Gender+ panel discuss the value of race-based data as a tool of justice in response to COVID-19

UBC’s Collective for Gender+ in Research called attention to an urgent need for race-based data collection amid COVID-19 in an online teach-in series on July 16, due to the disproportionate impact racialized communities face.

The Gender + Collective moderated by Dr. John Paul (JP) Catungal, centred on the need for an intersectional approach to data collection within COVID-19 reports, featuring Dr. Faithe Day, Assistant Director of COVID Black; Dr. June Francis, director of the Institute for Diaspora and Engagement at Simon Fraser University; Courtney Skye, a research fellow with the Yellowhead Institute; and Kevonnie Whyte, an organizer for Black in BC Mutual Aid Collective.

Little data has been publicly shared in regards to COVID-19 on race and ethnicity in the United States.

Day who is based in the US explained that “[this] meant that there were many rumours and misinformation circulating about COVID-19, especially in Black communities — one rumour being that Black people were actually immune to the virus itself. Now that we have so much race and ethnicity data, it’s apparent that many of those initial beliefs are false.”

Day expressed a need for research to not only speak to how data is collected and analyzed but also how information does or doesn’t spread through social networks and communities.

Francis agreed that the lack of race-based data is also an essential concern in Canada for much of the same reason as it causes inadequate responses.

“In Canada, there’s been a willful refusal to collect data,” said Francis. “I was told by a senior federal health official that Canada is a colour-blind society and shouldn’t expect that race-based data was necessary.”

Francis shared that a number of Black and race-based initiatives — including two of her own — were turned down by council grants, as well as how the federal and local government have failed to gather demographic data needed to protect racial communities through lack of and under-investments in academic research.

Racialized minorities — primarily Black or Filipino people — are enormously over-represented in terms of care aid jobs and thus often undervalued and overexposed to the virus. Only in this visible overrepresentation of immigrants or minorities, Francis says data begins to emerge.

Whyte’s group, Black in BC Mutual Aid Collective, became involved in the advocacy for race-based data after suspecting that Black people are disproportionately affected.

“We’re more likely to have precarious immigration statuses, more likely to work in the gig economy, not to have steady employment, or not be eligible for a number of the federal or financial assistance, such as CERB or EI,” Whyte said.

A common theme discussed in the panel was the lack of evidence to prove racialized communities are disproportionately impacted — directly caused by the lack of solid social demographic data.

As a result, Whyte’s team has found it difficult to underline how they work to provide targeted support for these groups.

Similarly, in March, Skye also discovered discrepancies in federal data around Indigenous cases — finding that the total number of reported cases between two Indigenous communities was more than the total cases of Indigenous people nationally reported by the federal government.

In her work, Skye expressed the importance of community reported data that was available to Indigenous people.

“We had found around 600 cases of Indigenous people nationally who had contracted COVID and 12 deaths,” said Skye referencing the report that the Yellowhead Institute put out in May.

“As of yesterday, the federal government has reported only 315 cases and 6 deaths of Indigenous people. This is very concerning because we see the systemic gaps in data collection and how it is underreporting the cases of COVID data,” Skye said.

“[This undermines] Indigenous sovereignty and our community’s ability to mobilize mutual aid networks [as well as our ability to] decide for ourselves what responses are needed within the community.”