Freedom and Poverty:A Look At the Struggle of African Canadians
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By: Nima Shirali
As one passes through the east or west ends of Toronto, it would not be difficult to discern the fact that Canadians of African descent are most affected by poverty. After a thorough analysis of the causes of such a phenomenon, I have concluded that neo-conservative policies, along with corporate influence are the most significant causal factors explaining the plight of African Canadians.
In Canada, many social programs fall within provincial jurisdiction. This fact is significant when provincial politics in Canada has been dominated by neo-conservative, right-wing governments. These governments, many of which are presently incumbent, have perpetuated the social pattern of poverty within African Canadians. This has been the result of the blatant disregard for groups affected by poverty, and by the prioritization of policies such as corporate tax breaks over policies, which would alleviate impoverishment. This clearly reveals the provincial governments’ emphasis placed on corporate, rather than public welfare.
Instead of identifying the root causes and implementing measures to mitigate the problem, the governments have intensified their attempts to quell the consequences of poverty. Clearly, such consequences can be exemplified with the increase in the crime rates in impoverished neighborhoods. The significant increase in the police presence in Canada’s poverty-stricken areas is a suitable example of the government response to the consequences, rather than the causes, of poverty. It is unquestionable that measures to encounter only the consequences of poverty do not serve as an effective means to solve the issue. This is because the problem will persist until the root causations are realized and radical measures are taken to dismantle the fundamental elements, which cause poverty.
An increase in the presence of police forces in black neighborhoods has, and will continue to lead to generalizations and racist stances against the residents of these areas. Having the authority to control police forces, Canada’s provincial and municipal governments are to a certain extent responsible for such generalizations. The most common generalization is the fiction that the commission of crime is more likely to be seen in black neighborhoods simply because the residents are black. However, despite the media’s implicit suggestion validating this generalization, leading criminologists have stated that crime is indeed linked with economic stature, but not with race.
Aside from government policies, corporate endeavors have exacerbated the problem of poverty in Canada. It is interesting that Toronto’s largest shopping centers are within five to ten minutes driving distance from the most impoverished neighborhoods. To explicate this reality, it would be helpful to look at the causes of such corporate undertakings. It is fair to say that private corporations have realized the fact that the lack of education seen in impoverished groups can be exploited. This lack of education has helped corporations manufacture artificial needs within poverty-stricken groups. Unfortunately, the impoverished and vulnerable groups within society have not resisted this exploitation.
Easily influenced by advertisements seen in the media, which are a means of preserving the capitalist machine, impoverished groups spend a significant amount of their time in shopping centers. Sadly, this serves to perpetuate the very economic system, which is culpable for their plight. This perpetuation is seen through the building and expanding of large shopping centers (some of which are the size of small cities), in and around impoverished neighborhoods.
Canada’s provincial and municipal governments have complimented these corporate endeavors with their ‘infrastructure improvement’. Having claimed that plans to improve the existing infrastructure is for the benefit of the whole public, Canada’s governments have found themselves in a contradiction. For example, one of the means to improve the existing infrastructure in Toronto has been to improve the public transportation infrastructure. With millions of dollars spent, and the media’s promotion of this project, most residents of Toronto were persuaded to think that the expansion of the subway line to other parts of the city would be highly beneficial. They were of the notion that this expansion would allow for easier movement around the city, and hence allow them to save money.
However, concealed was the reality that this expansion of the subway line led directly to major shopping centers. Having realized that most impoverished individuals could not afford cars, this expansion seemed a viable means to make it easier for them to reach these splendid centers with water falls, air conditioning and entertainment centers. Again, the lack of education made many poverty-stricken groups such as African Canadians to believe that this ‘infrastructure improvement’ was to their advantage. Indeed, it was only to the advantage of private corporations and the government. The notion inserted into the minds of impoverished groups was to exploit their manner of thought and to use their purchasing power to the advantage of multimillion dollar corporations.
It is surprising that in Toronto there are no direct train routes to genuinely important places. These places include hospitals, the airport, or any government ministry. This shows that the government will only engage in an undertaking if it will ensure revenue. The ‘public good’ is only a manipulative term used to actualize the ambitions of the government and corporations.
Therefore, govt. policies juxtaposed with corporate undertakings have served to clarify a continuing trend in Canada. This trend, unfortunately, does not suggest that the plight of African Canadians will be ameliorated, but rather perpetuated. However, measures can be taken to eradicate the present social patterns.
First, African Canadians need to organize. Organization is the condition precedent to unity within the community. As well, the community needs to become and stay united against the repressive arm of the state and the oppressive arm of the corporations. Education is also key. Leaders of the black community need to strenuously assert that education is of primary importance if the trends of poverty are to be ended. African Canadians should use their purchasing power as a means of leverage to achieve their goals. These goals should include more funds allocated to public education within black neighborhoods, and also more permissive ways of attaining a post-secondary education. In addition, community leaders must urge members of the community to resist the exploitation from corporations. The most effective means of resisting is through non-violent forms of exercising the clout, which a consumer has over corporations. More simply, do not buy their products. The leaders’ message must be clear: ‘do not justify the very consumer culture, which oppresses you!’
This requires leadership. Once the leaders do appear, the oppressed will follow the path to freedom.
Nima Shirali is Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Middle East Reconciliation Journal (MERJ), www.merecforum.org