are presented as being ignorant for having the disease.”[/quote]

“If you look in South Africa for example, they had this thing that Blacks who had TB (Tuberculosis) had it because their bodies were not used to civilization,” Oneka recalls. “When they got civilized, their body couldn’t handle it so that’s how they got TB. They needed to go back to the primitive ways of living and doing things.” 

Or, Oneka adds, “In the North American context, there is a lot of talk about the Aboriginal population, Aboriginal peoples have a higher rate of type 2 diabetes because they have a gene – the thrifty gene theory.” 

The role of the media 

In order to counter such ways of thinking, the existence of such schools of thought must first be acknowledged. 

Oneka looked at how what was going on with type 2 diabetes was covered by Toronto print newspapers by conducting a content analysis. She examined things like the language used. 

“Racialized peoples once again are presented as being ignorant for having the disease,” Oneka says of her findings. “They don’t know how to take care of themselves type of thing, and they are inherently diseased too,” she explains, adding articles would at times imply “their genes make them more predisposed to developing this disease compared to the White population.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Yes, it’s true that everybody but White people has a higher risk factor for obesity and diabetes. But, it’s connected to poverty.”[/quote]

There is often a part of the story missing in news reports, Fee explains, pointing out that while the research she looked at years ago did show that White people seemed to have a better track record when it came to diabetes, this couldn’t necessarily be attributed to their race. 

“… [They] were demographically better off. As a result, they had a better diet, got more exercise and lived in better neighbourhoods,” Fee explains, adding they, for example, might be able to walk to the grocery store instead of having to drive. 

“Yes, it’s true that everybody but White people has a higher risk factor for obesity and diabetes,” Fee says. “But, it’s connected to poverty. And it is that fact which doesn’t turn up in the warnings.” 

Reporting should ‘reflect reality’ 

Oneka recommends that the media give more thought to how it reports on health. This is particularly important since generally people learn more about disease from the media than their doctor. 

When it comes to diabetes Oneka’s research shows that the media represents it mostly as a lifestyle or individual or genetic issue. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Oneka insists the media should reach out to social scientists that can shed insight on how environmental factors ... play into the development of disease.[/quote]

“These kinds of reporting attributes blame, and makes the individual think it’s their fault that they are sick,” she explains. “If a person does not have a good job, they can’t afford to eat well, and the media needs to cover a more accurate account of the causes of diseases – reflect reality.” 

Part of the problem, Oneka adds, is that reporters are not specialists, and therefore rely on interviews with scientists who mainly have bio-medical backgrounds for their news coverage. 

­­Oneka insists the media should reach out to social scientists that can shed insight on how environmental factors such as the economics, poverty, racism, prejudice and ageism play into the development of disease.  

Fee agrees. “People don’t like to talk about economic disparity,” she says. “Public health is not very popular. People want to find cures for cancer in any way, but [not fix] the environment [which is] a huge systematic and ideological barrier. It’s much more fun to go after a kind of gene or a drug where you can kind of narrow the problem.”

{module NCM Blurb} 


Published in Health

by Ajamu Nangwaya in Toronto, Ontario

Mental health experts are calling for more culturally appropriate services for racialized immigrants in Canada in light of the recent death of a Sudanese-born father of five who was fatally shot by Toronto police officers earlier this month.

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) estimates that that one in five Canadians will develop a mental illness at some time in their lives. The association defines mental illness as a health challenge that undermines a person’s capacity to operate effectively in the world or to behave in socially-acceptable ways with others.

Across Boundaries, an ethno-racial community mental health centre based in Toronto’s west end, and the CMHA have both highlighted the heart-rending story of Andrew Loku, who was killed in an apartment complex near Eglinton Ave. W. and Caledonia Ave., Toronto, on July 5. Media reports suggest Loku’s apartment was in a CMHA-leased building that housed those suffering from mental illness.

While Canadian society as a whole grapples with the stigma and ignorance surrounding mental health, Across Boundaries’ executive director Aseefa Sarang says, the challenge facing immigrants is immeasurably more complicated.

