RAYAN SAIED: Racism casts a long shadow, and Black youth can help fix it

RAYAN SAIED • Guest Opinion

Rayan Saied lives in Toronto. She is a young Black woman, a researcher and a project officer with consulting firm Wisdom2Action 

Adolescence and early adulthood are a time for self-discovery and new experiences — but for Black youth, we grow up confronted by the harsh reality of systemic anti-Black racism that takes place all around us. 

Growing up, I remember clearly the deep anger and pain I felt when I realized racism went far beyond the stories of the civil rights era and the never fully told stories of the cruelty and evils Black peoples were subjected to through enslavement. 

As Black youth, we are confronted with the fact that racism isn’t a thing of the past but an ever-present reality. We know just how racist the world is, we see and feel it every day, but our voices and our solutions are almost always ignored. 

My workplace, Wisdom2Action, recently published a report based on a study we conducted with Frayme and the Delmore “Buddy” Daye Learning Institute. The study examined Black and African youths’ awareness and experiences of racism within Nova Scotia. Specifically, it looked at Black and African youths’ experiences within education, health care, the justice system, and recreation. The report painted a clear picture of just how aware Black and African Nova Scotian youth are when it comes to racism in these sectors and shared their experiences of how that racism manifests within their lives. 

Rayan Saied: “Black youth have a lot to say. They’ve been speaking their truths about injustice for years, if not decades.” – Contributed

System ill-equipped

In the study, a common theme that arose was youth awareness of the lack of Black representation around them. Within health care, only 32.7 per cent of youth felt represented by their providers, and many respondents reported a general mistrust of health-care providers. One youth commented that “the last time [they] felt comfortable discussing [their] future… [was] through [their] African support worker.” 

Black and African youth are predominantly accessing services where their counsellor, social worker, or other kinds of providers do not look like them, and this fact alone increases the likelihood of microaggressions and racist encounters. Black youth struggle to find Black service providers, and non-Black providers are often ill-equipped to serve our young people and unable to provide inclusive and non-discriminatory care. 

Black and African youth are well aware of the impact microaggressions and stereotypes have on their lives and the lives of their peers. Within education, youth reported experiencing microaggressions from both students and staff and having their issues brushed aside. Instances of being tokenized and hearing comments about their hair and bodies alienated Black and African students within spaces where they are meant to be given a safe environment to learn. 

Black and African youth shared that receiving support was a matter of if “[they were] headed in the right path already,” indicating that Black and African youth are already well aware of the racist stereotypes that are often used to categorize them.

Stereotypes that Black youth aren’t as smart, ambitious, and successful hang over their heads from Day 1. Comments and actions that educators and other service providers may not have thought twice about leave a lasting impact on Black and African youth and remind us further how prevalent anti-Black racism is. Black and African youth are required to learn in environments where they are actively excluded and discriminated against, while forced to contend — often alone — with the violence of anti-Black racism as they try to complete their education. 

Reform policing

Another key issue for Black and African youth was policing: 77.3 per cent of respondents reported being carded or stopped by police, demonstrating an alarmingly high rate of interaction between Black and African youth and the police. 

Participants stressed their awareness of racial injustices and biases within policing, as well as their own lived experiences as young Black people interacting with the police. 

When asked for recommendations on how to improve or change the justice system, many centered the need to eliminate discrimination as a key factor, but others went further: calling for a move away from traditional policing altogether. These respondents alternatively encouraged the adoption of preventive and rehabilitative practices, investing in Black and African communities, and improving access to resources. 

From highlighting a significant lack of Black representation across sectors to emphasizing the importance of racial equality and anti-bias training within policing, youth made it clear that youth-serving organizations and sectors are failing Black youth through inaction on anti-Black racism. Black youth are aware that youth services, schools and the justice system, which are meant to protect, grow and support young people, do not always serve those same purposes when it is Black and African youth accessing them. 

Time to listen

Black youth can pinpoint the ways youth services fail them, and the ways these services have instead further exposed them to anti-Black racism rather than protecting them from it. Listening to the reflections and experiences of Black and African youth is critical to building new and better systems that truly support Black and African youth. Youth are aware of how these systems work around them and need to be meaningfully engaged if we hope to challenge them. 

Black youth have a lot to say. They’ve been speaking their truths about injustice for years, if not decades. Our study put new numbers behind their experiences, but we shouldn’t need numbers to listen to Black youth. They know these systems, and they have solutions they believe in. It’s time our services — and our governments — finally listened. 

To learn more about the Anti-Black Racism Project and to read the report, please follow this link: 

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