Colour of Poverty: Looking Back on Ten Years

Colour of Poverty: Looking Back on Ten Years


The Colour of Poverty Campaign started as
a result of a book written by Grace-Edward Galabuzi who was a professor at Ryerson University,
and he wrote a book called “Canada’s Economic Apartheid”. The book was groundbreaking in the sense that
although I’m sure a lot of people knew anecdotally at the time, that racialized communities were
facing struggles, the book was the first in Canada which really put it all down on paper,
using statistical analysis, as well as of course very well researched scholarly analysis
to highlight how divided Canada is along racial lines. About ten years ago the province was in the
middle of an election and folks were beginning to talk about poverty reduction, specifically
the Liberal party were making noise and commitments about implementing some sort of anti-poverty
strategy. For many of us working in community, we became
concerned that there was an absence of discussions about racialized communities in particular
who we know are over represented in poverty numbers. And there was a real need for the people who
would eventually form Colour of Poverty Colour of Change to talk about when you’re addressing
issues of poverty that you have to really look at the different identities of people
falling into poverty, and one of those identities being their ethno-racial background as some
of the drivers and indicators to why that’s happening. Well in the early days it was mostly trying
to find the right spaces to make those statements and be able to present in spaces where our
voices were absent. Us coming together from very different ethno-racial
diversity groups, as a collective group, were able to push back and find those spaces and
access those spaces. But it was a grassroots campaign, it was basically
an organic initiative from different groups that understand the effect of poverty amongst
their community. I remember sitting in meetings and having
a conversation on what this group will be called and one of our colleagues who is no
longer here in Canada came up with the name Colour of Poverty. That certainly struck a chord with many of
us around the table, and here we are a decade later and Colour of Poverty Colour of Change
has been making its mark ever since. I think that one of the challenges that we had, and something I believe we can congratulate ourselves on now as the Colour of Poverty, is the collection of so-called disaggregated data. At the time, most governments and ministries refused to collect disaggregated data and without data that broke down and identified specific ethnic groups, it would be impossible to develop intelligent programs to address the issue of poverty Colour of Poverty is probably one of the first
organizations that put together information, we call them Fact Sheets, on the indicators
of being racialized in different areas: so on poverty, on health, on education, and on
justice. And the reality is those fact sheets have
been relied on not only by our campaign, but by people across the country, politicians,
activists, to really start understanding the issues. It started really as a labour of love for
the people who worked at Colour of Poverty but the reality is it has created a really
fundamental base of information that continues to get updated and created a way of thinking,
right, around how do these things all connect, and we talk about that word intersection now
really easily, people have started to have a better understanding of it, but those fact
sheets were about intersection at a time when those discussions weren’t happening in Canada,
and now we see that, we see governments talking about it, we see schools talking about it,
we see police talking about it. I really do think Colour of Poverty played
a critical role in raising that conversation and continuing to push for the collection
of disaggregated data in different sectors that impact people’s lives. I think that the Colour of Poverty has played
a huge role in getting good information out. I know from a personal standpoint that when
I need good data and information I would call some of my contacts at the Colour of Poverty
to get that information. In regards to the Anti-Racism Directorate
we’re fortunate enough as a government to have great people on our advisory committee,
I think to get to the place where we are today where people associate good data and policy
decision along racial lines, we’ve gone so far, so it’s great to have advocates like
the Colour of Poverty. So these fact sheets became a learning tool,
a tool that we were using to educate people, not just the mainstream institutions and the
government but also to engage our own diverse populations in the conversation about race
and poverty, and today we are much better off in terms of having the tools to talk about
these issues, having the recognition that poverty is not the result of immigration,
which often is cited as the thing, because racialization is the more important factor
that needs to be mentioned, and discussed, and addressed. I think that in the next couple of months and years, Colour of Poverty will eventually try to address many challenges, for example the question of employment equity which still represents a significant hurdle. I believe that legislation on employment equity is absolutely necessary especially at the levels of provincial and federal government, to address the discrimination that exists in the labour market. There are a lot of individuals who are unfortunately not accepted in the labour force whether by lack of connections or because they are seen as other, for example, individuals who wear the hijab. While there is an opening to collect disaggregated
data in such areas as education, criminal justice, child welfare, [government] haven’t really
