As this Women & Economy website makes clear, women's
experiences of the economy are very different from men's.
But gender is not the only factor that plays a major part
in one's place in the economy. Race and racism are other important
Like sexism, racism is a form of structural and inter-personal discrimination. It is a prejudice that says that people of certain colours are more deserving of rights and privileges than people of other colours. In most of the world, racism means that white people experience certain rights and privileges that people of other colours cannot take for granted. These privileges are social, cultural, legal, economic, and physical. Privileges whites enjoy include ease of access and mobility, knowing they will be represented in the media, and being part of institutions and systems that favour them. An easy working definition of racism is: prejudice + (systemic) power = racism.
Sometimes racism is very blatant. For example, white people
owning black slaves is a very obvious outcome of racism. But
often racism is very subtle. Looks and nods that tell people
that they are inferior are common all over the world. Racism
takes many forms and is experienced on an individual as well
as a group level. It is manifested through individual people
as well as whole systems, such as our education system.
Here are a few subtle and not so subtle examples of racism:
- A society in which racialized people are twice as
likely to live in poverty than non-racialized people.
- Children making fun of children who have darker skin
or different hair than theirs.
- The fact that countries in black-majority sub-Saharan
Africa experience a disproportionate share of deaths from
- A Customs Officer spending triple the time checking
the paperwork of a Canadian of Arabic descent in comparison
to a Canadian of European descent. (This is called racial
- Immigration practice that speeds through applications
of people from wealthy countries and stalls on applications
of people from poorer countries.
- An automatic assumption that the perpetrator of a
crime was a racialized person.
Many people find ways to excuse racism blaming incidents
of discrimination on other factors. "It's because she
wasn't dressed right not because she's black." Or, "It's
because he didn't have the qualifications not because he's
Arabic." Other people point out individuals who break
the stereotypes arguing that race is not an excuse. "Well
he became a doctor," or, "She was elected to parliament."
Situations are never simple and there are always people who
stand outside the statistics. However, it is important to
recognize an overall global picture that gives white people
privileges that people of other colours do not receive.
Like disability, the most pervasive effect of racism is poverty.
In Canada this means that the poverty rates among racialized
people (people from outside the historically dominant white
population) are disproportionately high. In fact, the incidence
of poverty for racialized women is double that of non-racialized
women. Women of colour have a 37% chance of living in poverty
while the rate for white women is 'only' 18%.1
In the global context, monetary wealth is concentrated in
countries with a predominantly white population. Most of the
poorest countries in the world are found in sub-Saharan Africa,
a region of the world still reeling from the effects of historic
colonization and now burdened with present-day colonization
in the form of crippling debt loads. The fact is that wherever
you are born in the world, you have a much greater chance
of growing up poor if your skin is a colour other than white.
In Canada one of the major reasons why racialized Canadians
are much more likely to live in poverty is because of differences
in pay. Racialized people, on average, earn significantly
less than other people. Racialized women are at a major disadvantage
because they experience the wage gap twice - for gender and
for race. The average annual income for a woman of colour
in Canada is $16, 621, almost $3000 less than the average
for other women, almost $7000 less than for racialized men,2
and nearly $15,000 less than for other men.
Women aged 15 and older who immigrated to Canada in the last decade had an average income of only $16,700 in 2000, around $6,000 less than the figure for both the overall female immigrant population, as well as Canadian born women.3
pay differentials are a result of many factors. But perhaps
the greatest of these is because racialized Canadians tend
to be segregated in low-end jobs while at the same time being
under-represented in highly-paid jobs. Racialized women in
particular find themselves occupying an unequal percentage
of non-standard jobs including a "disproportionate concentration
in part-time, temporary, and homework"4
- all low-paying, low-status kinds of employment. As well,
racialized women are more likely to work part-time as opposed
to full-time.5 They
also experience a higher incidence of unemployment: 15.3%
compared to 9.4% for other women.6
What makes these statistics and their accompanying stories
and faces particularly alarming is the fact that racialized
Canadians tend to be better educated than other Canadians,
in part because of Canada's increasingly stringent immigration
As of 2001, 21% of racialized women had university degrees compared to 14% of other women.7
So what's going on? Why do racialized Canadians earn so much
less and occupy so many of our lowest-paying jobs? One reason
is simply workplace discrimination. While many organizations
and corporations have adopted equal-opportunity employment
practices, many more have yet to do so. Evelyne (see
Evelyne's story), a recent university graduate expects
to experience this herself when she enters the workforce in
the next couple of years. "It's a given," she says.
