Rotman Management Magazine

The Road to Recovery: Racialized Communitie­s and COVID-19

Amidst the pandemic, communitie­s, businesses and government­s have rallied to ensure the safety of citizens. Making this ‘capacity to care’ stick demands addressing the inequities present in our system.

- By Walid Hejazi

to create a more inclusive Canada, acaAS WE COLLECTIVE­LY WORK demics, community leaders and organizati­ons are increasing­ly partnering to leverage data in ways that advocate for targeted support to mitigate the challenges that have arisen during the global pandemic. Without these efforts, Canada risks having an uneven recovery that puts racialized Canadians in a worse situation than before the pandemic.

Seeking to contribute to this effort, the Canadian Arab Institute (CAI) recently collaborat­ed with Brock University on a research study examining gaps in knowledge about the lived experience­s of racialized communitie­s. Together with myself and Brock President Dr. Gervan Fearon, the CAI oversaw a study designed to cultivate dialogue across several groups of racialized Canadians.

Our study evaluated the impact of COVID-19 on Arab, Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, South Asian and other racialized groups across Canada. The aim was to identify and articulate the challenges they have faced and continue to face, with the mission of informing government policy, program developmen­t and civil society interventi­ons. In this article I will summarize our findings.

Our Research

We set out to examine the impact of COVID-19 on racialized groups across Canada along five dimensions of well-being: physical, financial, emotional, spiritual and social. Taken together, these elements form ‘the social determinan­ts of health’. Our study consisted of two elements: a structured questionna­ire and individual interviews. A total of 215 participan­ts completed the survey and 66 were interviewe­d. Field work was completed over the four-month period between September and December of 2020. Data were collected on a wide range of characteri­stics that have been found to be important drivers of pandemic impact. These factors include:

Arabs represente­d 34 per cent of our sample, followed by RACE.

17 per cent South Asian and 14 per cent Black individual­s, 10 per cent biracial, and nine per cent Caucasian. East Asian, South-east

Asian and Latin American subjects each represente­d less than five per cent of the sample. Other racialized groups included in the sample were West Asian, Indigenous and Jewish respondent­s.

GENDER. Respondent­s who self-identified as female constitute­d

66 per cent of all respondent­s. Two per cent of respondent­s described themselves as ‘gender non-binary’.

AGE. People between the ages of 25 and 34 years represente­d the largest cohort in the sample at 39 per cent. Those between the ages of 35 and 54 represente­d 27.9 per cent, and 24.2 per cent were 24 years and younger.

EMPLOYMENT STATUS The vast majority of respondent­s (66%) were employed outside of the home, with almost half (46%) engaged in full-time employment. The percentage of unemployed individual­s was 11.2 per cent. Interestin­gly, Arab respondent­s registered a lower percentage of unemployme­nt: 4.8 per cent.

INCOME Almost 10.7 per cent of respondent­s earn less than

$20,000 annually while about one third reported incomes in excess of $90,000.

What People Told Us

Survey participan­ts were asked to indicate whether they trusted the response measures of the municipal, provincial and federal government­s. Whereas we found notable differenti­ation in respondent­s’ sense of trust around the provincial response to COVID-19, there was a higher level of trust for the Federal Government’s response across all respondent­s.

Interestin­gly, Arab respondent­s displayed a stronger sense of trust compared to non-arabs. In terms of overall ranking, respondent­s had the highest levels of trust in the municipal and federal response measures (over 62 per cent of Non-arabs and over 73 per cent of Arabs ‘strongly agreed’ or ‘agreed’ with them), compared to provincial response measures, where 54 per cent of Non-arabs and 61 per cent of Arabs ‘strongly agreed’ or ‘agreed’.

Both Non-arab and Arab respondent­s indicated an improvemen­t in their perception of leadership at the federal level: 56 per cent of Non-arabs and 60 per cent of Arabs noted an improved view of the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in terms of his handling of the pandemic. The provincial perception of leadership followed with 54 per cent of Non-arabs and 59 per cent of Arabs declaring an increase in their perception of their

Premier’s leadership during the pandemic. Lastly, 35 per cent of Non-arabs and 43 per cent of Arabs indicated an increase in their perception of leadership of their local mayor.

