Whenever he is asked about his racial identity, Carl James always says “Black” instead of Antiguan, especially in Canada, where race is often defined by skin colour.
But there is more to the York University education professor’s preferred response to the question.
“I generally see myself as a Black person who happens to be from the Caribbean,” said James, who came to Toronto in the 1970s as a university student.
“It’s the politics about being Black that we are thinking in skin-colour terms. That’s the way we have come to define and see ourselves in our struggles.”
He is not alone in feeling that way.
According to the Black Experience Project, a groundbreaking survey of 1,504 self-identified Black individuals in Greater Toronto, 53 per cent of the participants identified themselves as Black regardless of their heritage, country of origin, and ethnocultural and other identities.
The participants were sampled to represent the population across census tracts, taking into account age, gender household income and ethnic/cultural backgrounds.
The study led by the Environics Institute, released Wednesday, posed 250 questions to participants about their daily experiences as Black people in the GTA. Most interviews were conducted in person and each took between 90 to 120 minutes.
“What struck me is how the experience of the Black community is so similar,” said Marva Wisdom, the project’s director of outreach engagement, whose family moved here from Jamaica 40 years ago.
“Being Black is an important identity for us despite our diversity. It is our shared experiences that help bind us together.”
Black people make up 400,000, or 7 per cent, of Greater Toronto’s population and the community has more than tripled in size over the last three decades.
Until 2011, young Black adults living in GTA were much more likely to be born in the Caribbean than in Canada, but the trend has reversed. Black youth today are twice as likely to be born in Canada than in the Caribbean, while those from Africa have been on the rise.
While people with Caribbean heritage make up 55 per cent of GTA’s Black population, those with African origins now account for 31 per cent of the community, with the rest being a mix of both and/or with other ethnicities.
The study also found:
Two-thirds of survey participants said they frequently or occasionally experience racism and discrimination because they are Black;
Eight in 10 reported experiencing one of several forms of day-to-day “microaggression” such as having others expect their work to be inferior or being treated in a condescending or superficial way;
Although those with lower incomes are affected more intensively by these incidents, when it comes to getting randomly stopped in public by the police, those in the higher socio-economic stratum are not immune;
About four respondents in 10 said they felt accepted by their teachers “only sometimes” or “never”;
One-third identified challenges in the workplace linked to being Black, whether those involved explicit racism or discrimination, or an uncomfortable workplace culture in which they do not feel they are treated professionally accepted.