Black scholars in Canada’s research enterprise

June 1, 2023
Dave Hazzan

By Dave Hazzan, writer and academic, completing his PhD in History at York University

Discussion on the Final Report and Recommendations (2023) of SSHRC’s Advisory Committee to Address Anti-Black Racism in Research and Research Training, and SSHRC’s plans to support Black scholars and a more inclusive research system. 

Karine Coen-Sanchez twice declined when she was asked to participate in SSHRC’s Advisory Committee to Address Anti-Black Racism in Research and Research Training. The Ottawa U graduate student was concerned whether it would be another performative committee. 

“But then someone told me – attend the first meeting, see what you think,” Coen-Sanchez said. When she arrived, she found most people receptive and willing to listen and engage with Black scholars. “I just spoke authentically, like I’m doing here,” she said. And she was accepted. 

Coen-Sanchez was appointed to be the committee’s co-chair – a role she never expected to take – and the report came out in February this year, with its list of recommendations and actions. On Tuesday morning at Congress, Sylvie Lamoureux, Vice President, Research at SSHRC, interviewed Coen-Sanchez for an hour, to learn about how the committee went, what the report says, and how the committee will go forward with implementing the plans. 

Coen-Sanchez said the committee gave participants from across Canada the space to express their lived experiences, formed through a Black lens. “Black lived experiences are usually overshadowed by whites whilst being mindful of white fragility,” Coen-Sanchez said. “But this was not the case. We were in full conversation and given the space for that.” 

Implementation of the report’s recommendations, Coen-Sanchez insists, will also be Black-led. “The people who are implementing it need to be the people who did the research,” she said. “We all walk different paths, and this needs to be done by those who have walked the Black path.” 

Lamoureux asked Coen-Sanchez which, of the report’s multiple recommendations, might have the most positive impact on Black scholars and the goal of equity. “Fair access to Black scholars,” Coen-Sanchez replied. She says there are still barriers around the scope of Black scholarship. 

“Subconsciously, there are barriers about racial parameters, about what is acceptable for Black scholars to study, and what is not.” While there are Black scholars in virtually all areas of academia, it often seems like the only acceptable subjects of study are centred around race and racism. People need “a new sense of consciousness to understand, to open minds, to decolonize minds, and to remember there is not just one spectrum related to Blackness.” 

Anti-Black racism is a unique phenomenon and is not the same as other racisms, Coen-Sanchez said, thus the need for this committee and the actions that will follow. Although she urged everyone to “decolonize your minds,” she also said the struggle for Black human rights is distinct from the struggle for Indigenous rights, or the rights of other minorities. 

“We can’t just recycle one person’s lived experience into another’s,” Coen-Sanchez said. “We can’t assume the racisms faced by Indigenous and Black persons are the same. Everything has to be done separately.” She argued that the idea that it is all related is comfortable to administrations but does not solve each group’s specific problems. “Don’t recycle lived experiences from one community to another,” she said, in order to facilitate the process of ‘EDI’. 

In the meantime, Coen-Sanchez and the other participants in the SSHRC’s Advisory Committee to Address Anti-Black Racism in Research and Research Training are looking forward to seeing SSHRC’s Action Plan and to the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations.