Chapter 1: Understanding Racism and Anti-Black Racism


How often do you think about racism? How many times in the last week has racism influenced your communication and interactions with others? Once, twice, three times? Your answer will differ depending on your race, your proximity to social justice issues, and your upbringing.

Many people in Canada think about racism every moment. This is because racism affects every aspect of their life: how they are viewed and how they are treated within society. 

Can you imagine being called derogatory names, treated disrespectfully, and denied opportunities because of your skin colour? 

How about being told you are not smart enough to succeed at anything?

Imagine being mentally and physically brutalized simply because you were born Black? 

These are just a few of the experiences of racialized people, and especially Black people.

We are all born into a structure of racism, which is woven into the very fabric of society. So, while we all should think about racism, Black people, Asians, Indigenous individuals, and other people of colour are forced to do so. Their everyday living and functioning are wrapped up in the various manifestations of racism. Differential treatment against these groups is built into the creation and operation of society to the extent that racism has become systemic (Banaji et al., 2021). This means that racism is part of every aspect of life, with life-long detrimental effects.

However, racism is not experienced in the same way and to the same degree by all racialized groups, with varying consequences. Racism against Black people is called anti-Black racism. It takes different forms and involves different arguments to justify it (James et al., 2010). Anti-Black racism also transcends an understanding of racism beyond class and economics to include culture and identity (James et al., 2010). Most of us are aware of the racism experienced by Black people in North America. The police officer who used his knee to slowly drain life from George Floyd is only one example of the profound and egregious nature of anti-Black racism. Anti-Black racism has been linked with many social harms among Black people (King et al., 2022). Some scholars argue that anti-Black racism is the number one cause of death among Black people (Sederstrom & Lasege, 2022).

Why is it important to discuss racism in the context of nursing education? The answer is simple: it presents an opportunity for all of us to pause, reflect, and understand, with the ultimate goal of dismantling racism in our education and practice. If we don’t engage with the problem, we will perpetuate and replicate it, intentionally and unintentionally in our practice and our communication with others – and through our silence.

This chapter explores the history, manifestations, experiences, and social and health effects of racism. We give special attention to anti-Black racism because of its pervasive and detrimental nature, and because it has generally been neglected in the context of nursing education. We invite you to read with an open mind and appreciation for this knowledge as learners, and as future nurses.



Banaji, M. R., Fiske, S. T., & Massey, D. S. (2021). Systemic racism: Individuals and interactions, institutions and society. Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, 6(1), 1–21.

Hopson, R. (2013). “People like me”: Racialized teachers and the call for community.

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.

King, D. D., Hall, A. V., Johnson, L., Carter, J., Burrows, D., & Samuel, N. (2022). Research on anti-Black racism in organizations: Insights, ideas, and considerations. Journal of Business Psychology.

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

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