Professor Ito Peng on why framing racism as a public health issue masks the real problem

Ito Peng

Professor Ito Peng recently spoke to Global News about racism and its implications when being framed as a public health issue. While beneficial for raising awareness, Professor Peng argues that framing racism as a health issue limits the scope of its both its roots and the work needed for society to dismantle racist systems of inequality.

Professor Peng is the Canada Research Chair in Global Social Policy. She is also a Full Professor of Sociology and Public Policy at the Department of Sociology and the School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities on the St. George campus. Professor Peng is also the Director of the Centre for Global Social Policy. Her research explores the topics of gender, family, migration, and social policy.

We have posted an excerpt of the article below. The full story is available on the Global News website here.

Should racism be treated as a public health issue? Experts explain pros and cons

June 17, 2020


In Canada, there has been growing support to declare racism — specifically anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism — a public health issue in the wake of recent protests against police brutality.

On Monday, the Ottawa Board of Health unanimously voted to recognize racism and discrimination as a determinant of a person’s mental and physical health. Just last week, the Toronto Board of Health voted to recognize anti-Black racism as a public health crisis.

“Racism, discrimination and stigma are associated with poorer physical, mental and emotional health and greater mortality, making anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism and racism against minorities an important public health issue,” the Ottawa motion read.

…Declaring racism a public health crisis would place “the appropriate amount of attention on the seriousness and pervasiveness of Black racism in a way that helps us all appreciate that it doesn’t just harm Black people but has reverberating impacts on all communities,” he said.

Ito Peng, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto and director of its Centre for Global Social Policy, said typically, when a declaration is made, it triggers an immediate emergency response, reaction and policy from respective government systems.

This could involve defunding police, making body cameras mandatory or requiring mental health workers to accompany officers for wellness checks and non-violent calls. Peng said these are all helpful, necessary steps — but they won’t end racism.

“The challenge of framing this issue as a public health issue is that it reduces everything down to health, and in some ways, it masks the real problem,” she said…

Read the full article…

Professor Judith Taylor on White Men and Violence

Professor Judith Taylor recently wrote an op ed in The Toronto Star discussing white men and their violence. Judith Taylor is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities on the St. George campus. Her research focuses on the intersection of feminist activism, community organizations, and social changes within public institutions.

We have posted an excerpt of the article below. The full story is available on The Star website here.

‘Murdering’ white men and the work for white women

June 16, 2020

By Judith Taylor

…Part of coming into conscious adulthood for me has been becoming aware that every week, white men will be in the news for trying to kill based on racism and sexism. We won’t name them as white men. And we won’t connect the dots to think about the systems of thought that animate their adventures in harm.

If we look just at the violent acts that have occurred in the U.S. and Canada since most of us have been in lockdown, it seems pretty clear: white men have murder on their minds. It can be police officers, or a man pretending to be a police officer. It can be a teenager animated by INCEL, or a man by his wife’s intention to divorce, but murder seems like a good option to many white men, and they feel entitled to it.

COVID-19 time provides us two legal proceedings, one for the man accused of murdering many people with a van, and one who murdered a woman in a massage parlour. We can exceptionalize these cases, but hateful ideologies underpin most white male rage, whether it leads to date rape or targeting a mosque. It’s punishment of more vulnerable others as a guiding principle or a way of life…

Read the full article…

Immigrant communities: conforming into the majority culture and breaking down anti-Black racism

Professor Jooyoung Lee recently spoke to CBC News about anti-Black racism in immigrant communities.  He spoke of his own experience as a Korean American in Southern California who studied hip hop culture. Professor Lee is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto with teaching responsibilities on the St. George campus. He is also a faculty member in the Centre for the Study of the United States, situated within the Munk School of Global Affairs. He is a Senior Fellow in the Yale University Urban Ethnography Project. His research focuses on race, ethnicity, hip-hip culture, gun violence, and youth justice.

We have posted an excerpt of the article below. The full story is available on the CBC News website here.

For these Asian Montrealers, breaking down anti-Blackness starts at the dinner table

June 15, 2020

By Jennifer Yoon

…As a Korean American growing up in southern California and immersed in hip-hop culture, Jooyoung Lee witnessed anti-Blackness first hand.

Now an associate professor of sociology at University of Toronto who studies how gun violence affects the health of young Black men, Lee says he is not aware of evidence that Asian Canadians are any more anti-Black than Canadians from other ethnic backgrounds. But he has a deep understanding of the historical and socio-cultural roots of anti-Black sentiment in Asian immigrant communities.

