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What is Racial Injustice?

Updated: Aug 11, 2020

Our theme for the month of August is Racial Justice and Racial Injustice. Our MAR Blogger, Becky Leyva who is a descendant of colonizers but mom to biracial children, gives us a summary of her research and understanding.

Pictured: Red square with white lettering. "The Indigenization of Canada's prison population is nothing short of a national travesty. Ivan Zinger, Correctional Investigator of Canada".

Racial injustice serves a system of inequality that functions to hold up whiteness as the predominant group.

Everything that I have written is as I understand these concepts. I am white woman; a descendant of colonizers. Addressing race and racism is a new habit for me and because I am still in my ongoing process of learning and unlearning, my understanding is limited. I do know that I play a part in upholding the systems that keep racial injustice alive and it is my responsibility to do everything in my power to dismantle them.

Racial injustice, also called racial inequality, is described in Thomas M Shapiro’s 2004 paper “The Hidden Cost of being American” as “imbalances in the distribution of power, economic resources, and opportunities.". Racial injustice has manifested in many ways within society with a broad range of oppressive structures. Police brutality, housing inequality, biased hiring practices, lack of educational opportunity, food system insecurity, higher poverty and incarceration rates. Racial injustice serves a system of inequality that functions to hold up whiteness as the predominant group.

The idea of racial injustice and inequality being systemic (a system) is an important one to note as many believe racism and racial injustice to be only actions of a few hateful people (KKK etc) instead of a system that functions to serve the privilege of one group over another. This is an important distinction as viewing racism as an act committed by a small group of people is a way for the larger collective of (white) people to feel a sense of superiority and separation. The reality is everyone that holds privilege has a duty to examine that and to face their part in the system that functions to oppress marginalized people.

Understanding some ways in which racial injustice affects Black, Indigenous and People of Colour is another important step in understanding these terms and how they work in society. Racial injustices sometimes present as outright, obvious hate, but more often are unseen and deliberately hidden acts of oppression and inequality. These systems are enacted by those in positions of power and perpetrated by the larger collective (often unknowingly and whether they like it or not).

The murders by police of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are just two examples of a current manifestation of brutality inflicted on Black people by police. The ensuing demonstrations worldwide are what some have called the largest civil rights movement in history. There has been a huge uprising and call to break down this particular system.

What has been eye opening and shocking to many of us descendants of colonizers is what marginalized peoples experience daily. As Will Smith said, “racism isn't getting worse, it is just getting filmed”. The shock and disgust displayed by myself and other white people may be enough to initiate personal unlearning but is a telling point of white privilege. Those who could not imagine a world so filled with hate, aggression and inequality before seeing many examples filmed and published shows our blindness to the realities of racism.

Although the term racial injustice has a broader scope, in the literal sense of justice through the lens of crime, the Correctional Service of Canada reported that Black people were 7.3 per cent of federal offenders in 2017-18 which is more than double the approximately 3.5 per cent of Canadians who identified as black in the 2016 census. Canada often portrays itself as more progressive or less oppressive than the United States but more than 30% of inmates in Canadian prisons are Indigenous – even though Indigenous people make up just 5% of the country's population. These numbers show a glaring racial disparity in incarceration in Canada painting a clear picture of racial inequality in biased policing, sentencing plus many more factors like addiction, housing instability and poverty.

What would a world that exhibits racial justice look like? Though my understanding is limited to the concepts that have been gaining popularity like defunding the police or education reform, what I can grasp is the need to make change in order to create racial equity. We need real measurable change in government policies, community attitudes, belief systems. We need to hire and uplift BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) voices, pay them for their labour and return to them what was stolen. Research: land return, reparations. It is important for us to speak of and learn these terms as it pulls the curtain back for those of us that were previously blind to these issues. We must amplify the voices of those previously silenced.

I am here to learn, listen, and hold space. I believe that myself and my fellow white people need to unlearn our unconscious biases and make the effort to talk to each other about these subjects. Descendants of colonizers, let's work together to make change. We must do our own unlearning and pay BIPOC creators, writers and artists for their work that has and will continue to educate us. We must use our privilege to get their message out. We must follow their lead. We must tear down the systems, the systems we built, that keep racial injustice in place. Now that we know, we must do better.

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