In this blog piece, Ayden Adeyanju-Jackson, a third-year Queen’s student, reflects on the importance of understanding and addressing systemic disadvantages for BIPoC communities in order to achieve lasting post-pandemic change.
Over the past 3 decades, the world has watched all levels of society (i.e., supranational, regional, national, and local governments; multinational and national businesses; and international non-governmental organizations and grassroot movements) embrace social justice values and practices at the forefront of their policy agendas. This pervasive, unequivocal aspirational rhetoric for social justice reform is most-likely attributed to the rise of globalization, where cross-regional relationship building and information exchange has increased the voice, organizational capacity, and agency of BIPoC communities around the world. With this greater structural agency (i.e., greater individual and collective capacity for actors to change the structures they are bounded by), the intrinsic and practical value of BIPoC communities to the global value chain can no longer be ignored. The subversive potential of BIPoC communities can be understood by the emergence of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as a tool aiming to balance the inherent tensions between business and humanitarian/environmental values. Essentially, despite businesses operating under a globalized, capitalist framework, and therefore having to abide by capitalism’s non-negotiable values, such as the “right to make a profit, commodify labor, and the environment”; multinationals now seem to understand that the rigidity of these values must be sacrificed to accommodate BIPoC interests, and in turn, preserve the status quo[i]. To respond more constructively to the unique interests of BIPoC constituents, intersectionality has been used as a lens by social institutions to understand the ways in which reality is experienced differently by overlapping social identities (e.g., class, gender, race, and ability).
Although CSR has been normalized as best practice for multinational organizations and intersectionality has been rhetorically invoked by various social institutions, BIPoC communities do not seem to be substantively benefiting from this emerging global paradigm that boasts social justice reform. When reflecting on social realities exacerbated by the pandemic, notions of CSR and intersectionality do not seem to address the root issues engendering systemic adversity for BIPoC communities. The limitations of these symptomatic tools were illuminated to me through my experiences with policing and public healthcare during the pandemic. Even though policing institutions pledge to equally “protect and serve” explicitly through rhetoric, and implicitly through community dialogue and outreach; my racialized peers and I experienced more frequent and more severe COVID-19 punitive violations despite adhering to social distancing rules to the same extent as our non-racialized counterparts. This shared feeling among my racialized peers is statistically validated by the COVID-19 Police Project, which found that members of BIPoC communities are 2.5 times more likely to be subjected to punitive measures for violating COVID-19 protocols[ii]. When considering the increased social consciousness of society, the domination of social justice rhetoric in mainstream media, and the tangible social justice actions institutions have made; this may seem like a statistical anomaly and/or a sign of regression. However, I believe that this racial disparity is a result of ineffective symptomatic solutions that do not account for how deeply entrenched the oppressive status quo is in society. Institutions are trying to dismantle oppression through espousing social justice and inclusive rhetoric while emphasizing the implementation of value neutral polices. In theory, laws and rules governing society are supposed to be value-neutral to prevent the permeation of emotions and biases that can hinder the ability to reach an objective judgement. However, in a society with deeply pervasive unconscious bias situated in a historical context of unresolved oppression, value neutral polices will paradoxically – but inherently – perpetuate pre-existing inequality if they do not account for intersectionality. This insidiously problematic global, social justice paradigm can also be understood by systemic oppression perpetuated by hospitals during the pandemic. Despite hospitals being explicitly committed to equally serving all members of the community through its rhetoric and universal coverage, BIPoC people were still disproportionately affected by COVID-19, where they were “more exposed and less protected”[iii]. Although the virus does not discriminate on racial lines, healthcare institutions do. Provider biases can determine access to treatment, wait times, diagnoses, treatments, and prognoses, which are heavily informed by racist understandings of society[iv]. From this perspective, rather than trying to uproot this oppression with a shovel to make opportunities and outcomes more equitable, institutions seem to be trying to cover it with a cardboard to make the playing field more even. This symptomatic, myopic framework of understanding oppression has inherently reduced the scope of progress, suggesting that some oppression is tolerable. Furthermore, it has also increased the vulnerability of BIPoC communities to severe and potentially fatal implications of the pandemic.