“Hiding” the illness 

“The gaps are based on many levels,” says Sarang. “They range from immigrants understanding the mental health system, to stigma around mental health and addictions, to discrimination (all sorts of oppressions) experienced, as well as structural barriers to accessing care. Many immigrants have a tendency to “hide” the illness and not share their condition with others or seek help.”

Immigrants are often faced with more challenges when and if they do seek assistance, Sarang adds. “It is another battle to find the right type of help, with the right type of people and help that is relevant to their needs (i.e. a combination of medical and non-medical supports – Ayurveda, acupuncture, yoga, etc.).”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]While Canadian society as a whole grapples with the stigma and ignorance surrounding mental health, Across Boundaries’ executive director Aseefa Sarang says, the challenge facing immigrants is immeasurably more complicated.[/quote]

The gaps in accessing services become clear in related research. For example, a 2012 report prepared by St. Michael’s Hospital, “The Mental Health and Well-being of Immigrants in Toronto”, indicates that while recent immigrants and non-recent immigrants experience about the same level of mental health issues like depression and anxiety as those born in Canada, when it comes to treatment for depression, immigrants are less likely to access services (less than seven per cent) compared to non-immigrants (10 per cent). 

A personal story

Mental health survivor Aaqilah Al Massri is all too familiar with the challenges of accessing mental health services.

“The gaps in the system are in the very framework from which we understand and accept what contributes to mental un-wellness, which within a western landscape is derived primarily from a bio-medical model with the interventions being largely pharmacological,” says Al Massri. 

Al Massri’s point is also highlighted in the St. Michael’s Hospital report, which shows fewer immigrants (13 per cent) use prescription medications to combat mental illness than non-immigrants (21 per cent). Furthermore, only eight per cent of immigrants saw a psychiatrist or psychologist in 2011, in comparison to 12 per cent of their non-immigrant counterparts. 

Multi-layered challenges 

Ryerson University School of Social Work professor I. Abdillahi says not all immigrants experience challenges with mental health services to the same degree. This has been illustrated in research examining the mental health experience of specific groups of immigrants and racialized people – for example studies focused on newcomer youth, African-Canadians in Montreal, Chinese-Canadian elders and Afghans in Toronto.

Abdillahi calls on mental health organizations to acknowledge that inequality is in-built into Canadian society, “which certainly impacts not just the day-to-day well-being of racialized people, but they (facets of inequality) have a particular perniciousness and precariousness depending on who are in these groups.”

Al Massri echoes this sentiment – underlining the need to recognize the impact of multiple oppressions.

“Traumatized or wounded people go on to wound and traumatize, and when the individual’s trauma is exacerbated by the very core of their social and cultural identity being under siege in their community (female and deeply questioning of the status quo), and within the larger framework of a largely racist system – in my case being of Palestinian, African and Muslim heritage – barriers become plentiful and that in itself contributes to stress and anxiety.”

Interpreting body language

This type of complex, multi-layered challenge becomes prevalent when examining the African-Canadian community’s relationship with the mental health system, Sarang finds. 

“Based on our experience the black community is over represented in many spheres of the system. Our own experience at Across Boundaries shows that of our clientele, there are about 50 percent black people when the black population in Toronto is way less than that.  This alludes to many layers of issues from racism to anti-black racism and impacts black people from all over the world.”

Loku’s shooting drives home the point. “Today I don’t question whether this is anti-black racism. In fact, this sort of action is a clear and deliberate act of anti-black racism, and the [Special Investigations Unit], the Toronto police and the community need to acknowledge this and seek accountability.”

According to Sarang, Black bodies are understood and interpreted as dangerous, unsafe and disruptive” and, as such, the response to this group can only be combative and fatal. Therefore, anti-Black racism is a cause of mental illness among African-Canadians.

Abillahi indicts anti-Black racism as a force that prevents access to appropriate and relevant services. African-Canadians are seen as “dangerous, unsafe, unwell, ill, untreatable, treatment resistant and non-compliant”. As result of these prejudices, the diagnosis and treatment take on a punitive character.