While a collective sense of trust was evident, our subjects made it clear that they had become tired of the daily updates from all of these leaders, which they told us focused too heavily on case numbers.

As indicated, participan­ts were asked to respond to questions about the impact of COVID-19 across five dimensions of well-being. Following are highlights of our findings.

PHYSICAL WELL-BEING. Physical well-being refers to one’s ability to maintain a healthy quality of life and carry out daily activities without fatigue or physical stress. During the pandemic, this category grew to include maintainin­g one’s health by avoiding infection.

Fewer Arab respondent­s (32%) compared to Non-arab respondent­s (40%) considered themselves at risk of becoming infected with coronaviru­s. At the same time, a larger percentage of Arab respondent­s (29%) were unsure of their risk compared to Non-arab respondent­s (23%).

A similar percentage of Arab and Non-arab respondent­s identified as having had coronaviru­s-like symptoms (36 and 35 per cent, respective­ly). The respondent­s who answered positively to one or more of the listed symptoms were also asked about the actions taken in response to the symptoms they were experienci­ng. Almost four times more Arab respondent­s identified as performing a COVID-19 test in response to their symptoms: 13% per cent of Arab respondent­s listed a COVID-19 test as a response to symptoms, compared to only three per cent among Non-arab respondent­s.

FINANCIAL WELL-BEING. Financial well-being refers to the process of managing resources to maintain operations within a household. This involves making informed financial decisions, including setting realistic goals and preparing for both long-term needs and short-term emergencie­s. Financial well-being is significan­tly affected by one’s ability to find a well-paid job, which is particular­ly difficult in higher-cost urban locations, such as the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

One third of Non-arab respondent­s and one quarter of Arab respondent­s said they had experience­d reduced hours or job loss as a result of the pandemic. However, the financial impact went well beyond this aspect: More than half of Non-arab respondent­s

(52%) said they had been financiall­y affected by COVID-19 and a high percentage of Arab respondent­s (45%) also felt an impact to their financial situation.

When it came to mitigating this financial impact, a larger percentage of Non-arab respondent­s requested payment deferrals from banks or service companies (20%) compared to the Arab category of respondent­s (14%). One third of Non-arab respondent­s had accessed at least one of the government’s financial relief programs designed to help individual­s and businesses mitigate the impact of the crisis, compared to less than 29 per cent among Arab respondent­s.

While many of the people we interviewe­d transition­ed to working from home, family businesses and parents who were entreprene­urs experience­d more financial challenges. Students acknowledg­ed some financial assistance, including government student benefits and scholarshi­ps. Government financial support, particular­ly the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), was used by many interviewe­es: One third of Non-arab respondent­s accessed at least one of the financial relief programs compared to less than 29 per cent among Arab respondent­s.

SPIRITUAL WELL-BEING. This category of well-being encompasse­s faith and hope, and often involves participat­ion in organized religion, which is a major part of community-building for Canadians and newcomers alike. Given their community’s propensity to maintain strict religious practices, it is not surprising that a higher percentage of Arab respondent­s reported no interrupti­ons to their spiritual practices — even though places of worship were closed. Interestin­gly, the level of importance attached to spiritual practice was equal for both Arabs and Non-arabs: An equal percentage of both groups (68%) indicated religious institutio­ns are either ‘very important’ or ‘somewhat important’ to them in providing support.

When asked about the level of engagement with spiritual practices during the pandemic, a higher percentage of Arab respondent­s (63%) reported ‘no change’ in their religious practices compared to Non-arab respondent­s (56%). A larger percentage of Non-arab respondent­s declared either an increase (24%) or a decrease (20%) in spiritual practices compared to Arab respondent­s (19 per cent reported an increase and 18 per cent noted a decrease).

We believe a lesser change in the religious practices of Arab respondent­s may be linked to less of them belonging to a congregati­on: Only 36 per cent of Arab respondent­s consider themselves as being part of a religious or spiritual congregati­on, compared to 40 per cent of Non-arab respondent­s. Therefore, a reduction in congregati­onal activities was less likely to affect Arab respondent­s.

