A recent public opinion poll shows a very revealing thing about “systemic racism.” Very few people really care about the issue despite the mediademic of news stories to the contrary. It this for real? Are we lying to ourselves?
The Canadian province of British Columbia is well known for social and labor activism. The province has a “leftist” provincial government, Vancouver is where Greenpace was born, where the Occupy Wall Street (and elsewhere) Movement got its kick-start with the help of Vancouver-based Adbusters, and heck, BC experienced domestic terrorism way back in the 1950s before it became popular.
But get this twist in logic when thinking of the Black Lives Matter protests in Vancouver highlighting systemic racism. A public opinion poll in June 2020 by Insights West asked a statistically valid sample of British Columbians what the most important issues were in their lives. Now remember. “Systemic racism” has been dominant in the news and social media together with of course Covid-19.
The results of the Insights West poll showed “The current situation of Covid-19 dominates the issue in BC, pushing aside many others…Only a small minority consider systemic racism the most important issue facing our province currently.” Just how small? Well, just 2% of survey respondents agreed that “system racism” was important compared to 32% for Covid-19, 13% for housing, 11% for the economy, 7% for health care (Canada has a super health care system), 6% for homelessness, 6% for jobs, and 5% for the environment.
Now these result at first appear pretty weird considering a national public survey in June by the firm Leger which asked a more targeted question about “systemic racism.” In this survey 56% of BC residents (albeit a far less statistically valid sample size) agreed that there is systemic racism in law enforcement (50% in Canada overall), 32% among workplace employees, and 24% “among your neighbors.”
Add to this that other harbinger of public protest and action, Google searches. The data shows that within the past 30 days (June 17 to July 15) very strong interest in Canada was continually shown in the search topic “Covid-19,” a medium-strong interest in the search topic “jobs,” and barely a blip on the line graph for “systemic racism.” This is the pattern for all 10 provinces plus territories.
The above raises the following questions:
Could it be that Canadians with far different experiences than Americans really don’t give racism, systemic or otherwise, much thought? If the answer is yes, as surveys and Google searches show, then the questions become even more unnerving. Do Canadians in large part don’t care about the issue of racism because it most commonly applies to First Nations? If so, what does this say about deeply entrenched attitudes about Aboriginal societies in Canada? Is it because, especially in B.C., there is in fact a deep current of anti-Chinese racism of late but not something that’s discussed in polite company and certainly not admitted to pollsters?
Could it be that Canadians are simply lying about their opinion given to pollsters, that indeed “systemic racism” is an entrenched component of human DNA to varying degrees, one that we don’t like to admit in public regardless of the “anonymity” of polls?
And when it comes to public polls about police racism, could it be that the 50% in Canada and 56% in BC who agree that there is systemic police racism are simply answering the question in the affirmative because they think that is the socially acceptable answer, also called social desirability bias? Maybe, but maybe not.
Canadians over the past 12 months have shown very limited Google searches for the term “police racism” mostly in New Brunswick, Ontario, and Manitoba. That is until May 31, 2020 when interest in the search term hit the ceiling. This was shortly after the May 25 death of George Floyd in America due to police action and the quickly erupting global protests. By June 28, interest in the search term “police racism” returned to just a ripple on Canadian Google searches.
Bottom line? Perhaps the fact is that we all harbor “racist” attitudes but maybe not behaviors. Maybe those attitudes have a continuum from a little, with no associated behaviors, to a “a great deal” with very pronounced behaviors.