The Black Experience Project
The Black Experience Project
Lillie Johnson, Ontario's first Black director of public health

For more than two centuries, the Black community of the GTA has played a major role in the economic, social, and cultural life of the broader community. Today, the GTA is home to more than 400,000 individuals who self-identify as “Black,” making up approximately seven percent of the region’s population and representing the highest proportion of Blacks among any census metropolitan area and more than half of Canada’s total Black population (Statistics Canada, 2013).

The Black community is highly diverse in terms of its origins (with immigrants from 130 countries and roots in Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, and North America), demographic makeup, language, subculture, and socio-economic status.

This community has made substantial contributions to the growth and success of the region, but has also experienced economic, educational, social, and political disparities that continue to this day.

Disparities and Challenges

There are longstanding challenges facing the community that are not similarly experienced by most other immigrant or ethnic communities in the GTA.

Lincoln Alexander, Canada's 1st black MP
Lincoln Alexander, Canada's first Black Member of Parliament

While there have been numerous success stories in all sectors, it has been well documented that Blacks, compared with the non-Black population, earn less income, have higher rates of unemployment, suffer poorer health outcomes, and are more likely to be victims of violence (Attewell, Kasinitz, & Dunn, 2010; Brooks, 2009; Nestel, 2012; Wortley & Tanner, 2004).

The Review of the Roots of Violence Commission (Hon. Roy McMurtry and Alvin Curling) was one in a long series of reports that focused on these challenges, concluding that:

When poverty is racialized, and then ghettoized and associated with violence, the potential for stigmatization of specific groups is high. The very serious problems being encountered in neighbourhoods characterized by severe, concentrated and growing disadvantage are not being addressed … because Ontario has not placed an adequate focus on these concentrations of disadvantage despite the very serious threat they pose to the province’s social fabric.

While these problems and challenges have attracted considerable attention, the trailblazing achievements and contributions of the Black community to politics, law, business, sport, arts, research, education, community, and other sectors are less well-known, and the factors shaping success are seldom considered.

In the House of Commons in 2008, when Black History Month was unanimously declared, Senator Donald Oliver asked that "the Senate take note of the important contribution of Black Canadians to the settlement, growth and development of Canada, the diversity of the Black community in Canada and its importance to the history of this country."

A Deeper Understanding is Needed

The economic and social statistics currently available simply do not tell the whole story. The representations of the Black community in the media and general perceptions of the community are often distorted, and narratives of success are seldom heard.

A woman takes notes at a workshop

A deeper, more nuanced understanding of the issues and experiences of the Black community is necessary in order to address systemic barriers and stereotypes, as well as to move forward.

Giving voice to the experiences of the Black community residing in the GTA is sorely needed to draw attention to the full range of contributions, challenges, opportunities, capacity, and resiliency of its members. Specific gaps that need to be addressed include:

  1. Deepening the understanding of the lived experience of being “black” in the GTA, which research shows is different than other racialized minorities;
  2. Recognizing the diversity that characterizes the Black community and the range of its members’ experiences (given the intersectionality, for example, with socio-economic status, gender, ethnic origin and age);
  3. Deepening our understanding of the challenges that have been well-documented, but also identifying the successes and opportunities which tend to be neglected; and
  4. Contributing to the process for building community and evidence-based action.

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