Race, Health and Happiness: U of T Professor Launches Podcast on Race and Wellbeing

Feb 25, 2020
Author: 
Françoise Makanda

Professor Onye Nnorom (front left) and colleaguesProfessor Onye Nnorom (front left) and colleagues
A new podcast that aims to help racialized people thrive and stay well hits the airways today, hosted by U of T Professor Onye Nnorom.

“It’s not a podcast where we start explaining racism and if there is any in Canada. The assumption is that the listener understands that,” says Nnorom, a physician and assistant professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and the Department of Family and Community Medicine. “This podcast is like course 201. Now, we think about staying well, thriving and finding joy.”

Centre stage in the podcast is the Black, Indigenous and People of Colour experience, Nnorom says. “It’s an opportunity to understand how groups have thrived and survived systemic racism. At its core, it’s how we overcome and enjoy despite life challenges."

The first episodes feature guests such as life coach Ritu Bhasin, former MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes and the film and music director known as Director X.

Nnorom got the idea for the podcast from talking with students. She has always been vocal about the impact of racism on health, but says racialized students wanted more: “‘We understand what you say about racism and how it impacts people's stress levels and how it's incorporated into our institutions unintentionally. So how do we stay well from issues like microaggression, and understanding the lack of opportunities we may face?’”

Nnorom says she didn’t have the answer to those questions. “Yes, there is some research, but I think community wisdom is a critical part of that answer.”

She enlisted the help of other DLSPH community members to produce the podcast, including Dr. Karl Kabasele, staff member Obadiah George, MD student Semipe Oni and alum Bhavna Samtani.

In one of the first three available episodes, she explores the duality that first-generation Canadians face coming from a culture that emphasizes community while entering a society that prefers individuality.

She asks: “How do you stay true to yourself and your own value, which might not always be the same as the dominant culture or the Canadian culture? And how do you find the middle ground where you don’t have to be performing or pretending to be something that you are not, but are still able to do well in this society and stay well?”

Nnorom sees commonalities in the ways her guests stay well. Guests — all of whom come from various backgrounds and industries — stress the importance of connection and community among all backgrounds.

“Find community with people who are like you and those who are not like you to connect with. That’s the beauty of Canada,” she says. “Even though there is a lot of isolation especially in the way our Western culture is structured, lots of different cultures have a tradition of that kind of connectedness.”

Nnorom looked at various outlets and settled on a podcast. Her hope is to reach students and their counterparts through the medium which she believes is untraditional and will allow her to dive into topics mainstream media may not entertain.

Although the podcast won’t explain racism, she hopes it will help all listeners understand the issues racialized people face.

“Perhaps it will help people to understand that extra layer of challenges experienced by racialized people,” she says. “So I hope that it creates some sort of understanding, or inspiration to become an ally.”

Find Prof. Nnorom’s podcast online here.

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