Growing up, Lee witnessed the way older generations talked about racial stratification, tinged with colourism — that is, preferential attitudes toward people with lighter skin — even within different Asian communities.

Many Asian immigrants to North America, Lee said, tend to be well-educated and were able to establish small businesses soon after their arrival. There is a lot of pressure on the next generation to succeed.

There’s a belief that to achieve that success, you need to do more than just work hard, Lee says: you also need to assimilate, to position yourself close to the culture of the majority.

That means “following the rules,” Lee said, “adopting a white name, trying to align yourself as close as possible to the dominant group, so that your kids can have an easy life — a good life.”

Many Asian immigrants buy into the idea that you should “pull yourself up by the bootstraps,” said Lee. As long as you work hard, you should be able to recover from setbacks without any outside help….

Read the full article…

Professor Akwasi Owusu Bempah: Defunding the police: what does it mean?

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah recently spoke to CTV News about what it means to defund the police as a way to end violent policing amongst Black communities. Professor Owusu-Bempah explained that defunding the police does not necessarily mean eliminating the police force. Instead, it means to reallocate and redistribute some of their funds to important agencies such as mental health services, child welfare services, and education. Professor Owusu-Bempah says that defunding the police should start by calibrating the roles, responsibilities, and tasks of the police force as well as their associated costs.

Professor Owusu-Bempah frequently provides insightful commentary to public and governmental agencies, community organizations, and media outlets regarding topics of race, policing, and social justice. He is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities on the UT Mississauga (UTM) campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing, and social justice.

We have posted an excerpt of the article below. The full story is available on the CTV News website here.

What defunding the police could look like in Canada’s largest city

June 10, 2020

By Brooklyn Neustaeter

In Toronto, where almost a quarter of residents’ property taxes go just to funding the police, two city councillors on Monday put forward a motion to cut the city’s police budget by 10 per cent and shift it to “much-needed community supports.”

Thousands have signed petitions in other parts of the country, including Vancouver, Regina and Montreal, for similar reallocations of police funds.

However, the concept of defunding the police doesn’t necessarily mean abolishing police forces. As University of Toronto Mississauga sociology professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah explains, defunding the police would mean redistributing some of their funding elsewhere.

“[It’s] a reallocation or a reassignment of certain tasks and functions that we recognize that the police aren’t performing very well, that there are negative outcomes to their involvement in those activities such as increased risk for the use of violence and potential for criminalization,” Owusu-Bempah told CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday.

So what would defunding the police actually look like in Canada’s largest city?


Mental health is an essential piece of the call for defunding since many police-involved deaths in Canada have involved mental health and substance abuse issues.

Owusu-Bempah said redirected police funding could go to boosting supports for mental health and creating a new type of emergency service used in times of mental health crises.

“A large part of the problem is for individuals who are suffering mental health crises, and for those around them, the police are often the quickest point of contact or seemingly the most sensible resource to call,” Owusu-Bempah said.

Read the full article…

Professor Julius Haag on The New Normal

Professor Julius Haag recently appeared on The New Normal with Maydianne Andrade, a weekly podcast. Professor Haag appeared, alongside Mark Campbell, on Part I of ‘Enough’ – a two-part episode to discuss the impacts of systematic anti-Black racism. He explains how the rise of violent policing and criminalization relates to the health-care system as well as the education system, and how they span across many societies and generations.

The New Normal is a weekly podcast created by the University of Toronto communications team and hosted by Maydianne Andrade, Canada Research Chair in Integrative Behavioural Ecology at the University of Toronto.

Professor Haag is an Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities on the UT Mississauga (UTM) campus. He has expertise on the intersection of youth justice, race, ethnicity, policing, and criminology. The episode is available on the U of T News website here and embedded below.

You can listen to part one of the episode on Spotify or Google Podcasts. You can also find the episode on Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, or YouTube.

Part two of the episode coming soon!

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah on the Agenda

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah recently appeared on an episode of The Agenda with Steve Paikin alongside Sandy Hudson, Kike Ojo-Thompson, and Roger Dundas to discuss solutions to stop anti-Black racism and systematic discrimination on a large scale. Professor Owusu-Bampah compares structural racism in the US and Canada, emphasizing the political sphere of racism in both countries. He explains how the type of neighbourhoods a community resides in may disproportionately affect the type of policing a community receives. He further explains the need to rethink the roles and responsibilities of the police in order to fight against racism. The full episode is available on the website here.

Professor Owusu-Bampah frequently provides insightful commentary to public and governmental agencies, community organizations, and media outlets regarding topics of race, policing, and social justice. He is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities on the UT Mississauga (UTM) campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing, and social justice. We have posted the video below.

