Chapter 1: Understanding Racism and Anti-Black Racism

Anti-Black Racism

Now that you have a grasp on understanding racism, let’s explore what anti-Black racism means and why it is relevant. 

Dr. Akua Benjamin, now an emeritus professor at Toronto Metropolitan University, first used the term anti-Black racism in her doctoral dissertation to explain the brutality Black communities were experiencing within the country’s institutions (Benjamin, 2003). Although the term gained limited traction at the time, it became a focus of discussion during the COVID-19 pandemic, with reports identifying anti-Black racism as a key driver of the social and health barriers faced by Black communities (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2021). Why is this? Let’s start by providing a definition of anti-Black racism:

“Anti-Black racism is prejudice, attitudes, beliefs, stereotyping, and discrimination that is directed at people of African descent and rooted in their unique history and experience of enslavement and its legacy. Anti-Black racism is deeply entrenched in Canadian institutions, policies, and practices, to the extent that it is either functionally normalized or rendered invisible to the larger White society. Anti-Black racism is manifest in the current social, economic, and political marginalization of African Canadians, which includes unequal opportunities, lower socio-economic status, higher unemployment, significant poverty rates, and overrepresentation in the criminal justice system” (Government of Ontario, 2022).

The ongoing pandemic is not just a global health problem: it also intersects with social and political issues that are affected by the systemic presence of anti-Black racism. Boakye and Prendergast (2022) argued that anti-Black racism is maintained by four tenets: history, experience, invisibility, and legacy, which allow racism to remain undetected and be functionally normalized within Canada (Government of Ontario, 2022). We know that racism has lasting and devastating effects on the health and well-being of Black and other racialized individuals, so it is important to understand the tenets of anti-Black racism and thereby find ways to dismantle and rupture racism at the root. 

Let us take a brief look at the four tenets of anti-Black racism:

History: History is at the root of how racism was used to justify the inhumane treatment of people that continues today. More specifically, the unique history of the transatlantic slave trade explains the process used to dehumanize, devalue, and use humans as a commodity. 

Invisibility: Anti-Black racism is so systematically institutionalized within policies, practices, and procedures that it becomes normalized and almost impossible to detect. The humanity of Black people is undermined in a multitude of invisible ways.

Experience: Living in a world where Black people are invisible, along with the historical processes of racism, leads to trauma and stress and ultimately affects health and well-being (James et al., 2010; Sederstrom & Lasege, 2022) in ways that are largely unnoticed by broader white society.

Legacy: Social injustices toward Black people continue despite ongoing revisions to policies and practices. Inhumane treatment is simply recycled without being interrogated and dismantled.

By understanding anti-Black racism, we may be able to gain a deeper awareness of the broader negative effects of learning in a Eurocentric-dominated space. For example, explicating anti-Black racism may further understanding of other forms of atrocities such as the , , and  for Chinese people entering Canada.

Activity: Check Your Understanding


Benjamin, L. A. (2003). The Black/Jamaican criminal: The making of ideology (Publication No.305258209) [Doctoral dissertation, University of Toronto]. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global.

Boakye, P., & Prendergast, N. (2022). Is teaching anti-Black racism relevant when recreating a post-COVID nursing curriculum? Conference Abstract. University of Toronto Journal of Public Health, 3(1)

Goldberg, A. (2016, May 6). Canada and the holocaust. The Canadian Encyclopedia.

Government of Ontario (2022). Data standards for the identification and monitoring of systemic racism: Glossary. Queen’s Printer for Ontario.

James, C., Este, D., Thomas Bernard, W., Benjamin, A, Lloyd, B., & Turner, T. (2010). Race & well-being: The lives, hopes and activism of African Canadians. Fernwood Publishing.

Miller, J. R. (2012). Residential schools in Canada. The Canadian Encyclopedia.

Public Health Agency of Canada. (2021). Social determinants and inequities in health for Black Canadians: A snapshot.

Sederstrom, N., & Lasege, T. (2022). Anti-Black racism as a chronic condition. Hastings Center Report, 52, S24-S29.

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