For Black youth success not guaranteed the longer they live in Canada 


Dr Carl James says his essays written in the 1980s show no change in rates of Black youth success compared to today

By Lincoln DePradine

Carl James

Generations of Black students have been failing in the Toronto school system and reversal of the situation would require involvement of the entire society, according to Dr Carl James.

“It’s going to take not only the school system and the curriculum. It’s going to take the entire society,’’ James told The Caribbean Camera. “The systemic aspects of racism must be dealt with.’’

James, a professor in the faculty of education at York University, recently published “Colour Matters: Essays on the Experiences, Education, and Pursuits of Black Youth’’. 

Colour Matters, which is based on research conducted in Black communities, discusses issues such as immigration, mentorship, police surveillance and Black youth participation in sports.

James also examines how race shapes the education, aspirations and achievements of Canadians of African descent.

The collection of essays covers a 30-year period, beginning in the 1980s. Essays are accompanied by responses and commentaries from scholars living in Canada, Britain and the United States.

“I was invited to write a book and I had a number of essays; some of them were already published and some of them were still on the drafting board. So, I said let me put this book of essays together,’’ said James, who was featured in a segment of the “Black and Caribbean Book Fair 2021’’.

He was questioned by program host, educator Nigel Barriffe, and presented findings and lessons from the research that forms the basis of the book. The four-day book fair was sponsored by A Different Booklist Cultural Centre.

“The first essay is about historical and social contents of schooling in educating of African-Canadians,’’ said James. “I thought, let’s have the essays and have a conversation with people. So, I sent the essays to colleagues in different parts of the world for responses to the essays.’’

What a reader will see, in perusing the essay collection, “is that very little or nothing has changed’’, said James, adding that some of the documented challenges mirror similar experiences for Black people in the U.S. and Britain.

He noted that in general, Black kids born in Canada are doing worse in school outcomes than children that arrived in Toronto in 1980s to join their parents.

“For Black youth, the longer you’re living in Toronto, the longer you’re living in Canada, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to be more successful,’’ James said.

In the 1970s and 80s, Black youth school failures were explained as students’ inability to “adjust’’, according to James.

However, years later with many young people born in Toronto and growing up in Canada, “you still see that the educational situation with Black youth has not changed’’, he said. “So, is it really adjustment to their situation or is the fact that there’s something about the system that’s not responding to the situation of Black youth?’’

James argued that racism, and the exclusion of Black Canadians from the mainstream institutions, are at the core of the problem.

“This doesn’t have to be only the school system. If the media don’t also represent Black people beyond them being basketball players; if we’re not going to present them in engineering and talking critically about economics and global climate, then we’re going to be seen as just locked into this little space,’’ said James.

“If Black students are not going to see Black judges; if we’re not going to see Black people in parliament as ministers of government; if we’re not going to see them in the supreme court, what messages are we giving?’’

Colour Matters, which is in paperback, is available at A Different Booklist.