You can also watch the full video here…

Statement Regarding Racialized Violence

Racialized violence is an endemic problem of Canadian society. The most recent examples of violence against Black people have sparked outrage around the world. Each instance of police brutality threatens not just individuals but the legitimacy of society as a whole. These instances are not isolated events. They are connected to larger systems that reproduce racial inequalities which are particularly pernicious for Black and Indigenous communities. This social and political context is painful and dire.

As members (faculty, staff and graduate students) of the Tri-campus Department of Sociology at University of Toronto, we do not pretend that a statement will ameliorate racism in Canada, or even in our own department. Still, we must take action to address racism in Canadian society. Our department can do more, and MUST do more.

In the short term, we the undersigned agree to dedicate our resources and time to organizations that support Black Canadians. In the medium term, we the undersigned agree to assist in the promotion and realization of departmental policy and programming on these issues in the next academic year. In the long-term, we the undersigned agree to redouble our efforts to diversify our community and create a more inclusive anti-racist environment.

Adam Isaiah Green

Ali Greey

Alicia Eads

Andreea Mogosanu

Andrew Nevin

Anelyse Weiler

Angela Hick

Anson Au

Blair Wheaton

Bonnie Fox

Bonnie H. Erickson

Brigid Burke

Carmen Lamothe

Chris Smith

Christian Caron

Cinthya Guzman

Clayton Childress

Cynthia Cranford

Dan Silver

David Pettinicchio

Ellen Berrey

Elliot Fonarev

Elysha Daya

Emily Hammond

Erik Schneiderhan

Ethan Fosse

Fedor Dokshin

Fernando Calderón Figueroa

Fidan Elcioglu

Gail Super

Hae Yeon Choo

Hammad Khan

Irene Boeckmann

Ito Peng

James Lannigan

Jayne Baker

Jessica Fields

Jillian Sunderland

Jooyoung Lee

Jordan Foster

Josée Johnston

Joseph M. Bryant

Josh Harold

Judith Taylor

Julia Ingenfeld

Kathy Liddle

Kim Pernell

Kristin Plys

Lisa Iesse

Luisa Farah Schwartzman

Man Xu

Marion Blute

Markus Schafer

Martin Lukk

Melissa Milkie

Merin Oleschuk

Michelle Silver

Neda Maghbouleh

Nicholas D Spence

Noam Keren

Pat Louie

Patrick Leduc

Paul Nelson

Paula Maurutto

Phil Goodman

Philip Badawy

Ping-Chun Hsiung

Rachel La Touche

Rania Salem

Ronit Dinovitzer

Rebecca Lennox

S. W. Underwood

Sagi Ramaj

Scott Schieman

Sebastien Parker

Sharla Alegria

Shawn Perron

Sherri Klassen

Shyon Baumann

Sida Liu

Sitao Li

Soli Dubash

Steve Hoffman

Tahseen Shams

Tyler Bateman

Vanina Leschziner

Weiguo Zhang

Yifang Li

Yoonkyung Lee

Youngrong Lee

Yukiko Tanaka

Yvonne Daoleuxay

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah on defunding the police

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah recently spoke to the Toronto Star about the movement to defund police in favour of community organizations  especially in the cases of mental health calls. We have included an excerpt of the article below. Professor Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the UT Mississauga campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing and justice.

‘Defunding’ police, funding mental health resources will save lives, experts say

The death of a Toronto woman who fell from her 24th-floor balcony while police were in her home has renewed calls for an overhaul of how society deals with people in mental health crises.

Some experts believe “defunding” police — taking some of the taxpayer money going to law enforcement and putting it towards mental health services — is one way to avoid deadly interactions between officers and people struggling with mental illness.

The blowback follows the death last week of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year-old woman whose family asked police to take her to a mental health hospital. Police have said they were responding to an assault call, but the family has questioned the role of Toronto officers in her death. The province’s police watchdog has taken over the case.

“I think it’s unfortunate we’ve come to a place in our society that police become first responders to people who are experiencing a mental health crisis,” said Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto Mississauga.

“What we should do is take back that money, to defund police, and give it over to mental health professionals who are better equipped to help these people.”

Read the full article.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah on how to reduce police violence

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah spoke to Mugglehead News in response to US House of Representatives suggesting that the War on Drugs was responsible for increases in police violence, particularly against Black people. While the US resolution called for greater accountability, Professor Owusu-Bempah argued that reducing the funding and scope of responsibilities of the police would more effectively reduce police violence. We have included an excerpt of the article below. Professor Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the UT Mississauga campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing and justice.

