Advocate says pandemic highlights structural racism in Saskatchewan

The COVID-19 outbreak in Saskatchewan’s north, the rise in reports of domestic violence and the vulnerability of the incarcerated all have something in common, says an advocate for social justice.

They are examples of structural racism, says Manuela Valle-Castro, co-ordinator of the Anti-Racism Network in Saskatoon.

Valle-Castro said that while COVID-19 itself is not racist, people of colour are bearing the brunt of the pandemic.

“To put it simply, Madonna can get COVID-19 and she’s going to be fine. But because we already have systems that are in crisis due to structural racism we have a problem,” Valle-Castro said.

“The virus is revealing what we call racial disparities or racial inequities.”

Valle-Castro said the way the pandemic has hit northern communities like La Loche reveals a system that was already pushed to the brink.

“The virus is going to have a much harsher impact in communities that were already suffering from food insecurities, poor access to health, and preventive health and social programming, from structural unemployment and poverty, and communities that lack clean drinking water,” she said.

Deep-rooted issues

The problems run deep, and stem from the political and economic policies we have put in place over the years, she said.

“It’s not enough not to be racist, because we are dealing with a legacy of structures and institutions that were created at a time when racism was a dominant way of thinking.”

Valle-Castro said many people don’t understand what structural racism means.

“Racism is so embedded in our policies, our work cultures, our systems,¬†especially the health and justice systems. This is really creating a crisis for a lot of people,” she said.

“If we don’t change that, we’re not going to change the results of the social outcomes, specifically for Indigenous people in our city.”

She pointed to the high rate of incarceration of Indigenous people as an example. She said many groups have called for the release of non-violent offenders to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in prisons.

Valle-Castro said the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report spells out what needs to happen.

“We need economic development that is long term and sustainable, and we need structural change.”

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