Rather than using our knowledge of how deeply rooted oppression is in our society to develop quick fix solutions that are going to erupt in our face during extreme global events, we should use it to consider ways in which society can be meaningfully reformed, so that all people – regardless of their intersectionality – can sustainably and equitably benefit from the status quo. At the bottom, an understanding of intersectionality can be used to guide working group discussions that engage all partners of an institution. With reference to policing, marginalized citizens who have had an interaction with the police, traditionally underrepresented officers, and administrative members who identify as an equity seeking group should have a platform to discuss the normative implications of policing practices to guide reform. In the healthcare sector, this diverse inclusion of partners could look like underrepresented patients, staff, nurses, doctors, and administrative members. At the top, racialized and Indigenous perspective should be mainstreamed in public institutions so bias can be mitigated by accounting for the ways in which value-neutral laws and policies can disproportionately impact equity seeking groups. In policing, Black, Indigenous, and critical race perspectives should be adopted to consider the ways in which misdemeanor and felony infractions can deliberately and inadvertently scape goat marginalized communities. In the healthcare sector, these same perspectives should be used to understand the construction of unconscious biases, and how they can hinder the prospect of attaining equitable treatment for traditionally underrepresented groups. For Black communities, The Black Experiences in Healthcare report 2020 has been praised by the Canadian Medical Association Journal as “an excellent resource for physicians across the country to educate themselves regarding the experiences of Black Canadian patients”, so should be institutionalized as a vehicle for the mainstreaming of racialized perspectives[v]. Tangible actions outside of increasing social consciousness can also occur at the top. Specifically, representation of BIPoC professionals in social institutions should be addressed, so racialized peoples feel more comfortable seeking support from public institutions. Currently, Black people comprise 2.3% of practicing physicians, despite 4.5% of Ontarians being Black[vi]. Therefore, this disparity should be addressed to mitigate the impact of systemic discrimination and provider bias on the nature of treatment. To meaningfully account for the intergenerational effects of oppression, alternative pathways to higher level, specialized education should be engendered. If public institutions are interested in meaningfully acknowledging the implications of intersectionality on BIPoC livelihood, then equity-seeking groups should also have greater autonomy over the nature of services received. For indigenous peoples, alternative, non-Eurocentric health care practices should be normalized and institutionalized. The First Nations-led health authority in British Columbia epitomizes this prescriptive vision and has already experienced statistical success, whereby there has been early evidence of reductions in infant mortality and youth suicide[vii]. Finally, race-based data collection should be publicly institutionalized to monitor the effectiveness of intersectional reform on the lived experiences of BIPoC communities. Overall, by implementing meaningful, far-reaching intersectional frameworks into public, social institutions, adverse implications on marginalized groups seeking institutional support for various aspects of their livelihood can be decreased.
Overall, CSR and intersectionality are good tools for critically understanding how capitalism engenders systemic disadvantage for BIPoC communities, and how this injustice can be muted or circumvented. However, when considering my positionality (Bi-Racial, socioeconomically disadvantaged, second generation Canadian) along with the shared experiences of my racialized peers during the pandemic, substantive change cannot occur through considering these concepts through symptomatic lenses. Rather, frameworks of intersectionality must be used concertedly and robustly through bottom up, top-down methods to subvert the oppressive culture that adversely impacts the effectiveness of value-neutral laws.
