Reflections by Carl E. James on Colour Matters: Essays on the Experiences, Education, and Pursuits of Black Youth

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For our last Black History month blog post, we are highlighting Colour Matters: Essays on the Experiences, Education, and Pursuits of Black Youth by Carl E. James. Read the author’s reflections on writing and researching for this book, as well as the feedback it received, below.

Colour Matters: Essays on the Experiences, Education, and Pursuits of Black Youth is a collection of essays in which I discuss the educational, employment and social experiences and trajectories of Black youth mostly living in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Written over a period of 20+ years – some with data from participants (particularly males) with whom I engaged in longitudinal studies – the essays examine the lives of Black youth during high school through to university, college and work noting the ways in which, as one research participant said to me: “Colour matters.” Participants told me about their lives at a particular time and in relation to the social, economic, cultural, and political contexts; hence following up with them provided insights into what life has been for them over time. And while in some cases, the essays – several were not updated – might not have provided insights into what has changed and what has remained the same in the lives of Black youth, comments or responses by colleagues to respective essays serve, not only as updates in some areas, but also as conversation starters on what I have produced. The colleagues – from London (Britain), Atlanta (USA), and Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and St. Catharine (in Ontario) – writing from their geographic, gendered, disciplinary and scholarly perspectives provide valuable observations, insightful criticisms, alternative viewpoints, and provocative questions for us to consider.

For instance, in responding to my essay on the “generational differences in Black students’ educational pursuits,” Shirley Anne Tate (of Britain) under the title: “It’s the same with Black British Caribbean pupils,” concludes with: “Nothing has changed since the 1950s… Black children continue to languish in British schools.” Joyce King (of USA) starts her response to the essay, “Students ‘at risk’: Stereotypes and the schooling of Black boys” with the “names of Black men and boys killed by the police” in the United States (30 + George Floyd) and Canada (24). And in her response to the essay: “‘Up to no good’: Black on the streets and encountering police” which was written in 1998 with data collected in 1994 from Black youth living in Toronto, Ottawa, London, Windsor, Hamilton and Amherstburg, Adelle Blackett fittingly titled her essay: “It could have been written today: A Montrealer’s reflection.”

Relatedly, Colour Matters is a valuable reference and resourceful collection that illuminates or deepens the profile of the Black population as reported in a Statistics Canada January 18, 2023 release. Specifically, in “A portrait of educational attainment and occupational outcomes among racialized populations in 2021,” Katherine Wall and Benjamin Know indicate that “Japanese (31.7%) and Black (5%) populations were the only racialized groups where over 2% of the working-age population were in the third generation or more (born in Canada to Canadian-born parents).” And while on average, Black Canadians (32.4%) are just as likely to hold a bachelor’s degree as the national average (the national average being 32.9%), “46.3% of Black children of African immigrants had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 15.8% of Black children of Canadian-born parents.” The census data also showed that “in contrast to most other racialized groups… 16% of Black workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher from a Canadian institution worked in occupations that required a high school diploma or less. This was the highest overqualification rate of any Canadian-educated racialized group.” And Black men were among the group of racialized bachelor’s degree graduates that “had the lowest employment incomes.”

The fact is, these resources serve as opportunities to know about Black Canadians – their hopes and determination – as they navigate, and struggle against the anti-Black racism they encounter in their everyday lives.


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