moved beyond that, particularly they haven’t moved into collecting data in the labour
market, and we need that data because we know that inequality in the labour market is the
root cause for many other things. Without access to good jobs we cannot earn
good money. The discrimination in the labour market therefore
leads to income inequality, which in turn leads to poverty being racialized. It also leads to poorer health outcomes for
racialized groups, unequal access to housing and so on. For me that’s one of the real blessings of
being involved with the campaign; the work is really symbiotic with what we see in terms
of our grassroots work with clients, and in the same way we are able to bring back to
the campaign what we see in our grassroots work and what we think needs to happen systemically. We’re not where we want to be, I think we
would admit that, but the Colour of Poverty is almost a direct amplifier for what the
reality is on the ground for our clients, and it amplifies it in spaces that our clients
may not have the capacity to be in. I think the city of Toronto often prides itself
on the diversity it has as a city, I think we are at a point where many of us are tired
just talking about diversity as a strength and not necessarily dealing with some of the
underlying root causes of anti-black racism, Islamophobia, within the structures that we
have. I think we have to move away now from just
celebrating talking about diversity to looking at anti oppressive anti racist framework for
the government that we have. That needs to happen with city councillors
like me who advocate for that, as well as organizations and coalitions like the Colour
of Poverty working together. I think one of our biggest issues is funding,
and sustainable funding for the work that we want to do. We need the resources to be able to do it,
but I’m hopeful, I think that we have great credibility as a coalition and as more and
more folks join and we gain traction in more and more parts of Ontario and hopefully across
the country that we will begin to see our initiatives being adopted and pushed through. Key to the coalition building is to recognize
the different place that Indigenous people stand in relation to the Canadian state, and
we need to acknowledge the legacy of colonization on Indigenous people. I think the most involved I was with the Colour
of Poverty was when a gathering was put on where we brought members from different communities
together to talk about the importance of reconciliation and how important it was that we work together
in a collaborative way to further reconciliation in Canada for all Canadians. It was a two day event and the Commissioners
from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission attended as well as a number of staff and
some of our survivors from residential schools, and it was an opportunity for different communities
to speak about reconciliation and about their role in reconciliation and to really acknowledge
shared oppression and shared experiences with racism. What was really exciting about the event was
that everyone came forward and jointly committed to reconciliation and issued a statement of
reconciliation and I think Colour of Poverty Colour of Change have lived up to the commitments
that they made and continue to live up to the commitments they made. Having shared oppression and having shared
experiences with racism in Canada actually brings communities together, and bringing people
together learning about each other, removes those barriers that we have. Justice Sinclair always said that reconciliation
is about changing the way we speak to each other and changing the way we talk about each
other. I think organizations like Colour of Poverty
bring different communities together to learn about each other and to support each other
in the work that needs to be done in Canada. The truth is socio-economic security for people
is fundamental, Colour of Poverty has really broadened its agenda, to really think about
what are the things that are really impacting people, health outcomes, education outcomes,
criminal justice outcomes, and in particular, income outcomes. not just looking at poverty reduction but
really even looking at the larger picture around income maintenance and I think moving
forward that’s a focus that we are hoping to have and all the people in our network
and our campaign will hopefully agree is a priority for the people that we work with. I’m also hoping that we will continue to grow
nationally and to be able to create as broad a network as we can around the impact for
all Canadians. The model of Colour of Poverty as a grassroots initiative, a community based initative, could be replicated in other places. I know that we have groups in Quebec who are interested in our work. When we began, it really was just about the Greater Toronto Area, but now we have partners everywhere in Ontario. So I think that this type of initiative, a campaign developed at the community level is something that should be pursued, and I believe it would work at the national scale. Being involved with Colour of Poverty coalition
and being involved with my fellow activists on that empowered me, inspired me, each of
those individuals have a story to tell, they have a lot of passion, they have a lot of
knowledge. Every day in those meetings when we met, every
one of those meetings were places where I learned where I got inspired by my fellow
activists. At the end of the day we all want the same
thing, we all want justice, we all want equality, we all want the equal opportunity to succeed
and the opportunity to live a meaningful life and to do that we must all work together,
and the best way to do so is in coalition in order to support each others’ causes.

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