rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Winnipeg's racism challenge: Addressing structural racism

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

Photo: Ben Rogers/flickr

Like this article? Chip in to keep stories likes these coming.

The Maclean's article citing Winnipeg as Canada's most racist city has prompted a public conversation that may prove to be useful. It is important that Winnipeg's two solitudes get to know each other, at a personal and social level, and that non-Aboriginal people speak to and about Aboriginal people in a way that is respectful.

However, if our response to the city's racism is left at this level it won't be enough. As prevalent and as damaging as interpersonal forms of racism are, it is structural forms of racism that have produced the worst of the problem, and their solution requires more fundamental change.

Structural racism is reflected in a variety of data. Aboriginal people comprise about 15 per cent of Manitoba's population, but some 70 per cent of provincial and federal inmates. There are 10,300 children in care in Manitoba; more than 85 per cent are Aboriginal. Unemployment rates for Aboriginal people in Winnipeg are double those of the non-Aboriginal population. The labour force participation rate for Aboriginal people between the ages of 15 and 24 is extremely low at just over 50 per cent. Aboriginal adults are almost two and a half times as likely as the non-Aboriginal population to have less than a high school education, and are just over half as likely to hold a university degree.

The same is the case for health -- Aboriginal people experience a higher incidence of almost all forms of health problems, and have an average life expectancy eight years shorter and a premature mortality rate double that of the population at large. Winnipeg is the epicenter of the ongoing tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women. The incidence of poverty amongst Aboriginal people in Winnipeg is about two and a half times that of the non-Aboriginal population, and what is worse, 49.4 per cent, almost one-half, of Aboriginal children under the age of six years in Winnipeg are living in families with poverty-level incomes. These data reflect structural racism. These problems are the product, among other factors, of racism.

Why can we say that these problems are the product of racism? Because they are all directly related to the lasting effects of colonialism -- the deliberate attempts to destroy Aboriginal languages and cultures and forms of spirituality, the crushing of Aboriginal economic and political systems, and the damage done by residential schools, all predicated upon the racist belief that Aboriginal people and their ways of life were inferior to European cultures and ways of life. Tens of thousands of Aboriginal children were forcibly confined in residential schools; many were abused; thousands died of communicable diseases; all were taught to be ashamed of being Aboriginal; few benefitted from the church-based European education -- between 60 and 80 per cent did not even get past Grade Three.

In most cases families were badly damaged -- indeed, that was deliberate, since the goal was to break up families so as to prevent the intergenerational transmission of Aboriginal cultures and languages. This, it was hoped, would "kill the Indian in the child." The trauma experienced by individuals and families as the result of these racist-inspired beliefs and practices has rippled across the generations, contributing in a disproportionate number of cases to family dysfunction, poverty, poor educational outcomes, poor health and incarceration, all of which can today be described as racialized poverty. It is the racialized poverty that produces the all-too-common "blame the victim" responses that are at the heart of this city's racism.

How can we solve these deeply entrenched problems of racialized poverty that are now so predominant in Winnipeg? In fact, we know a great deal about how to do so. Many of the most significant efforts to solve our city's racialized poverty are led by Aboriginal people. Here in Winnipeg outstanding anti-poverty work is being done by such organizations as the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, Ndinawemaaganag Endaawaad, Ka Ni Kanichihk, Urban Circle Training Centre and many more. A superb poverty reduction strategy -- The View from Here 2015: Manitobans Call for a Renewed Poverty Reduction Plan -- has just been released. It is the product of consultations across the province, and is endorsed by more than 95 organizations and endorsed, in principle, by the Premier of Manitoba. Among other virtues, The View from Here upholds the importance of poverty reduction efforts by community-based Aboriginal organizations.

But in order to turn around Winnipeg's problem of racism -- in order to get to the core of the problem of racialized poverty -- we need to invest much more than we are now investing in poverty reduction strategies that have been shown to work, and we have to do so consistently over a generation or more. The problems of racialized poverty have been allowed to persist and to compound for decades, and are now so complex and multi-faceted that they are resistant to quick and uni-dimensional solutions. But they are solvable, and we know how to solve them.

The question is: are we prepared to invest significant sums, consistently over a generation or more, in anti-poverty solutions that have been proved to work well?

This is the real challenge of racism in Winnipeg.

If we have the will to meet this challenge, within a generation or two Winnipeg will be a dramatically better place to live -- for all of us.

Jim Silver is Chair of the UW's Department of Urban and Inner-City Studies, a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Mb Research Associate, and the author of About Canada: Poverty, published in 2014 by Fernwood.

Photo: Ben Rogers/flickr

Like this article? Chip in to keep stories likes these coming.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.