US House resolution points to war on drugs as contributing to police brutality

Best way to reduce police violence is to scale back funding and amount of responsibility police have, says criminology prof
 Michelle Gamage June 2, 2020  16 min

A new resolution condemning police brutality was introduced in the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives on Friday, citing the war on drugs as contributing to “the systemic targeting of and use of deadly and brutal force against people of colour, particularly black people.”

The resolution calls for increased police accountability, following recent police killings of George Floyd in Minnesota and Brennoa Taylor in Kentucky. The deaths and a history of unarmed black citizens being killed by police have sparked protests and riots in the U.S., as well as demonstrations worldwide, with many demanding the officers involved face criminal charges proportional to their alleged crimes.

But creating more oversight isn’t the best way to reduce police brutality, says Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto.

As an expert on the intersection of race, crime and criminal justice, Owusu-Bempah says the best way to reduce police violence is to scale back the funding and amount of responsibility police have.

“For centuries we simply asked the police to do more and more and more,” he said. “They are primary responders in issues involving homelessness, mental health and a whole host of other social ills — and of course related to substance use and addiction. I don’t think police are the right institution to be engaging in those areas. I’d rather see a culture of less policing rather than police oversight.”

Owusu-Bempah recommends demilitarizing the police and diverting funds from law enforcement to other social services.

Read the full article…

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah speaks on podcast about Cannabis and the Criminalization of Black Canadians

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah recently contributed to a Policy Options podcast entitled “Cannabis and the Criminalization of Black Canadians.” Policy Options is an online newsletter sponsored by the Institute for Public Policy Research.  It airs podcasts every second Wednesday. Professor Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto. he has teaching responsibilities at the Mississauga campus.  Owusu-Bempah has research expertise in the areas of race, policing and drug policy. The podcast includes an interview with Owusu-Bempah and also with Halifax poet, educator, journalist and activist, El Jones.

Listen to the podcast here or on the Policy Options website here.


PhD Candidate Patricia Louie and Professor William Magee on the differences between Black and White Americans in Anger-Out

Ph.D. Candidate Patricia Louie and Professor William Magee have co-authored an article published in Race and Social Problems, entitled “Did the Difference Between Black and White Americans in Anger-Out Decrease During the First Decade of the Twenty-First Century?” This article examines the black–white difference in anger-in and anger-out in a sample representative of Americans aged 40 and older. The authors also discuss current trends in political anger expression and how they may be related to the patterns observed.

Patricia Louie is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto. She explores the racial patterning of mental health in her work. Currently, her research examines racial disparities in mental and physical health using multiple dimensions of race, including skin tone. She also examines the counterbalancing role of social stressors and coping resources in explaining race and skin tone inequalities in health.



William MageeWilliam Magee is an Associate Professor and the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto. He is interested in the moral and emotional aspects of social and personal problems. He teaches courses on the sociology of health and illness, quality of life, and emotions.




We have posted the citation and the abstract of the article below. The full text is available here.

Magee, William and Patricia Louie. “Did the Difference Between Black and White Americans in Anger-Out Decrease During the First Decade of the Twenty-First Century?” Race and Social Problems 8(3): 256–70.

Studies have found blacks in the USA report lower levels of anger-out and higher levels of anger-in than whites. However, most of the research on anger expression has been based on data from limited samples. The current study investigates the black–white difference in anger-in and anger-out in a sample representative of Americans aged 40 and older. Data are from the two most recent waves of the Americans’ Changing Lives (ACL) surveys. In 2001, the ACL assessed both outcomes, with anger-out re-assessed in 2011. Thus, individual-level change in anger-out can be investigated. Drawing on literature on “anger privilege,” civility, the politicization of anger, and related topics, we develop and evaluate hypotheses about: (1) the race difference in anger-out over time, (2) race as a moderator of the gender difference in both forms of anger expression, and (3) the impact of controlling for perceived discrimination on anger expression. We find blacks to report greater expressive reticence with regard to their anger (i.e., anger-in) than whites in 2001. That race difference became nonsignificant when discrimination was controlled. The race difference in anger-out was of borderline significance in 2001 and became significant after discrimination was controlled. Longitudinal analyses show that the race difference in anger-out decreased over time. The rate that anger-out decreased by did not significantly differ by race. We discuss processes that that could contribute to our results. We also speculate about how current trends in political anger expression might be related to the patterns we observe.