"The first thing they see is black." Evelyne cites
her own experience of showing up for a job interview:
You see people's reactions sometimes when you come in for
an interview and they didn't expect to see a black woman.
Maybe you didn't sound like that on the phone. But you see
their whole demeanour change and they don't even have to say
anything. You just know it in the back of your head. You can
almost predict the outcome.
Unfortunately, racism is alive and well in our workplaces creating
sometimes subtle but no less challenging barriers.
Another challenge that many racialized Canadians experience,
especially recent immigrants, is the lack of accreditation
for degrees and qualifications earned overseas. For years,
Canada has relied on recent immigrants to do the work that
other Canadians did not want to do, and the same is true today.
Stories abound of teachers, nurses, doctors, and other professionals
who are delivering pizzas, working as live-in nannies, and
mopping floors in Canada. Some immigrants even go so far as
to hide their credentials in order to get jobs for which they
are vastly overqualified because that's all they can get.8
(see Lynn's story) has experienced
this frustration herself. Her Mexican-born husband was forced
to completely redo his medical residency in order to get Canadian
qualifications. The sole program available to him was not
funded so he also needed to work full-time. As a result, Lynn
was required to take on the lion's share of the responsibilities
for raising their young children, one of whom has a disability
requiring extra care and attention. These demands left almost
no room for Lynn's own education and career aspirations. She
felt that she was forced to personally pay the price of racism
in Canada's immigration policies. In the meantime Canadian
society is missing out on much of the skills, creativity,
and energy of both Lynn and her husband, not to mention the
tax dollars they could have generated if allowed to participate
in a more meaningful way in the paid workforce.
While the resources of Canada are not shared equally among
Canadians of all skin colours, the same is true in the global
context. A deadly combination of racism and greed set the
stage for colonization. Although this was hardly the advent
of racism, it did begin a 500-year process of European plunder.
Much of the bounty of the world's wealthiest countries was
stolen from the colonies. The enslavement of African peoples
was a key factor in the development of American economies,
yet today Africa experiences a massive equality deficit. At
the same time, Aboriginal peoples were displaced from their
lands and livelihoods by arriving immigrants - an injustice
which continues until today. (For more visit Aboriginal
women and the economy.)
The colonization of the racialized world is perpetuated today
through economic globalization and staggering debt. As the
market economy makes its way across the globe, wealthy countries
are finding all sorts of ways to exploit the labour and resources
of the rest of the world. And still today, trillions of dollars
of resources including diamonds, oil, and timber, continue
to be taken out of resource-rich African countries like Congo,
Nigeria, and Sudan, with little or no payment to peoples to
whom these resources belong. (For more on the deep economic
injustices that divide our world and the alternatives you
can promote visit the Globalization
section of this website.)
Lastly, the drain on Southern countries continues today as those countries pay to educate their citizens only to have many of them immigrate to wealthier countries.
A good place to start to unlearn racist ideology and practice
is to fill in the gaps in your own education. Learn about
the history of your country and the world and how racism has
been a part of that history. Find out about your own ethnic
roots and how they have influenced your identity. Find ways
to talk with others about what you have learned and spend
time listening to others' stories too.
Be aware of your own prejudices and be open to hearing how
you can change your behaviour and language. Make sure that
the organizations and workplaces of which you are a part accurately
include and represent people of colour. Take part in anti-racist
and white privilege workshops or organize sessions yourself. Challenge others
on racist jokes and stereotypes. If you are white, recognize
your privilege and refuse to accept special treatment when
it is offered to you.
Find out about movements that work to right past injustices
such as the African repatriation movement. Demand that companies
and governments adopt equity-hiring practices. Find ways to
work with others towards a world in which all peoples receive
their rightful share. Racism is deeply engrained in all of
us and in our cultures and societies. It is a long road to
healing so the time to start is now.