Social action seems to be running rampant in the United States currently, pushing against systemic racism in the United States. Indigenous peoples in the United States are standing to protect their lands at Standing Rock and the Black Lives Matter movement is demanding an end to mass incarceration, to end the systemic racism in the American justice system. With this backlash against racism in the United States, people in Canada are feeling pretty lucky to live in Canada. But are we any better off in Canada in terms of racism? Or are we equally as racist in Canada? Can inequality be equal? A June 2016 research article published in Social Science & Medicine explores this.
In “Equally Inequitable? A Cross-National Comparative Study of Racial Health Inequality in the United Sates and Canada,” University of Toronto’s Chantel Ramraj, and Duke University’s William Darity explore the strong relationship between race and health in American and Canadian society, and find that in their comparison of America’s black population with Canada’s, Black Canadians have overall better quality of health than Black Americans. This research is based off of 10-year data collection from the National Health Interview Survey in the U.S., and the Canadian Community Health Survey in Canada (from the years 2000-2010). Studying a variety of health outcomes (such as asthma, heart disease, hypertension, etc.), as well as self-reported health satisfaction, and behavioral risk factors (such as smoking), the researchers conclude that “racial inequalities in health are biological expressions of racism and not of racial difference,” further serving to situate the connection between race and health as a “function of the societal context [in] which it operates.”
So, if black Canadians’ health is better than that of black Americans’, does that mean Canadians are less racist? Definitely not. The study additionally highlights the fact that racial inequalities exist in both of the countries under study, but that which differs between the countries is which racial groups they affect. In Canada, for instance, while our black and Hispanic populations are in comparatively better health than that of America’s, our Aboriginal populations suffer immensely from racial inequality. Ramraj and Darity show that in both the United States and in Canada, those who identify as Aboriginal were found to have the highest prevalence of most of the chronic conditions under study, rated their own health to be the lowest, and had the highest prevalence for current or former drinking when compared to all other demographics under study, with the exception of Whites in the U.S., who scored the highest for alcohol use. These such health trends among Aboriginal peoples in Canada persisted “regardless of demographic, socioeconomic, and behavioral covariates, whereas in the U.S., socioeconomic factors explained [only] some of the relative inequality between aboriginals and whites.”
Further, this research points these health implications of racial inequality as stemming from distinct historical periods: slavery in the United States, and colonization in Canada. As colonization allowed for an increasing of the amount of processed foods (and associated consequences for health) and for an unequal distribution of “economic resources and employment opportunities available to aboriginals,” aboriginal peoples have disproportionately been put under stressors due to colonization when compared to white Canadians. These stressors additionally serve to influence health behavior in adverse ways, and manifest in physical health issues. As such, colonization and colonial legacy acts as a crucial societal determinant for the health of aboriginal peoples in Canada. Black people in the United States, similarly, are far more likely to be “descendants of ancestors who had been exposed to the U.S. system of plantation-based slavery, widespread government-sanctioned segregation, and ongoing discrimination and racism,” thereby leading to their current race-related health issues.
So, can you be equal in inequality? Chantel Ramraj and William Darity show that Canada and the U.S., are both equally inequitable in their treatment of racialized groups, which has grave effects on the lives and health of the individuals affected. Ramraj and Darity demonstrate the strength that race holds as a predictor of “major sources of morbidity in both the United States and in Canada,” and how this relationship (between health and race), can be addressed at a societal level, where social policies, which dictate the distribution of “social and economic resources within a society,” can begin to be addressed. Furthermore, this research has important implications in its demonstration of the degree to which race and health is context-dependent and can, therefore, be modified by social action.