Offering solutions

Since there are problems with accessing mental health services that address the diverse needs of racialized Canadians – immigrants and refugees in particular – there is a need for the system to respond differently.

“First there has to be a clear acceptance that there is inequity at play in the system, and that there is institutional racism, which is compounded by individual racism,” says Sarang. “From there we can move to address the sources of inequities and finally consider strategies to overcome those inequities. 

Al Massri adds that racialized communities require spaces to share more spoken narratives, and the sharing must be guided by, “compassion, empathy, respect, generosity of spirit and commitment to individual, familial and communal healing.”

{module NCM Blurb} 

Published in Health

by Eternity Martis (@iratemixedchick) in Toronto

While Caribbean, black and ethnic media as a whole may never be mainstream, they offer a fundamental contribution to racial discussions in Canada by bringing together communities, tying Canada to other countries and establishing a minority voice on a visible platform.

Over the last few months here are just a few of the headlines Caribbean media outlets broke in Canada, that went under reported by the larger outlets.

Caribbean Immigrants Most Affected by New Canadian Citizenship Changes

According to CICS News, new data shows that changes in the citizenship process have caused a drop in the number of immigrants wanting to be citizens.

In 2008, only 26 per cent of permanent residents in Canada received citizenship. That is down from 44 per cent in 2007, and 79 per cent from 2000.

The decline is attributed to the harsher rules and fees established in 2010. The score to pass a citizenship test has increased from 60 per cent to 75 per cent (or 15 out of 20 multiple-choice questions).

Citizenship and Immigration Canada has also raised the citizenship application fee to $530 per adult, more than five times the cost in 2013.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The extra financial hurdle of the citizenship application fee may also deter certain groups of applicants more than others.[/quote]

What is most shocking is the ethnic breakdown of the test’s pass rates before and after the reform. While those from South Asian, Southern and East African communities all experienced a decline of more than 15 per cent, immigrants from the Caribbean had their pass rate go down by almost 20 per cent.

Andrew Griffith, former citizenship director-general who retired in 2013, found these trends through extensive research. While he does not give a reason why Caribbean immigrants experience less of a pass rate than other immigrants, he says education and income levels often determine who passes.

The extra financial hurdle of the citizenship application fee may also deter certain groups of applicants more than others.

Town Hall Meetings in Toronto Tackle Community Issues

According to Share News, the Jamaican Canadian Association, the Black Action Defence Committee and the Jamaican Diaspora Canada Foundation have organized three town halls to discuss and work on community issues, education, unification of African and Caribbean communities and policing.

The meetings were held at the Jamaican Canadian Association in Toronto. The first meeting in January brought a smaller number; however, the following month drew in over 200 people. By the last meeting in March, fewer seats were filled.

Regardless, over a dozen community groups have signed up to partake in the town hall’s coalition group for future changes in the Black community, and activists and various members of African and Caribbean communities in the city have come together to help create solutions.

The town halls also featured discussion on the disproportionate number of Black people in Ontario public service sectors; violence and murder among young Black men and the impact on families; the lack of employment opportunities; and subsequent government policies that don’t reflect the experiences of Black communities.

Diabetes Expo Targets Caribbean-Canadians

Research on diabetes has shown many Caribbean-Canadians are diabetic, or are prone to developing the disease in their lifetime.

In order to raise awareness of diabetes in the Caribbean community, the Canadian Diabetes Association and its Caribbean Chapter hostedtheir sixth annual Black Diabetes Expo on April 25 at the Jamaican Canadian Association in Toronto.

This year’s theme was high blood pressure and its relation to diabetes. Dr. George Dresser, a clinical pharmacologist at Western University, delivered the keynote speech, “Taking control of your blood pressure will control your diabetes management.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The study found that diabetes is the leading cause of death amongst Caribbean-Canadians.[/quote]

Partners of the Expo included the Caribbean Camera, Rogers TV, and TAIBU Community Health Centre.

In addition to the research done on Caribbean-Canadians and diabetes, CERIS, an Ontario research group, conducted a study in 2013 on a group of Torontonians, both Black Caribbean and Canadian-born.