[i] Blowfield, M. (2005). Corporate Social Responsibility: Reinventing the Meaning of Development? International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), 81(3), 515–524. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3569631
[ii] Coleman, T., Emmer, P., Ritchie, A., & Wang, T. (2021, January 6). The data is in. people of color are punished more harshly for Covid violations in the US | Timothy Colman, Pascal Emmer, Andrea Ritchie and Tiffany Wang. The Guardian. Retrieved February 10, 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jan/06/covid-violations-people-of-color-punished-more-harshly
[iii] VawLearning. (n.d.). “more exposed and less protected” in Canada: Systemic racism and covid-19. Learning Network – Western University. Retrieved February 10, 2022, from https://www.vawlearningnetwork.ca/our-work/backgrounders/more_exposed_and_less_protected_in_canada_systemic_racism_and_covid19/
[iv] Solo, J., & Festin, M. (2019, September 26). Provider bias in family planning services: A review of its meaning and manifestations. Global health, science and practice. Retrieved February 10, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6816811/#:~:text=Provider%20bias%20refers%20to%20attitudes,and%2For%20contraceptive%20method%20characteristics
[v] Dryden, O. S., & Nnorom, O. (2021, January 11). Time to dismantle systemic anti-black racism in medicine in Canada. CMAJ. Retrieved February 10, 2022, from https://www.cmaj.ca/content/193/2/E55
[vi] Dryden, O. S., & Nnorom, O. (2021, January 11). Time to dismantle systemic anti-black racism in medicine in Canada. CMAJ. Retrieved February 10, 2022, from https://www.cmaj.ca/content/193/2/E55
[vii] First Nation’s Health Authority. (n.d.). Improving access to First Nations-led primary health care. Retrieved February 10, 2022, from https://www.fnha.ca/about/news-and-events/news/improving-access-to-first-nations-led-primary-health-care
Canada, P. H. A. of. (2021, February 21). Cpho Sunday edition: The impact of covid-19 on racialized communities. Canada.ca. Retrieved February 10, 2022, from https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/news/2021/02/cpho-sunday-edition-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-racialized-communities.html
Coleman, T., Emmer, P., Ritchie, A., & Wang, T. (2021, January 6). The data is in. people of color are punished more harshly for Covid violations in the US | Timothy Colman, Pascal Emmer, Andrea Ritchie and Tiffany Wang. The Guardian. Retrieved February 10, 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jan/06/covid-violations-people-of-color-punished-more-harshly
Dryden, O. S., & Nnorom, O. (2021, January 11). Time to dismantle systemic anti-black racism in medicine in Canada. CMAJ. Retrieved February 10, 2022, from https://www.cmaj.ca/content/193/2/E55
First Nation’s Health Authority. (n.d.). Improving access to First Nations-led primary health care. Retrieved February 10, 2022, from https://www.fnha.ca/about/news-and-events/news/improving-access-to-first-nations-led-primary-health-care
Jones, A. M. (2021, October 6). Tackling anti-black racism in Canadian health care: Experts putting together first primer of its kind. CTVNews. Retrieved February 10, 2022, from https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/tackling-anti-black-racism-in-canadian-health-care-experts-putting-together-first-primer-of-its-kind-1.5613938
Solo, J., & Festin, M. (2019, September 26). Provider bias in family planning services: A review of its meaning and manifestations. Global health, science and practice. Retrieved February 10, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6816811/#:~:text=Provider%20bias%20refers%20to%20attitudes,and%2For%20contraceptive%20method%20characteristics
Subedi, R., Greenberg, T. L., & Turcotte, M. (2020, October 28). This article examines the differences in covid-19 related mortality rates across different ethno-cultural neighbourhoods in Canada. the differences in age-standardized mortality rates by proportion of population groups designated as visible minorities are compared for Canada and selected provinces and census metropolitan areas to understand whether or not communities with higher proportion of population designated as visible minorities are reporting higher COVID-19 related mortality rates. COVID-19 mortality rates in Canada’s ethno-cultural neighbourhoods. Retrieved February 10, 2022, from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/45-28-0001/2020001/article/00079-eng.htm
VawLearning. (n.d.). “more exposed and less protected” in Canada: Systemic racism and covid-19. Learning Network – Western University. Retrieved February 10, 2022, from https://www.vawlearningnetwork.ca/our-work/backgrounders/more_exposed_and_less_protected_in_canada_systemic_racism_and_covid19/