Racial Injustice & Inequality

Education: Why is There a Discrepancy?

As evidenced by the resurgent Black Lives Matter movement during the Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020, many Black Canadians and Americans feel that they have been unjustifiably discriminated against in society.  The current civil rights discussion is in regard to how that community is treated by Police.  However, one of the ongoing discussions is in regard to their representation in the workforce and discriminatory hiring practices.

When determining if there is discrimination within hiring practices and the workforce, we must first look at education and employment rates for similar aged men and women.  Luckily for me, Martin Turcotte, a Senior Analyst for Statistics Canada, had already completed an analysis of the results from the 2016 Census to look at education and labour market integration of Black youth in Canada.

When it comes to education, black men and women are just as likely to graduate from high school as other men and women.  However, the same data shows that black men and women are less likely to obtain a post-secondary education than their counterparts. (see Chart 1)

The study did outline that black youth were more likely to come from less than favourable socioeconomic situations compared to other youth.  However, it was determined that “isolating the effects of these factors resulted in an almost identical gap of 10 percentage points” compared to 11 points without adjustment, for black men.  It was a similar situation for black women as the “gap of 8 percentage points was almost the same as the one observed initially (i.e., without isolating the effects of socioeconomic and family situations).”

So, why is there a discrepancy in education?  To answer that, we must first look at their perceived place within Canadian society.  The Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) conducted a research project between 2011 and 2014 to try and identify “why Black Canadian youth remain entrenched along the socioeconomic and cultural margins of the society and why they continue to struggle to achieve the perceived benefits of their society.”  In Canada, multiculturalism functions “as a set of narratives that privileges a cultural hierarchy of whiteness and encourages its ‘citizens’ toward cultural uniformity by deciding what differences are tolerated”.  Therefore, the lives of Black youth are deemed an “an inaccurate representation of normative white, middle-class” values. Black youth are then continuously punished for not assimilating to “the Canadian way”.

The second item to look at when discussing the struggles faced by Black youth in obtaining post-secondary education, are their experiences when they do attend higher learning institutions.  One youth that participated in the 2011-14 study had this to say about his time in University:

“So I’ve had the situation of moving … to school in Brock, St. Catharines, with majority white people, right. Everybody in my class, they’re coming from Waterloo, you know, they’re all rich, upper-income families. … So certain situations, like, I’m walking down the street to go to my house somebody driving by throws a milkshake at me screaming out the ‘n’ word. It happens. Or me, you know, sitting in front of the class because I can’t afford new glasses that broke. So now people are looking at me like, hey, that Black guy must sell drugs, and after the class they ask me if I have weed or something like that. And the professors would look at me, like, what is this guy doing in this class?”

The experiences of a Black youth at a post-secondary institution and their perceived place in society are a direct result of the “racialization of crime” which perpetuates the stereotype that Black youth are prone to violence as Black Canadians are “the site of social problems”.

As you can see, the problems of discrimination seem to start for the Black community during high school and escalate from there.  Malcolm Gladwell had an excellent podcast during Season 2 of his Revisionist History series titled Miss Buchanan’s Period Of Adjustment which looks at the Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court ruling from 1956 and its effects on the education of Black youth in America afterwards (as well as employment of Black educators).  I recommend that you listen to it in conjunction with your own research.

I will be continuing with this topic to discuss the continuation of discrimination faced by the Black community when trying to enter the workforce and then while they are in the workplace.

Here is Part 2: Discrimination in the Workplace

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