canadian immigrants, BIPOC, FIBOM, race and equity terms
Canadian immigrants make up a sizable portion of the country's minority groups. Photo from: The Star

 By Ruolz Ariste | Columnist

In my last article titled A formula for equity: Sharing the wealth and doing our part, I propose that, in addition to working to give equal access to resources to minority groups, the increasing inequality observed cannot be addressed without raising taxes on the ultra-big corporations, increasing income tax rates, and establishing a wealth tax on the 1% at the transnational level. Minority groups should be given the appropriate tools to ensure their success and they have a responsibility to do their part by stepping up and grabbing opportunities. 

Therefore, I was pleased to read that G7 countries reached an agreement on taxing multinational companies and setting a global minimum corporate tax rate. This is a very good first step toward a global deal.

The journey to equity will be without doubt a long process. Right off the bat, it is fundamental to properly define and characterize the different minority groups in North American society. Moreover, the weight of each of these groups in the general population is different in the US and Canada; which is something that should be accounted for in the discourse. Without losing the big picture, culture should also be a major factor, in addition to race. 

One issue in Canada is that many people, including some politicians, seem to think they can just use ideas, practices or expressions fit for the US. 

BIPOC in the US and Canada

As an example, people recently began using BIPOC — Black, Indigenous and People of Color — issues in Canada. Professor Joseph Heath of the University of Toronto, argues it is not appropriate for Canadians to use that expression. I tend to concur. After all, BIPOC is an acronym developed in the U.S. to discuss domestic race relations, just as BAME — Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic — is used in Britain.

The three components of the acronym, B, I and POC, and their ordering could be problematic in the Canadian context. Starting with “Black”, there is good reason to put the B first in the U.S., because Black people are by far the most important minority group in the country, making up more than 12% of the population. 

The situation in Canada is quite different. Black Canadians make up no more than 3.5% of the population. Furthermore, they are outnumbered by South Asians and East Asians, which together represent more than 10% of the Canadian population.

It is logical to treat Blacks as a separate category in the U.S. because of their distinctive history. And Dr. Heath argues that because of their demographics, it may make some sense to put Blacks before Indigenous people, who make up only 1.6% of the U.S. population. In Canada, however, where Indigenous people make up almost 5% of the population, it makes no sense to put the “B” before the “I”. 

Having said that, contrary to Heath, I support the fact that, just like in the U.S., Black people are treated as a separate category from other ethnic groups. In fact, the history of enslaved Blacks in the U.S. is linked to Blacks settling in Canada. Moreover, though comparative victimization claims are difficult to assess, discrimination against Blacks in Canada tends to be more pronounced than that against other minorities in contemporary times. For example, 23% of Blacks in Canada reported perceptions of discrimination based on race or skin color, compared to 13% for Visible Minority in general.     

We now segue to the “POC” part of the acronym. This is somewhat less important, but the traditional Canadian term is “Visible Minority”, meaning non-white in color. South Asian, Chinese, Black, Filipino, Latin American and Arab fall into this category. These terms are not very popular or well accepted in Canada among the groups they describe. 

Francophones as a historic minority group in Canada

The French language is a strong cultural identity in Quebec within Canada, as conveyed in Bill 101 and proposed Bill 96

Dr. Heath noted “the largest group of people in Canada who were victimized by British colonialism, subjugated and incorporated into confederation by force, are French Canadians. This is why the status of the French language has served as the major flashpoint for conflict over minority rights in this country.’’ 

Indeed, culture should be part of the discourse. Languages add another layer of distinction, not only for French Canadians in and outside of Quebec, but also within the black community. For example, Black francophones, like Haitians, in eastern Montreal have a different cultural experience than Black anglophones in western Montreal. 

A more appropriate acronym fit for Canada

If there is the need for an acronym to identify the most important minority groups in Canada, I would propose “FIBOM” — Francophones, Indigenous, Blacks and Other Minorities. Haitians and people from Central and West Africa mostly would be ‘double minority’ in this identification, since they speak French and are Blacks. Note that this is different from Heath’s suggested FIVM — Francophone, Indigenous, and Visible Minority.

When people around the world look for models of pluralist integration to emulate, Canada’s multiculturalism policies are generally regarded as relatively successful. That tends to be the opposite in the U.S., where the approach to race relations has been rife with conflict. Therefore, the more appropriate FIBOM acronym should be largely preferred in Canada. 

Ruolz Ariste, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor at Université Laval in Québec. He is affiliated with the Department of Operations and Decision Systems. He writes opinion pieces about matters of interest to the community in Canada and the U.S. He is based in the Ottawa area.

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  1. Thoughtful article. But still it showcases a triple whammy against Black immigrants in Canada. Take this statement: “Haitians and people from Central and West Africa mostly would be ‘double minority’ in this identification, since they speak French and are Blacks.” Do all Haitians and Central and West Africans speak French (only)? So Haitians speaking Kreyòl (the vast majority in Haiti where 100% speak Kreyòl and only a tiny minority speak both Kreyòl and French) and Africans speaking African languages are silenced—in an article that’s supposedly meant to demystify discrimination patterns.

  2. Food for thought. Sometimes seemly small issues raise important questions.

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