The Black Experience: The Difference Between Racism in the US and Racism in Canada


Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

If you’ve ever wondered about the differences between racism in the US and in Canada, you’ll want to read this post. While racism has not reached the volatile level here in the north that it has in America, the potential is there. And meanwhile, Canadian racism is exacting a heavy tariff on Black people and others of colour, as well as on Canadian society overall.


How is racism in the US demonstrated?


Racism has been present in the United States since the nation’s earliest settlers. Indigenous people were displaced and killed to pave the way for white founders, not just in the original colonies in the 17th century but as the country grew and moved west. Expansion towards the Pacific coast was considered part of America’s “Manifest Destiny,” a policy of claiming and settling new territories as “divine right,” which continued for generations.


The US was also founded on chattel slavery, with many of its founders owning slaves taken from their homes in Africa, including early presidents and framers of the Constitution. In fact, European settlements in parts of the US, such as St. Augustine, Florida, used slaves as early as 1565. American Indians were also enslaved by some of the first settlers, prior to the nation achieving sovereign status.


Slavery was legal in the United States until 1865, when it was abolished by the 13th Amendment. However, the racism that allowed for Black human beings to be owned, sold, and abused by whites has persisted to the present day. Fast forward 100 years from President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation that declared all slaves free during the American Civil War. In some ways, the Black experience in America retained many remnants of slave days.


Because Reconstruction was handled so poorly after the Civil War, leaving states to develop and enforce their own policies about race, regardless of constitutional amendments to the contrary, Jim Crow laws existed that perpetuated second-class citizen status for Black people and reinforced racial segregation. Black citizens of the United States were still fighting for integration and suffrage as late as the 1960s.


Although some progress was eventually made, and Black people were given the right to vote as well as to share schools and public transportation equally with whites, anti-Black racism is still a prominent societal problem, particularly since there has been an open turn towards hard right politics. Examples of modern-day racism and its consequences include:

  • Voter suppression through gerrymandering, removal of polling places in minority areas, and harsh voting ID laws

  • Banning the teaching of critical race theory (CRT), which includes mention of white supremacy and contemporary anti-Black racism

  • An uptick in racial profiling and often unpunished open police brutality, including during the supposedly protected practice of public peaceful protest

  • Disproportionate resources for schools, healthcare, and emergency economic aid, made especially obvious during the recent pandemic

  • High rates of African American maternal and infant mortality

  • Disparity between Black and white incarcerated individuals, particularly among young Black males

  • Underrepresentation of Black people in management and other high-paying jobs, as well as in all levels of government

  • Lower per capita income among Black households and greater wealth disparity with whites


Racism in the United States is often referred to as “systemic” or “institutional” because it affects all aspects of life and is endemic in work, education, healthcare, criminal justice, and the exercise of personal freedoms and rights.


Is racism in Canada different than in the US?

Photo by Duncan Shaffer from Unsplash

Economic discrimination isn’t just limited to the United States. It runs rampant in its neighbour to the north as well. Although residents of Canada do not experience some of the more egregious aspects of anti-Black racism that Americans do, racism is definitely present nationwide.


When looking at lists of the least racist countries in the world, Canada often comes out near the top, along with New Zealand, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Nordic nations like Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland. However, when it comes to eliminating less overt forms of racism, Canada still has a long way to go.


Given its history of chattel slavery and genocide of Indigenous People that mirrors the USA, why then is Canada not as openly or violently racist as the US? Canadian laws against discrimination and hate speech are more stringent. Abuse of police power is not as easily tolerated as it is to the south. Crime in general is more under control, and public spaces are safer.


But there has also been a centuries-long campaign to whitewash much of Canada’s unsavoury bloody history. Few students today are taught about the racist policies of Sir John A. Macdonald, the nation’s first prime minister. Stories in the news about Canadian discriminatory practices frequently get buried beneath tales of riots and contentious police trials in America.


Canadians have a tendency to point to the US and cry, “Hey, we’re not as bad as them!” There is no virtue in being the lesser of two evils, though, especially as the same ultra-conservative forces that dominate the discussion in the US are becoming more prevalent to the north.


What is the economic cost of racism in Canada?


Just because racism isn’t as physically dangerous in Canada as it is in the US doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its dire consequences. Microaggressions and economic discrimination carry a heavy toll on minority Canadians. Let’s look at how this plays out:

  • Black workers can be unemployed as much as twice the rate for white people.

  • Wage gaps between Black and white employees have widened over the last decades, regardless of cost of living, productivity, or credentials.

  • Indigenous People in Canada have the highest level of poverty of any ethnic group.

  • There are large disparities between income, wealth, and property ownership between whites and people of colour.

  • Black residents of Canada have inferior or no access to healthcare, leading to poorer short-term and long-term outcomes.

  • Higher levels of incarceration and education divisions exist among Canada’s Black population than with whites, and Black students are more likely to be expelled from school than their white classmates.

  • Black teachers do not statistically represent the number of Black students.

  • Poor inner-city areas, which house a disproportionate number of minority residents, have increased amounts of violence, harassment, and surveillance from police.

  • Black workers report significantly higher levels of workplace discrimination and barriers to career advancement than both white and Asian employees.

  • Black Canadians are less likely to succeed in the job hiring process.

  • Neighbourhoods are often segregated, largely due to issues described above.


These problems are not isolated concerns that have no cost to the groups they affect or to society as a whole. The economic cost of racism has a cascading effect. Poor education can lead to unemployment and is indirectly related to higher rates of incarceration. And yet it costs more to incarcerate an individual than to provide them with the classroom support they need and help them on the road to stable employment. We have seen the fallout from poor healthcare with COVID, as workers are falling further down the economic ladder, while businesses don’t have sufficient workers to operate.


We could fill pages with statistics and information that point to the fact that Canada has not dealt with its racist issues nearly as well as most people there think. They are often as systemic as those in the US. Canadians have only to look to the United States to see where this could go if left unchecked. It’s time for a tough conversation about racism in your workplace or community to ensure it doesn’t get worse and to improve conditions for your Black neighbours and colleagues.


If you’re ready to get a conversation going with your company, nonprofit, or educational institution, Tough Convos is here to help facilitate. Call us at 858-876-8176 or reach out online to let us know how we can assist.