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As anti-Black racism surfaces, so do mental health consequences in Canada’s affected communities:...

A Growing Problem

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said something recently that should not be lost in the winds of social media:

"It's not enough to not be a racist in our own lives. We need to commit to being anti-racist and actively condemn racism wherever we see it."

Anti-Black Racism is defined by the Black Health Alliance (BHA) as policies and practices rooted in Canadian institutions such as, education, health care, and justice that mirror and reinforce beliefs, attitudes, prejudice, stereotyping and/or discrimination towards people of Black-African descent. It is the outcome of a century of quasi-scientific efforts to belittle and demean the distinct physical, social and cultural features of Africans, especially their beauty, intelligence, morality and humanity.

Rooted deeply in our culture, Anti-Black racism is a systemic problem that adversely affects the mental health and well being of Black people. The mental health effects are easier to imagine when we think of natural reactions to trauma such as verbal and physical expressions of hate.Black people of African descent have been the most consistent targets of hateful behaviours for decades, but the logical mental health results are seldom studied.The collateral damage to families and communities is also largely ignored. Statistics Canada reveal that in 2018 there were 1798 criminal incidents relating to Hate Crimes, of which 44% of these were directly attributed to race. Impacted individuals all had families and communities.Recent incidents in North America such as the public execution of George Floyd has been witnessed by all segments of Canadian society and one wonders how deeply Black children and youth will be scarred by such hate.In fact, Toronto’s Board of Health has recently recognized anti-Black racism to be a public health crisis along with the American Psychological Association which declared it as a pandemic.Both acts of recognition should spur scientists and mental health professionals to seriously weigh the mental health harms to people of African descent, especially children and youth, of anti-Black racism.

Within Black communities, issues related to mental health are quite often not addressed due to access challenges or public stigma that imagines mental health problems as signs of personal weakness or failure. Proper care is administered at a lower rate than within White communities. The consequence is increased likelihood of more severe and debilitating illnesses. The mental health effects of racial discrimination and/or hate run the spectrum from chronic stress, depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviours, low self-esteem, to alcohol and substance misuse. Physical health effects include increased school dropout rates, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, increased body-mass index, and poorer physical health.

For many Black individuals and communities, the experiences of discrimination and hate can lead to self-stigmatization and internalized racism; so much so, that people avoid seeking help from public institutions such as the police and health care providers. Leading to increased risks and exposure to health harms; more so, for those persons living in socially disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

The avoidance of services is a hidden consequence of systemic anti-Black racism.The social and health problems of heavily impacted individuals only become more costly and more difficult to treat and the health harms grow exponentially for both individuals, families, and society.Further, the witnessing first hand the removal of children from the care of their neighbours, the patterns of school expulsions in elementary schools, the negative health experiences of friends and families, can lead to vicarious trauma which is a follow up story for another day. Why then should vulnerable individuals subject themselves to such potential outcomes? It is society’s responsibility to ensure equitable services that do no harm. Such mistrust is certainly a public health problem deserving of immediate attention.

Our mission is to co-create with our partners the most deliberate and scientifically based Community of Anti-Racism Practice; within which can be found innovative and cutting-edge best practices to create safe and inclusive anti-racist spaces. We harness and share resources that deliver effective health promotion and harms reduction for addressing anti-Black racism in professional settings and public spaces. We are providing a range of services to support this mission: including training and capacity building, race equity auditing and disparity reduction planning and implementation support. Our goal is to make anti-Black racism a footnote in our-story.


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