Dealing with bigotry in its various forms is a major issue of our times. If the subject is to be discussed intelligently and sound policies established, it needs to be considered with reasonably precise terminology.

Unfortunately sometimes the terminology used inclines to the careless. For example, consider the term “racialized.” The term has its uses, but unfortunately is often used so carelessly as to be both meaningless and divisive. It is, for example, frequently used to compare racialized groups to whites. We are often shown graphs similar to the one on the right. To begin with, the graph is divisive—whites against everyone else, us and them. This we don’t need.

Perhaps worse, it tells us absolutely nothing. Does it refer to immigrants or native-born? A comparison lumping the two together is meaningless. Native-born have considerable advantages over immigrants. And considering that the proportion of native-born is much higher among whites, a comparison will be highly biased. The author of an article presenting this information must at least tell us which cohort he/she is comparing to.

Furthermore, it implies whites are advantaged relative to all racialized people. This is simply false.

Consider, for example, two key indicators of the status of groups within our society: income and education. According to Statistics Canada*, among native-born Canadians, some racialized groups (Blacks, Philipinos, Latin Americans) have on average lower incomes than whites, while others (Chinese, Koreans, South Asians) have higher incomes.

Similarly, while some groups (Blacks, Latin Americans) achieve lower education levels than whites, others (Chinese, Japanese, Arabs) achieve higher levels. Some racialized groups have more in common with whites than they do with other groups in the generalized category.

Lumping all European ethnic groups into one category may also be problematic, although perhaps they are sufficiently similar that it doesn’t matter. I have not found statistics to determine this one way or the other.

There is however one serious weakness in lumping all whites together. The great majority of racialized Canadians (excepting Indigenous people) live in urban areas, most in fact in the three largest cities. A far higher number of whites live in rural areas (farms, villages, towns and small cities). Rural people tend to have significantly lower incomes and educational levels than those in urban areas so comparing a racialized group to all whites is apples and oranges. The comparison should be made to urban whites.

But why compare to whites at all, a highly arbitrary choice? Clearly, as the figures above show, whites are not the most “privileged” of the various ethnic groups. The obvious basis for comparison should be the Canadian average.

When one sees whites singled out for the comparison, one wonders if the researcher/author has an agenda outside the subject of investigation. Perhaps subconsciously he/she is reinforcing his/her intrinsic biases, something we all do and have to guard against if we are seeking the truth. Even social scientists are vulnerable to this classic error.

Using the simplistic catch-all category of “racialized” can lead to false and mischievous conclusions, in turn leading to bad politics and bad policy. When encountering its use for comparison purposes, one might just as well flip the page—nothing to learn there.

*Statistics Canada: The weekly earnings of Canadian-born individuals in designated visible minority and White categories in the mid-2010s by Theresa Qiu and Grant Schellenberg, January 26, 2022

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