VIEWPOINT: Systemic Racism


By Peter Chow

Systemic racism means that the system is rigged, so that even if there were no racists in the system, there would still be a guarantee of less favourable average outcomes for people of certain skin colours, ethnicities, cultures and religions in almost every aspect of society, including criminal justice, employment, income, housing, health care, political power, and education.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham denied on Sunday that systemic racism exists in the U.S.

But the proof lies in the numbers, the numbers detailing the disparities in rates of imprisonment, unemployment, income, wealth, lifespan, perinatal mortality, infant mortality and educational achievement

Systemic racism, also called institutional racism, was first coined in 1967 by Stokely Carmichael in Black Power: The Politics of Liberation.

Carmichael wrote that while individual racism is often identifiable because of its overt nature, institutional racism is less perceptible because of its “less overt, far more subtle” nature.

Systemic racism “originates in the operation of established and respected forces in the society, and thus receives far less public condemnation than individual racism.”

In the last quarter of the 20th Century, racism became associated with systems rather than individuals.

Systemic racism is “a system of advantage based on race,” illustrated by countless examples of white people supporting systemically racist institutions while denying that they are prejudiced.

White people can be nice to people of colour while continuing to uphold systemic racism that benefits them, such as lending practices, well-funded schools, and job opportunities.

Privilege, particularly white male privilege, is hard to see for those with it, who were born with access to money, power and resources.

It is very visible for those to whom privilege was not granted.

The subject is difficult to talk about because many white people don’t feel very powerful or that they have privileges others do not.

Those born into privilege never bother to take note of it, just as a fish never notices that it’s in water.

It just swims along in it.

For those who have privileges based on race or gender or class or physical ability or sexual orientation, or age, it just is – it’s normal.

Privilege is defined as “a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most.” Those of us who are white, especially white males, usually believe that privileges are “conditions of daily experience… that are universally available to everybody.”

Internalized racism is the acceptance, by members of the racially stigmatized people, of negative perceptions about their own abilities and intrinsic worth, characterized by low self-esteem, and low esteem of others like them.

Internalized racism can be manifested through embracing “whiteness” (e.g. stratification by degree of skin colour in non-white communities), self-devaluation (e.g., racial slurs, nicknames, rejection of ancestral culture, etc.), and resignation, helplessness, and hopelessness (e.g., dropping out of school, dropping out of the work force, failing to vote, engaging in health-risky practices).

Systemic racism in education in the exemplified by the difference is public school budgets and the quality of teachers, which are often correlated with property values:  rich neighbourhoods are more likely to be more “white” and to have better teachers and more money for education in their public schools.

From the 1930s through the 1960s following the depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal FHA provided loan guarantees to banks, which in turn, financed white homeownership and enabled whites to leave the inner city to move to nicer houses in the suburbs.

These loans were denied to Black people.

African-Americans were stuck in inner city neighbourhoods that were at high risk of crime. These predominately African-American neighbourhoods fell apart. Retail stores also started moving to the suburbs to be closer to the customers and to avoid being robbed.

As minorities were not able to get financing and aid from banks, whites pulled ahead in equity gains, in wealth. Moreover, many white college students were then, in turn, financed with the equity in homeownership that was gained by having gotten the earlier government handout, which was not the same accorded to Black and other minority families.

It is exhausting to repeatedly explain that systemic racism exists in Canada.

It is tiresome to constantly to be told to “go back home” by the same people who deny its very existence.

Yet here we are.

In 2021, Rex Murphy and others are still continually given the megaphone to wax poetic on a Canada that is free of sin. It is a dangerous thing, because their privilege is blinding.

For Canadians who have likely never experienced systemic racism, it is easy to deny its existence. That makes it easy for them to make smug remarks about our neighbours to the south, like “that would never happen here” or “we’re so much better than that,” because they are personally so far removed from oppressive situations.

They fail to recognize the parallels — including the police brutality that is happening here at home.

Most Canadians know the names George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin. Why do so few know about Black Canadians like D’Andre Campbell, Nicholas Gibbs, Olando Brown, Jermaine Carby, Andrew Loku and Abdirahman Abdi who have also died at the hands of police?

Why are Black Torontonians 20 times more likely to be shot by police than the city’s white residents? Why do Black people in Toronto account for 25% of police-involved shootings when they make up only slightly more than 8.8% of the population?

Canadians know all about what police can do to young Black men in South Carolina.

But we gloss over too quickly about unpleasant stories of Indigenous high school students repeatedly found dead in Thunder Bay.

Every year, students from communities all over Northwest Ontario come to Thunder Bay because there are no high schools where they are from. If these children want to get a high school education — the right of every other child in this country — they must leave their homes at the age of 14 or 15 and move to Thunder Bay. They are usually put up in boarding houses, where strangers are paid to take care of them.

Nine First Nations high school students have lost their lives in Thunder Bay between 2000 and 2020.

Their parents carry the burden of having their children treated as “less than worthy,” with inadequate police investigations, or a lack of caring from public institutions and officials.

The Thunder Bay jail has been called, “a hellhole” and “a factory that produces broken Indigenous people.”

