Some one million people in Canada are Black and most live right here in the Greater Toronto Area. We are part of the estimated 14 per cent or 980 million in the world today who are Black.
That figure coincides with an announcement by the United Nations Population Division that the seven billionth person was born on Monday of this week.
There was no comment from the United Nations on the racial make up of that figure but it is interesting to note that along with the 14 per cent who are Black, an estimated 16 per cent of the world’s population is White, 17 per cent is South Asian, eight per cent is Hispanic and 45 per cent is Asian.
Given that we keep using up more of the planet’s natural resources at a rate exponential to our rapid increase, that seven billion carries with it much concern about how we as a species are to continue surviving. There has been much focus on doomsday scenarios, with dwindling arable land to provide food, the threat of global warning and so on.
It can be difficult to wrap our heads around the reality of the sheer size of such a number, yet within that larger figure the breakdown of critical statistics is also staggering. An estimated one billion people live daily without sufficient food while another billion are obese. Three billion live on less that $2 a day. At the same time, 1.5 billion of us live in rich countries like the U.S. and Canada. Urban areas are home to 3.5 billion but, of those, one billion live in slums without proper sanitation or electricity.
And medical innovations and improved preventive care means that people are also living longer.
Those are the data by the numbers, but beyond the numbers we have a broad system of social hierarchy based on race that continues to challenge us, especially because social and economic disadvantage lies distinctly along racial lines.
Here in Canada, the inflow of people from the regions of the world with the fastest growing populations, South Asia and East Asia, has led to predictions that people of colour will eventually exceed the traditionally recognized majority. Demographers speak of the “Browning” of North America.
China and the rest of Asia as well as India and Brazil (which has an almost 50 per cent Black population) are the new emerging nations. But will this population shift have an effect on the world order in the future? Does it mean that racial hierarchy will also change?
We can anticipate a day in the West when the majority will no longer be White. But even as the racial spectrum shifts, other changes may not subsequently follow.
We are still at the dawn of the 21st Century, and throughout the world racism continues to be our greatest social problem. As we have seen in many regions of the world, far from diminishing, ethnic cleansings, hatred of identified groups or the destruction of equity laws labeled as “reverse discrimination” are all manifestations of racism. When the factions in power feel they are losing that power, all manner of strategies will be employed to prevent that from happening. Here in Canada, that means building more prisons, for instance.
The racialization of poverty and social stratification by colour is very much a reality, and these issues show little sign of shifting. The evidence is the frustration being expressed in the streets and public squares around the world by the disadvantaged identifying themselves as the “99%”, some who are willing to give their life for a chance to live in a fairer world.
The challenge for policymakers is how to bring equity along with the demographic shift. But, for that to happen, we must be active in pushing for the entrenchment of firm equity policies.
The people in power will bend to the will of the voting public but only if people are willing to demand it, and do so judiciously and with determination.