Victoria Abraham

Institutionalized Racism? The Representation of Black Canadians in Canada Hall

By Victoria Abraham
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Institutionalized racism, also known as systemic racism, refers to racist policies and practices that are embedded in societal institutions and systems such as the media, employment, education and law enforcement. The Canadian Race Relations Foundation defines systemic racism as “the policies and practices of organizations, which directly or indirectly operate to sustain the advantages of peoples of certain ‘social races’”(Acknowledging Racism, Defining Racism 1). The focus of this essay is the tokenization of black Canadians within Canada’s national narrative as illustrated by the Canadian Museum of Civilization. By analyzing the limited representations and presence of black Canadians in Canada Hall, specifically the Canadian Pacific Gallery and The Story of Toles School in Amber Valley exhibitions, and discussing discrimination in the public sphere as represented by the labour market and academia, this essay will argue that the black Canadian experience is one of exclusion and limited representation both in the national narrative as represented by the museum and the public sphere. Through its limited representations the museum reflects and reinforces the institutionalized racism of the dominant society. This situation of exclusion needs to be remedied through a re-conceptualization of what it means to be Canadian, basing belonging on accomplishments and values rather than on race. By including black Canadians’ contributions and history the Canadian Museum of Civilization can open up the dialogue on race and racism in Canada.

Institutionalized racism, Africville, railroad porters, Canadian Museum of Civilization

Victoria Abraham is in her final year of a Combined Honours degree in Journalism and Canadian Studies at Carleton University. Her interests include Canada’s immigration and refugee policies, the permanent hyphen, the intersections of race, class, and gender, women’s health, and international relations. She immigrated to Canada from Moscow, Russia with her family in 1999, and since then has lived in Toronto, Regina, and Ottawa. Currently, she is looking forward to spending two months working at a radio station in Gulu, Uganda. When she is not consuming the news, writing articles, and essays, she works as a fact-checker for Briarpatch Magazine and as a music columnist for POP.

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