British Columbia

'We are not a monolith': New study spotlights diversity in B.C.'s Black community

Worlds Within: Diverse Histories, Identities and Experiences of Black People of African Ancestry in British Columbia features the stories of more than 160 participants across the province.

Author hopes report reveals diversity, cultural nuances within the Black community

A new report, titled Worlds Within: Diverse Histories, Identities and Experiences of Black People of African Ancestry in British Columbia, aims to show the diversity of British Columbia's Black community. (Shutterstock)

When Simon Fraser University research fellow Alice Mũrage first moved from Kenya to British Columbia four years ago, she says she yearned to connect with other Black people of African ancestry. 

That desire, along with her background in research, inspired her to bring together the stories of Black people in a report to show the diversity of the province's Black community. 

Worlds Within: Diverse Histories, Identities and Experiences of Black People of African Ancestry in British Columbia is now available to the public, and Mũrage says she hopes, by reading it, people will learn about the nuances within the community, because Black people are often categorized as one large group.

"We are not a monolith. We are so diverse," Mũrage said.

The study will be presented at the virtual event, African Ancestry Dialogue II, on Saturday, with a discussion led by Mũrage, creating a space for study participants and others from the Black community to unpack the project's findings and to continue sharing their experiences.

 

According to Statistics Canada, Black people make up around one per cent of B.C.'s total population. 

Although the community is small, Adelle Sium — one of the event's discussion facilitators — says it's important for Black people not to let that hold them back when fighting for equity and inclusion. 

Growing up in Vancouver, Sium says she was often the only Black child in a classroom and was made to feel like she had to represent the whole Black community, even though she wasn't connected to many other Black people from diverse backgrounds.

Sium, who is first generation Eritrean Canadian, says her involvement with the project has empowered her to feel pride in her identity.

"That part of my identity makes up my thoughts, my world, my mind, my contributions to almost everything that I'm doing," she said.

Diverse histories, identities and experiences

Mũrage partnered with the B.C. Black History Awareness Society in 2019 to apply for the B.C. multiculturalism and anti-racism grant, which supports projects that build intercultural understanding and challenge racism and systemic barriers. They were awarded the grant in 2020.

The study features the histories, identities and experiences of 162 participants, shared through a survey. Around 25 per cent of that group agreed to participate in further interviews and focus group discussions.

Forty community reviewers, including Sium, provided feedback before the report was published. 

The nearly-200-page document has three main chapters: diverse histories, diverse identities and diverse experiences.

Through personal anecdotes, the report shows how Black people have experienced racism, how they choose to identify themselves, and the spaces in which they feel like they do or do not belong.

One example that stands out to Mũrage is how some people, mostly from African nations, do not identify themselves as Black. According to the study, it was only when they moved to Canada that their skin colour was used as an "identity marker."

"There is a lot of power in storytelling ... that's what the project is about, it's telling stories and sharing our truth," she said.

Mũrage says she's talking with a few study participants about using the findings to write a children's book and produce educational videos.

"It's quite exciting to see the community engagement that this project brought."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC)

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