Dr. Ellen Berrey studies the spread of student-led social justice movements

Professor Ellen Berrey recently received a SSHRC Insight Development Grant to investigate student protests and universities’ responses in the U.S. and Canada, with a focus on anti-racism mobilization. She and her collaborator, Dr. Alex Hanna (Google, Inc.), are working with a team of student research assistants to gather and analyze data from student newspapers chronicling student protests from January, 2012 to December, 2016.

Berrey is endeavoring to learn the contextual factors that explain where student protests took place, and why movements spread through the U.S. and Canada. She seeks to shed light on the determinants and diffusion of social movements. Going into this research, she expects that some institutional contexts will be more likely to instill a culture of protest than others, and that anti-racism actors on campus will also be influenced by activism occurring off campus, especially in the Black Lives Matter movement, and at different colleges and universities. She is also curious to see how protest movements moved across national boundaries and how university administrations manage protest. The findings from this research will allow for a broad understanding of political mobilization trends and the impact of social media, as well as a deeper understanding of the interactions between movements and their organizational settings. Moreover, the analysis of activists’ substantive claims will shed light on the experiences, hopes, and needs that students of colour (as a marginalized population) bring to predominantly white universities and colleges, including their understanding of the resources that they need to thrive.

Professor Berrey and her team have begun the first stage of this work — creating an extensive dataset of student protest events based on campus newspapers. They are gathering data through computational text analysis methods to capture relevant articles, then using hand-coding to record details. This dataset documents where, when, and why students have recently mobilized to protest a wide range of issues, including racism as well as climate change, tuition and fees, free speech, and other topics. The dataset also records universities’ reactions to student protest. The next step will be to analyze this dataset in conjunction with existing data on U.S. and Canadian universities’ organizational characteristics, Black Lives Matter events, and social media. Finally, once this stage is complete, the team will choose at least four sites from among the locations identified in the dataset to study in greater depth.  For those campuses, the team will conduct interviews with student activists and administrators and gather relevant secondary documents. By analyzing both a comprehensive dataset and case studies, the study will provide both a broad and a deep understanding of student mobilization and universities’ responses in the twenty-first century. In the future, they anticipate extending the research to include the 2016-2020 period, to demonstrate the changes and continuities in student mobilization in the Trump era.

Professor Berrey’s areas of research engage with multiple sociological subfields, most notably law, inequality, race and diversity, culture, and organizations. Her work is focused on the politics and paradoxes of solving social problems. She has a particular interest in how organizational and political actors mobilize, contest, and institutionalize cultural ideals and in the interactive relationships between activists and organizations. In addition to her teaching duties as an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto Mississauga, she is an affiliated scholar of the American Bar Foundation, and she is internationally recognized for her research on the discourse and politics of diversity.

P2P: Prevalence and Patterning of Mental Disorder in 3 Cohorts of Black and White Americans

Patricia LouieEvery student in the Sociology PhD program at the University of Toronto completes the Research Practicum course in their second year. This course involves each student working directly on a research project with a faculty member through the various stages of research and writing while also meeting with other graduate students in the course to tackle the hurdles of clarifying, strengthening, and sharpening one’s ideas in a journal-length research article. In this series, we highlight the practicum papers that went on to become published articles, and the students who wrote them.

Louie, Patricia and Blair Wheaton. 2018. “Prevalence and Patterning of Mental Disorder in 3 Cohorts of Black and White Americans Through Adolescence.” American Journal of Epidemiology.

Patricia entered the research practicum with an interest in the Black-White patterning of mental health. She had previously learned about the tendency for Black Americans to report similar or better mental health than White Americans in Blair Wheaton’s Mental Health seminar. The work of Dawne Mouzon, in particular, sparked her interest in whether the Black-White patterning of mental disorder would be observed in adolescent populations and across cohorts of Black and White adolescents. In the first year of her PhD, she started the analysis for this project under the supervision of Blair Wheaton. She presented preliminary research findings at The International Social Stress Conference in June 2016.

In September 2016, Patricia enrolled in the Research Practicum and began writing her paper. She appreciates how the practicum provided her the opportunity to present her research findings several times and she is grateful for the helpful comments she received from her practicum supervisors, Ronit Dinovitizer, Candace Krutschnitt, and Melissa Milkie as well as from students in her cohort. Patricia also presented progressive versions of the paper at the American Sociological Association and the Canadian Sociological Association in 2017. The comments received at these conferences helped to refine the manuscript.

In the fall, Patricia and Blair worked closely together preparing the manuscript for submission. Ultimately, they submitted the paper to American Journal of Epidemiology in December 2017, and it was accepted for publication soon after.

