Racism and Discrimination

Thinking about racism and discrimination should begin with the recognition that ‘race’ is a social construction with no solid foundation in biology. Hence, the term ‘race’ itself is deeply problematic and we should avoid reproducing the categories it is part of. In Canada, the term ‘racialized groups’ has gained favour because it draws attention to this social process of constructing race. Despite the negative effects of racism, individuals and communities may accept and elaborate racialized identities as part of a process of collective affirmation.

Knowing more about the Canadian history of discrimination is a crucial step (e.g. European colonization and the Indian Residential School system, the Komagatu Maru, the internment of Japanese in WWII, Africaville, etc.). Ultimately, learning to empathize with and, to some degree, understand the predicament of others is essential. This can be achieved in part through dialogue, role-playing and imagination but it is helpful to experience the predicament of being seen as a ‘visible minority’ — for example by living in a community where one’s appearance marks one off as “other’. Pedagogically, achieving this kind of (self)awareness requires a diverse community that works to maintain a safe space for mutual learning and encounter and the humility to recognize the limits of empathy and understanding. Friendships between people with different identities and experiences are essential for this journey.

White privilege is woven deeply into the fabric of Canadian society but racial thinking is part of other forces of marginalization and discrimination: of indigenous peoples, of non-European immigrant groups, of the religious or linguistic ‘Other’, and, increasingly, of refugees seeking safe haven.

Some references that may be useful:

Aspinall, P. (2005). Language matters: the vocabulary of racism in health care. J Health Serv Res Policy, 10(1), 57-59.

Brascoupé, S., & Waters, C. (2009). Cultural safety: Exploring the applicability of the concept of cultural safety to Aboriginal health and community wellness. Journal of Aboriginal Health, 7(1), 6-40.

Corneau, S., & Stergiopoulos, V. (2012). More than being against it: anti-racism and anti-oppression in mental health services. Transcult Psychiatry, 49(2), 261-282. doi: 10.1177/1363461512441594

Gravlee, C. C. (2009). How race becomes biology: embodiment of social inequality. Am J Phys Anthropol, 139(1), 47-57. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.20983

Crampton, P., Dowell, A., Parkin, C., & Thompson, C. (2003). Combating effects of racism through a cultural immersion medical education program. Acad Med, 78(6), 595-598.

Fredrickson, G. M. (2002). Racism: a short history. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Gunew, S. M. (2003). Haunted nations: the colonial dimensions of multiculturalisms. New York: Routledge.

Guzder, J., & Rousseau, C. (2013). A Diversity of Voices: The McGill ‘Working with Culture’ Seminars. Cult Med Psychiatry, 37(2), 347-364. doi: 10.1007/s11013-013-9316-0

Kirmayer, J.J. (2014). Critical psychiatry in Canada. In: R. Moodley & M. Ocampo (Eds.) Critical Psychiatry and Mental Health: Exploring the Work of Suman Fernando (pp. 170-181). New York: Routledge.

Neville, H., Spanierman, L., & Doan, B. T. (2006). Exploring the association between color-blind racial ideology and multicultural counseling competencies. Cultur Divers Ethnic Minor Psychol, 12(2), 275-290. doi: 2006-05763-007 [pii] 10.1037/1099-9809.12.2.275

Noh, S., Kaspar, V., & Wickrama, K. A. (2007). Overt and subtle racial discrimination and mental health: preliminary findings for Korean immigrants. Am J Public Health, 97(7), 1269-1274. doi: AJPH.2005.085316 [pii] 10.2105/AJPH.2005.085316

 Noh, S., & Kaspar, V. (2003). Perceived discrimination and depression: moderating effects of coping, acculturation, and ethnic support. Am J Public Health, 93(2), 232-238.

 Ridley, C. R. (1995). Overcoming Unintentional Racism in Counseling and Therapy: A Practitioner’s Guide to Intentional Intervention. (Vol. 5). Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications.

 Satzewich, V. (2011). Racism in Canada. Don Mills: Oxford University Press.

 Saul, J. R. (2008). A Fair Country: Telling Truths About Canada. Toronto: Viking Canada.

 Smedley, A., & Smedley, B. D. (2005). Race as biology is fiction, racism as a social problem is real: Anthropological and historical perspectives on the social construction of race. Am Psychol, 60(1), 16-26. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.60.1.16

 Todd, N. R., Spanierman, L. B., & Aber, M. S. (2010). White Students Reflecting on Whiteness: Understanding Emotional Responses. J Divers High Educ, 3(2), 97-110. doi: 10.1037/a0019299

 As well, see some of the videos of talks from our Advanced Study Institute this year at: