'Race' matters: racialization and egalitarian discourses involving Aboriginal people in the Canadian health care context

Ethn Health. 2008 Apr;13(2):109-27. doi: 10.1080/13557850701830307.


The major purpose of this paper is to examine how 'race' and racialization operate in health care. To do so, we draw upon data from an ethnographic study that examines the complex issues surrounding health care access for Aboriginal people in an urban center in Canada. In our analysis, we strategically locate our critical examination of racialization in the 'tension of difference' between two emerging themes, namely the health care rhetoric of 'treating everyone the same,' and the perception among many Aboriginal patients that they were 'being treated differently' by health care providers because of their identity as Aboriginal people, and because of their low socio-economic status. Contrary to the prevailing discourse of egalitarianism that paints health care and other major institutions as discrimination-free, we argue that 'race' matters in health care as it intersects with other social categories including class, substance use, and history to organize inequitable access to health and health care for marginalized populations. Specifically, we illustrate how the ideological process of racialization can shape the ways that health care providers 'read' and interact with Aboriginal patients, and how some Aboriginal patients avoid seeking health care based on their expectation of being treated differently. We conclude by urging those of us in positions of influence in health care, including doctors and nurses, to critically reflect upon our own positionality and how we might be complicit in perpetuating social inequities by avoiding a critical discussion of racialization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel / ethnology
  • Attitude to Health / ethnology
  • Canada
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Health Services, Indigenous*
  • Healthcare Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Inuit*
  • Male
  • Prejudice*