Patricia continues to explore the racial patterning of mental health in her work. Currently, Patricia’s research examines racial disparities in mental and physical health using multiple dimensions of race, including skin tone. In addition, she examines the counterbalancing role of social stressors and coping resources in explaining race and skin tone inequalities in health. Patricia uses single-country and cross-national perspectives and a range of quantitative approaches, such as event history models, logistic regression, structural equational models, and linear probability models, to explore the racial patterning of mental health in Canada and the U.S.

PhD student Patricia Louie discusses her research on representations of race and skin colour in radio and print media

Patricia LouiePatricia Louie recently spoke with the media about the findings of her research into the representation of race and skin colour in medical text books. Her recently published article (with Professor Rima Wilkes of UBC) demonstrates that prominent medical textbooks use very few images of  individuals with dark skin tones in their medical illustrations. This lack of representation, Louie and Wilkes argue, could result in a failure to diagnose conditions like skin cancer on people with dark skin tones. Louie is currently in her second year of PhD studies at the University of Toronto.

Louie spoke about the study on the Global News show, Simi Sara Show available here,  and on CBC’s Here and Now, available here.

Her study has also been featured in the print and online media by The Vancouver Sun, The National Post, Toronto’s CityNews, Science Daily, News1130, Global News, CTV News and the Toronto Star. We have included an excerpt of the Canadian Press article below.

Lack of racial diversity in medical textbooks could mean inequity in care: study

VANCOUVER—Sitting in a doctor’s waiting room in Vancouver, Patricia Louie saw posters that only featured white and light skin-toned people depicted as patients. She wondered if medical textbooks would also reflect what she considered to be a biased portrayal of Canada’s diverse population.

The experience in 2012 led the sociology student who was studying at the University of British Columbia (UBC) at the time to analyze faces in four textbooks widely used in North American medical schools. She concluded in an honours thesis that racial diversity was being ignored.

Most images in medical books are of legs, arms and chests, showing only skin tone, not ethnicity, so Louie broadened her research as a master’s student at the University of Toronto and focused on skin tone in more than 4,000 images in later versions of the same textbooks.

The study by Louie and co-author Rima Wilkes, a sociology professor at UBC, found the proportion of dark skin tones represented was very small in images featured in Atlas of Human Anatomy, Bates’ Guide to Physical Examinations and History Taking, Clinically Oriented Anatomy and Gray’s Anatomy for Students.

Atlas had fewer than 1 per cent of photos featuring dark skin, while the highest amount — 5 per cent — was included in Gray’s, the researchers say in the study, published in the journal Social Science and Medicine.

Imagery of six common cancers for people of colour or dark skin tone hardly exist in the textbooks, says the study, which suggests unequal health care could result.

Read the full article as it appeared in the National Post.

Patricia Louie can be reached at


PhD student Patricia Louie finds that medical textbooks underrepresent race and skin tone

Patricia LouiePhD student Patricia Louie has recently published her research based on research into the diversity of representation in the major text books assigned in medical school. Louie published the paper, together with her co-author Rima Wilkes of UBC, in Social Science Medicine. The article, “Representations of Race and Skin Tone in Medical Textbook Imagery,”  reported on the analysis of over 4,000 images from the four of the most widely assigned textbooks for first and second-year medical students in North America.  The results showed that darker skin tones were underrepresented in medical textbooks, a failing that could have implications for racial bias in clinical practice. We have posted the citation and abstract below. The full article is available online to subscribers.

Louie, P. and Wilkes, R. (2018). Representations of Race and Skin Tone in Medical Textbook Imagery. Social Science Medicine

Although a large literature has documented racial inequities in health care delivery, there continues to be debate about the potential sources of these inequities. Preliminary research suggests that racial inequities are embedded in the curricular edification of physicians and patients. We investigate this hypothesis by considering whether the race and skin tone depicted in images in textbooks assigned at top medical schools reflects the diversity of the U.S. population. We analyzed 4146 images from Atlas of Human Anatomy, Bates’ Guide to Physical Examination & History Taking, Clinically Oriented Anatomy, and Gray’s Anatomy for Students by coding race (White, Black, and Person of Color) and skin tone (light, medium, and dark) at the textbook, chapter, and topic level. While the textbooks approximate the racial distribution of the U.S. population – 62.5% White, 20.4% Black, and 17.0% Person of Color – the skin tones represented – 74.5% light, 21% medium, and 4.5% dark – overrepresent light skin tone and underrepresent dark skin tone. There is also an absence of skin tone diversity at the chapter and topic level. Even though medical texts often have overall proportional racial representation this is not the case for skin tone. Furthermore, racial minorities are still often absent at the topic level. These omissions may provide one route through which bias enters medical treatment.

