Alice Mũrage discusses the diversity among Black people in BC

Her findings will help future researchers engaging with Black populations

This is a photo of the Academic Quadrangle on the SFU Burnaby campus.
PHOTO: Allyson Klassen / The Peak

By: C Icart, Staff Writer

Alice Mũrage is a health researcher, health sciences PhD candidate, part of the Gender and COVID-19 project, and the director of the African Ancestry Project. The Peak attended a talk where she presented her findings from her report for the African Ancestry Project. The project is “a community research and dialogue project she initiated in 2020 in partnership with the BC Black History Awareness Society.” In the event hosted by the SFU faculty of health sciences and BC Centre for Disease Control, Mũrage discussed the health implications of her findings. 

Mũrage noted, “The idea of the project is really to highlight the diversity of Black people. This was done by engaging 162 participants in a survey, and then in focus groups and interviews.” These participants came from a wide range of backgrounds. The group as a whole “spoke 56 different languages.” 

Mũrage acknowledges that although race “is socially constructed, it is something that has real-life consequences.” In addition to race, “Black people have other factors that are really dominant in their access to healthcare, in their healthcare outcomes.” 

According to Mũrage there are gaps in the way data about race is collected in Canada. For instance, she highlights the various terms “used in health research to identify Black people” such as “Black Canadians,” “African Canadians,” and “African, Caribbean, and Black (ACB).” The first two are “not very representative because it has the implication of nationality. Not all Black people in Canada are Canadians or have the rights that come with citizenship.” The term ACB, while being more inclusive, has been criticized by Dr. Jude Cénat for its lack of specificity as it may be “potentially including people from Africa who do not identify as Black and people from the Caribbean who identify as Latino.” 

The distinction between how Black people are categorized in studies, and how they personally identify, stood out to Mũrage. “There is an assumption that everybody who is categorized as Black actually identifies as Black, but I realized this is not the case.” She found that “nationality or continental affiliation” was a common way for individuals to self-identify. In addition, generational connections impacted people’s cultural identity. For instance, identifying as a first-generation immigrant versus a multi-generational Canadian. 

By digging deeper into the issue of self-identification, Mũrage found that “participants spoke of the Black identity as an identity that is contested [ . . . ] This identity changes and you need to adapt and take it on as it changes. So, it becomes an identity that was described as one that was imposed.” This can be true for some individuals who have grown up in Canada but also, people who have lived experience in places where they are not a racial minority. “Immigrants from Africa, for example, said that ‘for the first time, I actually realized I’m Black when I came here.’” Mũrage noted not every Black person views being Black as an identity.

For some, “Black identity was also noted as an identity of erasure. That it really erases whatever identity in terms of culture in terms of nationality that people come with.” Mũrage highlighted a quote from a participant that said, “I think the moment I stepped foot into Canada my identity as an African was erased because when people see me, they see the colour of my skin, which is Black. So I am referred to as Black not as African, not unless I speak up and say so.” For Mũrage, these findings are important for researchers across several fields “because as you go into your research, this is the diversity of Black people you will be engaging with if that is your population of interest for your research.”

For more information on Alice Mũrage’s work, consult her report on the BC Black History Awareness Society’s website.