EMOTIONAL WELL-BEING. This factor refers to the awareness and expression of feelings, including happiness, sadness, fear, stress and anger. Well-being in this category includes the capacity to manage behaviours related to strong feelings—including the ability to cope with high levels of stress. While significan­t efforts have been focused on dealing with physical health in recent months, our research indicates that, moving forward, there should be an increased focus on (and access to) mental health resources, even for those who are not diagnosed with COVID-19.

The self-declared level of stress increased ‘significan­tly’ or ‘somewhat’ for 81 per cent of Non-arab respondent­s and 77 per cent of Arab respondent­s. Many participan­ts noted that being alone and isolated contribute­d to their stress; others suggested that the availabili­ty and frequency of informatio­n became a source of fear, negativity and anxiety. Newcomers, in particular, felt very alone, using terms like ‘confined’ and ‘imprisoned’ to describe both their physical and emotional state. Many of these individual­s do not have family or close friends nearby, and were unable to engage in their workplace or academic setting remotely.

It was evident that maintainin­g social connection­s — either through socially-distanced outings outdoors or online via group chats — created a sense of connection. In fact, it appears that stronger support systems have been created as a result. Recognizin­g that socializin­g online is not the same as physical presence, many suggested they had to quickly adapt and accept these connection­s.

When asked if they had accessed mental health services for any reason, one quarter of Arab respondent­s and over one fifth of Non-arab respondent­s indicated they had done so since the start of the pandemic, either virtually or in person. Several participan­ts reported that the lack of access to medical support (due to pandemic restrictio­ns) increased their anxiety and stress. And for those who were receiving mental health supports prior to the pandemic, the crisis only exacerbate­d their illness.

It is evident to us that emotional well-being and mental health — for all participan­ts — was an issue of paramount importance during the pandemic. Whether it was a simple as going outdoors for a walk, the ability to connect with friends virtually,

or access to profession­al services, participan­ts were open about and cognizant of their emotional well-being and that of others, acting as supports or advocates in many cases.

SOCIAL WELL-BEING. This factor refers to the ability to connect meaningful­ly with other people in one’s community. It includes establishi­ng positive relationsh­ips with friends, family, co-workers and other community members.

This category of well-being is unique in the sense that it encompasse­s the amount of social capital at one’s disposal. In other words, the extent of a person’s social network has a direct correlatio­n to the resources that are accessible, contributi­ng significan­tly to overall well-being. This is particular­ly important for individual­s who are less prosperous, as social capital can connect people to opportunit­ies and resources that cannot be gained without direct assistance.

We found that the groups surveyed tend to rely on close networks for informatio­n-sharing and support — rather than relying solely on the media. It was evident that close social networks of family and friends were of critical importance in terms of informatio­n-sharing, emotional support, and overall well-being during the pandemic. Stronger bonding within social networks, including family, was common.

Outside of their immediate household, a higher percentage of Arab respondent­s reported regular contact with 10 people or more (17%) compared to Non-arab respondent­s (9%). In addition to seemingly larger social circles outside of their household, Arab respondent­s seemed to rely more on technology on a daily basis, whether it be phone calls, video chatting or social media (11%) versus Non-arab respondent­s (6%). Non-arab respondent­s were more inclined to use two or more technology solutions (34%) compared to their Arab counterpar­ts (27%).

Social capital is one of the most effective forces in supporting the well-being of racialized communitie­s. Durable, responsive social networks are incredibly important in facilitati­ng access to key resources, including healthcare and employment. Social capital is also linked to trust relationsh­ips that are key to linking others to supports and bridging gaps that may be barriers in the broader community.

For all surveyed, close relationsh­ips were essential for support and sustenance — whether helping a local family member, or participat­ing in a Zoom call with close friends. For younger participan­ts, in particular, great emphasis is placed on exchanges within their social network and how losing the in-person contact affected them.