See press coverage of Louie’s research here.


Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah interviewed on CBC Radio One’s The Current

Akwasi Owusu-BempahProfessor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah was recently interviewed in an episode of CBC Radio One’s The Current. He discussed the upcoming decriminalization of cannabis in Canada, and its impact on those in marginalized communities who have been disproportionately criminalized for marijuana related offenses. Professor Owusu-Bempah pointed to the system that operates in Oakland, California and suggested that ‘equity permits’ for those previously criminalized could help to mitigate the past injustices. While this would ensure more equality in the accessing of marijuana sales for these communities, socioeconomic factors, stigma, and existing convictions will still present barriers for these groups.

Professor Owusu-Bempah is an assistant professor of sociology whose research focuses on policing, youth marginalization and exclusion, and race, ethnicity and crime; specifically how people of the African Diaspora perceive and experience law enforcement and punishment.

The episode and its transcript are available here. We have posted an excerpt below.

As Canada prepares to de-criminalize cannabis, there are growing calls for an amnesty on pot convictions to right past wrongs, and allow access to a burgeoning industry.

Currently, proposed regulations enable Health Canada to refuse clearance to individuals associated to organized crime; who have past convictions; or anyone with an association to drug trafficking, corruption or violent offences.

Advocates argue enforcement of drug laws have not been equal to all social groups, and it’s necessary to acknowledge a privilege that people in racialized communities don’t have.

“Many Canadians, they can use their privilege to shield themselves from criminalization,” said Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto working on race, crime and criminal justice.

“And then you’ve got other groups of people, many that I work with, who have been the target of the war on drugs, who have been criminalized, in communities that have been criminalized, and they’re now going to be excluded.”

Listen to the episode here.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah and PhD Graduate Jenna Valleriani on Pardoning Cannabis Related Charges

Jenna VallerianiSociology Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah and recent PhD graduate  Jenna Valleriani were recently featured in a blog post on The Leaf, a division of the Winnipeg Free Press dedicated to news on the Cannabis legalization process in Canada. The post discusses the historically harmful implications of marijuana prohibition in Canada for racial minorities, including Black and Indigenous Canadians, and suggests that legal pardons for past criminal charges related to cannabis be implemented within the new legalization policy.

Professor Owusu-Bempah is a professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto with teaching responsibilities at the UTM campus. His research interests include policing; youth marginalization and exclusion; and race, ethnicity and crime. He is particularly interested in how members of the African Diaspora perceive and experience law enforcement.

Jenna Valleriani is a recent PhD graduate from the University of Toronto Sociology Department. Her dissertation was on ‘Staking a Claim’: Legal and Illegal Cannabis Markets in Canada. She is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use.

We have posted an excerpt of the blog post below.

Making amends

Cannabis prohibition has hit black and Indigenous people especially hard, researchers say.
Will the Canadian government do something about it?

By: Solomon Israel | Jan. 13, 2018

Cannabis prohibition has been especially harmful to black and Indigenous people in Canada, but legalization offers a chance for the government to repair some of those harms, says a researcher who hopes the federal government will consider racial justice as it enacts its proposed law.

Federal legalization of marijuana “is definitely a positive step, and one that should have happened about 100 years ago,” says Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, who studies race and policing as an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto.

Seeking pardons for cannabis crimes

Owusu-Bempah believes the Canadian government should automatically pardon anyone who has a criminal record for the possession of cannabis, as well as pardoning “any subsequent failure to comply charges that stem from an initial cannabis offence.”

“Cannabis, people say it’s a gateway drug. They’re usually referring to a gateway to harder drugs. I argue that cannabis can be a gateway into the criminal justice system,” he says.

“Cannabis use is fairly widespread amongst young people, across racial groups,” Owusu-Bempah explains. “Certain groups are targeted.”

Even if they get probation, those young people of colour are more likely to face failure to comply charges, “which then leads to further criminalization, and a spiralling into the justice system,” he says.

Are pardons in the cards?

The federal government’s Cannabis Act is “pretty void of any kind of real social justice language,” notes Jenna Valleriani, who serves as a strategic advisor to Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy and recently completed a PhD studying legal and illegal markets for cannabis.

Valleriani says the federal government definitely knows how cannabis prohibition has disproportionately impacted marginalized people, citing an April 2017 town hall on cannabis legalization with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hosted by Vice News.

If the federal government does issue post-legalization pardons to Canadians with criminal convictions for cannabis, they might reap the political benefits. In a July 2017 telephone survey of 5,000 Canadians conducted by Oraclepoll Research, 72 per cent of respondents agreed that the federal government should pardon and eliminate criminal records for all previous and current simple cannabis possessions.