At least seven young Indigenous men have died in jail in Thunder Bay in the past 18 years.

The discriminatory treatment of Indigenous peoples is evidenced in the grotesque overrepresentation of Indigenous children and youth in the care of child welfare agencies and Indigenous youth and adults in the custody of detention centres and federal prisons, and on the other hand, in the lack of political and societal response to the ever-growing number of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada.

We know all about BLM – Black Lives Matter – but next to nothing about MMIW – Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

As many as 4,000 Indigenous women and girls are believed to have been killed or gone missing in Canada over the past 30 years – although the true number of victims is unlikely ever to be known.

An inquiry into MMIW produced a 1,200-page catalogue of historical and contemporary injustices, and concluded that decades of policy and state indifference amounted to genocide against Indigenous peoples.

First Nation women and girls are the number one target of human traffickers. It is why there are thousands of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls and why police agencies have acted, if at all, with disdain and neglect in investigating these cases.

From 1886 to 1996, 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children were taken from their families and forced to attend residential schools, punished for trying to speak their own language. The trauma of residential schools and the ’60s Scoop is still being felt today.

From 1881 to 1884, 17,000 Chinese labourers came to work on the Canadian Pacific Railway. Many died during the construction (“one Chinaman a mile” in the Rockies).  Upon completion, Canada introduced a “head tax” that applied only to Chinese immigrants.  After collecting $23 million through the head tax between 1885 and 1923, Canada closed the door to Chinese immigrants until 1947.  (My family came to Canada in 1949).

In 1939, Canada turned away the MS St. Louis, an ocean liner carrying 907 Jewish refugees. Forced back to Europe, 254 of the passengers subsequently died in the gas chambers in the Holocaust.

After the war, Canada continued with a range of policies that made it difficult, if not impossible, for people of colour to immigrate from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.  It wasn’t until 1976 that a point system was introduced, which allowed for a fairer immigration policy.

Even so, the last segregated school in Canada, in Guysborough County, N.S., did not close until 1983.

If we truly aren’t a racist country, we should have no issue saying No Lives Matter until Black Lives Matter….and until Indigenous Lives Matter.

Yet many Canadians they can’t bring themselves to do that.

Let’s stop patting ourselves on the back while we shake our judgmental heads at the U.S.

We should admit our own truths and do something about it.

Questioner:  “How are we to treat others?”

Ramana Maharshi:  “There are no others.”

Would that there were no “others.”


  1. I am a visible minority – but I don’t want any special treatment because of my ‘race’. What is race? We are all ONE race of human beings, answerable to the God of the Bible for our sins. Jesus, the Saviour, isn’t looking at our race. He’s looking at the desperate need of all human beings to be redeemed from an eternity of suffering – because of our sins – through belief in and dependence upon Him. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) If we consider ourselves always as victims, we fool ourselves and turn from seeing our own sins before a holy God, and we will be ruined for eternity. There’s freedom in forgiveness – first by God, then by us toward others.

    • You say we are all one race but blow your own argument out of the water when you started on Christianity, which has nothing to do with race and is not even the majority of human beings.

      According to most Christians, Jesus was a white, blue-eyed, handsome man.

      • Why does someone believing in the word of God bother you?
        No where in HM’s post does it say anything about Christianity and race being linked (which it isn’t). People of all colours practice many different faiths.
        As for your last point. Jesus was caucasian.

        • @Jim
          His believing the Word doesn’t bother me at all. Turning everything into a religious discussion does.

          …and Jesus was definitely not caucasian, he was an olive-skinned Nazarean. Middle Eastern. But that didn’t fit with the caucasian church leaders’ image.

  2. Lindsey Graham is a delusional pathological liar like Trump and several other Republicans. Sadly, systemic racism won’t ever go away.

  3. What utter tripe.
    Systemic racism in Canada:
    Getting a reduced sentence based on skin colour, happens every day if you’re not white.
    Grant opportunities based on skin colour, if you’re not white.
    Special job opportunities, if you’re not white.
    Special university entire programs, if you’re not white.
    Special scholarships and bursaries in post-secondary, if you’re not white.
    Clubs, parades, protests allowed under normal conditions, allowed if you’re not white but prohibited if you’re white.
    Clubs, parades, protests allowed during the pandemic, allowed if you’re not white but prohibited if you’re white.
    Trying to apply examples from 100 years ago, different countries or things taken entirely out of context.
    “next to nothing about MMIW” MMIW is taught in schools, spoken of by the media every day. There have been multiple investigations, focus groups, etc.
    “If we truly aren’t a racist country, we should have no issue saying No Lives Matter until Black Lives Matter….and until Indigenous Lives Matter.” Anyone who says “all lives matter” is automatically branded a racist today.
    Speaking as a women POC I find it troubling that Dr Chow is cherry picking examples without applying appropriate context to push a tiresome social agenda. It’s only sowing more division.

    • Yes that’s what they do.
      What discriminatory lending practices in the US between 90 and and 50 years ago have to do with Canada today is beyond me.
      It’s the patented divide and conquer philosophy.

Comments are closed.