Dalon Taylor: Taking on Race and Health

Feb 9, 2017
Liam Mitchell
Dalon P. Taylor, President of the Black Health AllianceThe Black Health Alliance (BHA) is working to improve health outcomes for Black Canadians, who have unique and often underserved medical needs. Dalon P. Taylor, a PhD candidate at York University and President of BHA, spoke to U of T Medicine’s Liam Mitchell about how her organization is working to overcome systemic barriers to Black health in our region and beyond.

What sparked your work at the intersection of health and race?

It was the lived reality of too many members of my Black community that helped me make the connection. My experience working in different communities, in the government and in academia, brought me face to face with the stark differences in many areas – especially in health – between some races and others. The overrepresentation of Black people in the low-income bracket in Canada has impact their health. Take a step backwards and consider the historical and current narrative of me as a Black woman, and my entire race: we do not measure up. How can this not be a factor in our health?

What barriers or biases impact health outcomes for members of Black communities in Canada? 

We can’t separate the health outcomes of Black individuals from our broader experiences in a society that in ways both overt and covert, excludes and discriminates against us. For example, many people of African descent feel they have to constantly insist they have been oppressed and discriminated against. This need to speak out – in and of itself – speaks to barriers we face. When one looks at Canada’s ‘universal’ health care system, for example, why are so many Blacks not getting the care they need for health issues that disproportionately affect the black community, such as sickle cell, diabetes, mental health? Why aren’t there more customized services based on our needs? The blanket and mainstream approach has not worked well for us.

I think part of the reason why is that we lack the ear of decision-makers because we are not seen as an economically and politically powerful group. The solutions to our health issues are not outside the reach and scope of our decision-making structure. Why then are these decisions not being made based on the needs of our communities and in collaboration with our communities?

How is the Black Health Alliance working to break down these barriers and biases?

Our organization has registered charitable status and its membership is made up of community groups, health and social service professionals, and community members, all working together to advance the health and well-being of the Black community. Social determinants of health are our primary concern including racism. We are focused on education and literacy, housing, socio-economic status, poverty, healthy environments, and other social issues that affect health. Our aim is “to reduce the racial disparities in health outcomes and promote health and wellbeing for people from the diverse Black communities in Canada with emphasis on the broad social determinants of health, including racism.”

To achieve our mission, we have undertaken a variety of events and actions: our annual mental health forum, for example, which we hold in November. This past year’s event was about youth and mental health. We also proposed a Black health strategy to strengthen patient-centred health care in Ontario (which is a response to the Patients First Act, Bill 41). One of our activities for this year’s Black History Month – in collaboration with over 25 other community organizations – was a “Day on the Hill” on February 6th. We met with over 50 MPs on Parliament Hill to lobby for legislation that acknowledges the United Nations Declaration of the International Decade for People of African Descent This action also helped raise awareness of the unique and specific challenges African Canadians face.

How can health professionals and Black communities work together to advance Black health?

We need to continue to pool our expertise and strengths for solutions that bring more equitable access to health resources. We also need to support each other in creating clear and consistent messages about our challenges – how we can be supported to overcome them. We can bond together to educate others about who we are; even though the onus should not be on the oppressed to convince the oppressor not to continue their oppression. We also need to be more strategic in our efforts and to find allies in different arenas. Finally, we must move past the monochromatic perception that skin colour defines who we are.

The effects of discrimination and oppression are very real. But we have to ensure we do not allow that to be a source of destructive anger and behaviours. We have to build trust with and amongst each other, and respect each other even when we disagree on certain issues. We are not asking to be treated like victims. We are simply saying that our lives are valuable and should be valued across society. We should have equitable access to health care, education, housing and other resources that affect health. The well-being of our communities needs serious advocacy and real solutions.

You participate in the MD admissions process at U of T, this year as an interview panel member and previously as a reviewer. What do you look for when considering future doctors and why do you think community input improves our admission process?

As a reviewer in the MD admissions process, I pay attention to applicants’ experiences with and awareness of social and cultural diversity If diversity is outside their scope of experience or awareness, especially at a younger age, how will they be sensitive to these issues as professionals?

Community input definitely improves the application process for U of T’s MD program. It’s just like consulting a patient about what they are looking for in a doctor. The key to the community involvement is ensuring there is balanced representation from the community – that includes Black and other races. That the University has made efforts to consult with the public is really commendable, but greater opportunities for U of T to engage community organizations remain.

Taylor’s research seeks to understand the experiences of skilled immigrant women from the English-speaking Caribbean in Canada who are racialized and how they negotiate their social identities in Canada. If you are a female who migrated from the Caribbean to Canada under the skilled worker immigration category between 2005 – 2010 and would like to participate, or if you would like information please email dalon@yorku.ca.




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