Saturday, 5 August 2017

The Black Experience Project Study Publicly Released

By Neil Armstrong

Joseph Smith and Fowzia Duale Virtue, presenters of the Black Experience Project, at the pubic release of the report on July 19 at the Central YMCA in Toronto.             Photo contributed

Now that the Black Experience Project (BEP) study has been released, the next steps include further exploration of the data, community and public discussions, and opportunities for the media to provide “a more balanced and honest public narrative” in its reportage of the community.

Those are the plans for the study which was released on July 19 at the Metro Central YMCA in Toronto.

In the six-year undertaking, 1504 individuals spent more than two hours in in-depth interviews sharing their experience and insights. 

The study found that direct experience with racism is a common experience among BEP participants. Two-thirds say they frequently or occasionally experience racism and discrimination because they are Black.

Regarding relations with police services, it found that experience with police services stand out as much more negative than those with other public institutions.

“Negative experiences with the police services are common. For instance, participants are more likely to be stopped in public than to be helped by the police, and younger Black males are particularly likely to experience police harassment.”

The study also found that the majority of today’s generation of young Black adults is Canadian born. 

Unlike their mostly immigrant parents and grandparents, they are also more diverse in terms of their identities and the racial composition of their friendship networks.

“Young Black Canadian-born adults are more likely to identify racism as an obstacle they face; more likely to say they experience some forms of unfair treatment because they are Black; and more likely to be adversely affected by these experiences. It appears, therefore, that young Black adults are more impatient with the failure of Canadian society to deliver on the country’s promise of equality.”

Carl James, Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora at York University says informational data that tell of the particular ways in which blacks experience institutions or organizations in which they learn, work, play, and seek justice is important.

“Such data provide important insights, not merely into individual racism and discrimination but also the policies, programs and practices within institutions that need to be addressed if we are to achieve the democratic, equitable and just society we seek in Canada.”

He said the issues need to be approached through the anti-Black racism lens so effectively advocated for by concerned community members, including Black Lives Matter and the Tabono Institute.

“I’m concerned that what might be taken from the report is simply the individual stories, often what media reports think their readers need to know,” James said alluding to the story published in the Toronto Star that morning about a young black man allegedly beaten up by an off-duty police officer and his brother in Whitby, Ontario.

“What we need evidently is how institutions are going to respond to these findings. How would governments and government agencies respond and what structures and processes will be put in place to change the social, economic, educational and justice situation of blacks in our Toronto communities.”

James said the the Anti-Racism Directorate is being looked at for leadership in that regard and he acknowledged that, “the anti-Black racism initiatives initiated there might take us some ways towards responding to some of the findings of the report.”

“We wait for other responses to the report.”

In the meantime, he said the Jean Augustine Chair at York University will establish a working group to further analyze the data and will report on things that were not fully explored in this brief report – things like the influence of gender, class, sexuality and citizenship on the experiences of the participants.

“We will have a working group that will delve into some of the important questions that you might have, or members of the group might have, or any other community person might have, in order to be able to get at some of the changes that we would like in the society. And this working group will work hard to disseminate additional reports and bulletins, hopefully, that will go a long way to be responsive to your interest.”

They will invite researchers and others affiliated to agencies and institutions who have questions or would like to answer their questions through the data to get in touch with the working group that will provide the necessary answers.

James said they strive in their work for community ownership going forward with the study.
“The BEP research was initiated and led by Environics Institute in partnership with the United Way of Toronto and York Region, the YMCA of Greater Toronto, the Diversity Institute of Ryerson University, and the Jean Augustine Chair at York University in an effort to provide a current profile of Black Canadians,” notes James.

Meanwhile, a coalition of African Canadian organizations and concerned individuals has concerns about the report.

In a press release on July 20 the coalition said it commended the project’s partners for engaging it in meaningful discussion about the BEP, especially the report and the process of producing it.
“While some of the report’s content will be beneficial to the African Canadian community, we have serious reservations about the overall process and content. Protecting the integrity of the stories and experiences entrusted to BEP researchers is our number one priority.”

The coalition said the project has either ignored or downplayed community advice on critical issues.

“For example, white supremacy is referenced as an afterthought rather than a framing concept in the report. As well, coalition members believe that the report lacks a robust and comprehensive gender analysis, there is scarce discussion of health, and LGBTQ realities and perspectives are generally absent. While there may have been a need to make choices about the elements of the black experience that would be profiled in the report, the rationale for these choices remains weak or non-existent,” it said. 

The coalition said it recognizes and applauds the “tremendous data gathering and community engagement groundwork done by many community interviewers as well as the research leadership of members of the project’s research advisory group in moving the project forward.

The Tabono Institute will be leading a Community Research Forum at Ryerson University in October “to continue building a comprehensive, community-led research agenda; to engage community stakeholders about the development of a community research ethics protocol for the African Canadian community to guide future research efforts; to critically analyze the recent BEP experience; and to identify community research gaps, needs and options for moving ahead.”

It is urging members of the African Canadian community to contact it with ideas about how to make the upcoming forum meaningful and relevant to the needs of the community at

The coalition’s partners include: All Afrikan Peoples’ Revolutionary Party, Black Community Action Network of Peel (BCAN), Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black CAP), Dejinta Beesha, Jamaican Canadian Association, Tabono Institute, Zero Gun Violence Movement and Sankofa Juba.

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