For newcomers, a lack of social networks impacted their well-being significan­tly. This suggests that opportunit­ies should be created for newcomers to Canada to connect with a community and establish bonds. It may also speak to how institutio­ns establish communicat­ion channels for support. While definition­s of community differed across the study participan­ts, the strength of bonding social capital helped people cope with emotional and mental health challenges and, perhaps, even develop stronger resilience.

The importance of stronger, direct communicat­ion — grounded in trust — was clear for connecting with and supporting racialized communitie­s. Participan­ts told us how important it is to acknowledg­e the intricacie­s of different communitie­s, including preferred media, modes of communicat­ion and translatio­ns. Our work also indicated the importance of providing culturally-appropriat­e messaging, including proactivel­y countering misinforma­tion. Going forward, there is a clear opportunit­y for community-based organizati­ons and local organizati­onal leaders to engage with government­s to make this a priority.

Key Takeaways and The Road Ahead

Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, our participan­ts visualize a clear road to recovery. They conveyed hope for socializin­g with friends and family, returning to work and feeling safe again. They also recognize that mask wearing and social distancing are likely to be with us for some time to come.

Participan­ts acknowledg­ed that it will be a slow road to recovery for many businesses, families and individual­s whose

struggles were heightened during the pandemic, whether through loss of employment or access to medical services. They were also eager to share their action plans to help Canadians in the future. Many referenced health initiative­s, such as research for vaccines and ongoing medical supports. They suggested that financial aid and mental health services should be more inclusive and accessible, with a focus on community-based care.

Others noted a focus on youth, ensuring that children’s wellbeing and vitality is maintained, including their education. A few addressed broader strategies that would facilitate the ‘design of a social fabric that is resilient and flexible’. Following is some representa­tive input:

• “I feel like we should take more of our tax dollars and invest them in resource-based organizati­ons that actually take care of citizens.”

• “Continue supporting small businesses and people who have lost their job with financial aid. Stop rent payment and increasing rents for people until this pandemic is over and they have their jobs back.”

• “Job outreach and recruitmen­t programs would be a great help to those who are looking to hire and those who need to find work.”

Many referred to specific government support to boost economic recovery, often with a specific focus on lower income individual­s, access to affordable housing and guaranteed income support:

“There should be a guaranteed income plan for Canadians, with a universal minimum wage.”

“We need more grants and supports to start small businesses and for schools and employment.”

“Address student debt load and repayment.”

In closing

The expression ‘unpreceden­ted time’ is often used to describe the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, we have unpreceden­ted events during this crisis, including empty airports and skies, and closed borders and vacant offices in the heart of big cities. We have also witnessed calls to action to address racial injustice, both in Canada and across the globe.

Perhaps future generation­s will view this pandemic as a clear call to action — an unpreceden­ted time that caused us to reflect, react and reset collective­ly. As one of our participan­ts eloquently suggested: “It was a strange time, but weirdly it was — maybe — just what humanity needed.”

 ?? ?? For individual­s who were receiving mental health support prior to the pandemic, the crisis only exacerbate­d their illness.
For individual­s who were receiving mental health support prior to the pandemic, the crisis only exacerbate­d their illness.
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 ?? ?? Walid Hejazi is an Associate Professor of Economic Analysis and Policy at the Rotman School of Management. He developed Canada’s first MBA course on Islamic Finance. This article has been adapted from the report, “Experience­s of Racialized Communitie­s During COVID-19: Reflection­s and a Way Forward,” published by The Canadian Arab Institute and Brock University. The complete report is available for download online. Lead researcher­s on the study included Dr. Andrea Ciologariu (Rotman MBA ‘14), Dr. Susan Murray, Rania Younes and Shireen Salti.
Walid Hejazi is an Associate Professor of Economic Analysis and Policy at the Rotman School of Management. He developed Canada’s first MBA course on Islamic Finance. This article has been adapted from the report, “Experience­s of Racialized Communitie­s During COVID-19: Reflection­s and a Way Forward,” published by The Canadian Arab Institute and Brock University. The complete report is available for download online. Lead researcher­s on the study included Dr. Andrea Ciologariu (Rotman MBA ‘14), Dr. Susan Murray, Rania Younes and Shireen Salti.

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