For Owusu-Bempah, pardoning those convicted of cannabis-related crimes would be the most straightforward way for the government to start making amends.


Read the full blog post here.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah’s new research project looks into the connection between the representation of black criminality Toronto and growing Black incarceration

Akwasi Owusu-BempahProfessor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah has recently received a Connaught New Researcher Award to pursue research into the representation of black criminality in Toronto.

Professor Owusu-Bempah’s research addresses a context in which Canada’s Black federal prison population has increased dramatically – from 767 Black inmates in 2005 to 1,340 in 2015. This period coincided with growing public concern and media reporting of gang violence and a rapid expansion of anti-gang legislation and associated policing practices in Toronto, the jurisdiction with Canada’s largest number of Black people. Much of the anti-gang policing was, in fact, targeted to neighbourhoods with large numbers of Black people.

Professor Owusu-Bempah’s research project will look at the impact of anti-gang public discourse and legislation on Toronto’s Black population. His research will analyze the ways that the media frames Toronto’s “street gang” problem, its apparent causes and proposed solutions and how federal, provincial and municipal government debates depicted the causes and solutions to Toronto’s “street gang” problem.

This project will lay the foundation for a larger project connecting popular attitudes, public policy and police behaviour in an effort to understand the growing number of Black people in custody. As Canadian society continues to become more racially, ethnically and religiously diverse, studies like this — projects that examine the impact of social policy on specific sub-populations –will be particularly helpful in fostering a safe, equitable and healthy society.

Does Diversity Work?

UTM Sociology Professor Ellen Berrey was recently profiled on the UTM Research News page. The full story is available on their website. We have pasted the beginning of the piece here:

Does ‘diversity’ work?

Ellen Berrey
Wednesday, December 14, 2016 – 2:31pm

The concept of diversity has been celebrated and supported at major organizations and public institutions since the 1980s. It’s a widely supported ideal in contemporary society, but what if its unintended consequence is to perpetuate social and racial inequality? That’s the thorny question at the centre of UTM sociology professor Ellen Berrey’s research.

“Decision-makers in many social domains endorse diversity with an emphasis on the payoffs for everyone – it’s good for learning and good for business – rather than the goal of equality,” says Berrey, who arrived at UTM this summer from the University of Denver. She examines what she calls “the promises and pitfalls” of promoting diversity in environments such as universities, corporations and courtrooms. “I’m interested in organizational and legal efforts to remedy problems of inequality, and how these efforts actually play out on the ground,” she says.

While the term “diversity” covers many differences – including religion, sexual orientation and ability – Berrey says that race is the default assumption when people talk about diversity. “The language of diversity comes directly out of race issues in the United States, especially the black-white divide.” Most of Berrey’s research focuses on the U.S. context.

There have been some important social reforms implemented in the name of diversity, she says, but they have been small and incremental. “Diversity communicates a shared commitment to the social good across differences that divide us. Yet there’s much more of an appearance of change than actual demonstrable change. The movement for diversity hasn’t undone some of the deeper, institutional conditions that reproduce inequality.”

In her 2015 book The Enigma of Diversity: The Language of Race and the Limits of Racial Justice, Berrey explores some of those entrenched discriminatory conditions in employment, university admissions and housing. Drawing on six years of fieldwork in a Fortune 500 company, a major American university and a Chicago neighbourhood, she argues that the public embrace of diversity hasn’t accomplished the social change required for racial justice.

Continue reading.

Teaching Police that Black Lives Matter

Akwasi Owusu-BempahProfessor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah is a faculty member at the University of Toronto, Mississauga with expertise in the area of race and policing. This piece, published in The Walrus, draws on his dissertation research. The complete piece is available online . The following is an excerpt of the longer article:

Teaching Police that Black Lives Matter

Black officers on how police and black communities can get along.

In 2011 and 2012, I interviewed fifty-one black male police officers from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), as part of a wide-ranging academic project aimed at surveying black attitudes toward the police. They spoke to me candidly but confidentially. I agreed not to publish their names or identifying details.

At one stage of my interviews, I asked these officers to put forth suggestions on how to improve relations between the police and the black community in the GTA. Given the robust public discussion that is now taking place in regard to the Black Lives Matter movement—and this month’s tragic killings of both innocent black men and police officers in the United States—it is worth exploring these suggestions in some detail. These suggestions are unique as they are informed by the officers’ experiences as black males and their immersion in police culture. Both perspectives are evident in the text below.

Read the full article