Studies suggest it still pays to have light skin

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      Take two individuals, both Canadian-born, the same age, living in the same city, belonging to the same type of household, and with the same education. One is a member of a visible minority, and the other is white.

      Krishna Pendakur, an SFU assistant professor of economics, told the Georgia Straight that his studies have shown that if these two people go to work, the one with minority roots would likely earn less than the white worker.

      But that is not all. If average incomes among different Canadian-born minority groups are compared, African-Canadians and those with South Asian origins earn less than those with lighter skins, namely Canadians of Chinese and Arab–West Asian ancestries.

      “That correlation is there,” Pendakur said.

      Pendakur pointed out that such a correlation is “actually even stronger” if you consider his findings that not even all white Canadians are equal. He noted that there are income disparities among the white population depending on their European ancestry. “All the southern European ethnic groups in Canada also have lower incomes,” he said, explaining that white Canadians of British and French origins earn more on average than Canadians who have Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Greek, and Balkan roots.

      Pendakur is a codirector of Metropolis B.C., a policy-research institute focusing on immigration and diversity issues. On May 28, he presented a summary of income disparities at a conference organized by the B.C. Ministry of Attorney General’s settlement and multiculturalism division, the Affiliation of Multicultural Societies and Service Agencies of B.C., and ELSA Net, a society of providers of English-language services for adults. The conference was called the 2007 BC Settlement and Adaptation Program Conference: Redefining Immigrant Settlement in BC.

      In his slide presentation, Pendakur showed that—based on 2001 federal census figures—visible-minority male workers earned 14 percent less than white male workers across Canada, while their female counterparts had four percent less earnings than white female workers (with both studies controlled for age, education, family type, and city of residence).

      African-Canadians fared the worst. Males and females in this category earned 16 percent and 12 percent less respectively. Canadian-born workers of South Asian descent were slightly better off, with earnings below 16 percent and six percent less for males and females, respectively, compared to white Canadians.

      Pendakur’s presentation showed that Chinese- and Arab–West Asian-origin people earned about the same as white Canadian workers.

      In a phone interview, Pendakur stopped short of saying one can actually make a case of racial discrimination through his findings.

      “There’s also the possibility that maybe visible minorities and white workers don’t actually want the same things when they go to the labour market,” he said. “If everybody is not sort of seeking earnings in the same way, then it’s not a good measure of discrimination. It is the case that preferences of people do vary with their ethnic origin.”

      Citing his case as an example, Pendakur said that he could earn more outside the university if he chose to. “I take these things as a measure of discrimination, but you have to take them with a grain of salt,” he said.

      Zool Suleman, a Vancouver immigration and refugee lawyer, had a stronger opinion when asked by the Straight how he viewed Pendakur’s findings. “Prejudice and racial discrimination play a definite role in the workplace and business,” Suleman said. “It doesn’t surprise me that Canadian-born and -raised and -educated individuals who are from visible-minority backgrounds are paid less than Caucasian Canadians.”