The study found that diabetes is the leading cause of death amongst Caribbean-Canadians. The study also revealed that Black Caribbeans were better at maintaining their physical health.

Black Canadians (and Caribbeans) You Should Know

Just because Black History Month has passed doesn’t mean we have to stop learning. A recent Share article by Murphy Browne titled “Blacks must learn about their history before enslavement” highlighted the importance of understanding African history – not in relation to slavery, but to the culture, progress and celebration of all Africans.

While Browne alludes to several well-known Black historical figures, as well as facts about African history, across the globe, he makes note that there is not much information available on the Caribbean community.

Here is a list of several Caribbean men and women that have contributed to Canadian history:

Lincoln Alexander (pictured above): Child of a Jamaican mother and St. Vincent father, Alexander was a politician and statesman who served as a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons, the federal Minister of Labour and the 24th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.

Dudley Laws: A Jamaican-born Canadian civil rights activist and executive director of the Black Action Defence Committee.

Charles Roach: A Trinidadian-born Canadian civil rights lawyer and activist in Toronto.

Sherona Hall: A Jamaican-born Canadian Black feminist, activist, youth advocate and political figure.

Lennox Farrell: A Trinidadian-born community activist, retired Toronto teacher and head of the Caribbean Cultural Committee.

Herbert Carnegie: Born in Toronto to Jamaican parents, Carnegie was a Canadian hockey player who played despite racial discrimination. He founded Future Aces, one of Canada’s first hockey schools.

Calvin Ruck: Born in Nova Scotia to Barbadian parents, Ruck was an anti-racism activist and Canadian senator.

Stanley G. Grizzle: Born in Toronto to Jamaican parents, Grizzle was a citizenship judge and labour union activist.

Leonard Braithwaite: Lawyer and Liberal politician in Ontario, who served in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

Bromley Armstrong: A Jamaican-born civil rights leader who played a prominent role in Canada’s civil rights movement upon his arrival in 1947.

Commentary: Can Ethnic Media Ever be Mainstream Media?

Last month, Premier Kathleen Wynne (pictured to right, credit: Share News) spoke in Mississauga about the importance of ethnic media in Canada. Wynne addressed the ethnic media organizations present, saying, “The stories that you tell and the work that you do are absolutely vital to shaping the society we all take enormous pride in today.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Ethnic media has the simple key element that mainstream media doesn’t: the “ethnic” perspective. [/quote]

This discussion is both timely and fundamental to journalism surrounding Caribbean culture, and Black communities as a whole.

Ethnic media has the simple key element that mainstream media doesn’t: the “ethnic” perspective. These outlets can report from a position of personal experience and compassion, and are more likely to understand the complexity of stories on race. They ask the questions that mainstream journalists often overlook: What's beneath the surface? How do we cover race issue fairly?

Take for example the Ferguson protests – often poorly covered by Canadian mainstream media, painting protesters as violent, looting animals and anti-white racists, while Caribbean media has helped shine light on the reality.

Or the fact that in mainstream news outlets immigrant success stories are saved for weekend features, while Caribbean media frequently congratulates members of the community.

Caribbean media outlets take what little importance Caribbean issues may have in larger media outlets and place them at the forefront, making them a necessity, rather than a token issue.

That is, of course, if they follow independent reporting standards, and not the models set out in mainstream media.

Eternity Martis is a Master of Journalism student at Ryerson University. She currently writes for The Huffington Post and Bustle. Her work has also been featured on, xoJane and Vice Canada with a focus on race and gender issues.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Caribbean

New Canadian Media provides nonpartisan news and views representing all Canadian immigrant communities. As part of this endeavour, we re-publish aggregated content from various ethnic media publishers in Canada in an effort to raise the profile of news and commentary from an immigrant perspective. New Canadian Media, however, does not guarantee the accuracy of or endorse the views and opinions contained in content from such other sites. The views expressed on this site are those of the individual writers and commentators, and not necessarily those of New Canadian Media. Copyright © 2019 All rights reserved