Live from the 3.5, 2020 #5 — The Trouble with Tokenism: No, I’m NOT What You Expected.

Tokenism.

One of those things the Black community doesn’t talk about nearly enough, tokenism is what happens when someone’s in a group where everyone else is completely unlike them.

Much of my life had me as the token Black guy, navigating spaces unfamiliar to me again and again as I defined my identity. Black Canadians make up 3.5% of the population now, but there were even fewer of us around in the ’80s and ’90s. You rarely saw Black faces not already connected to your parents from their ties back home. Over in the suburb of Mississauga, Ontario, I could go to school near one of its few Black neighbourhoods, and there were still only three of us in my French immersion class.

Live from the 3.5, 2020 5 The Trouble with Tokenism — No, I'm NOT What You Expected — Young Casey Palmer Trying to Look Mean
Even a young Casey thought he had to fit a certain mould….

Fact is, I didn’t understand how differently my parents were looking to do things.

The thing is… you don’t really know that you’re Black as a kid till someone points it out for you.

And I don’t just mean your skin colour—it only takes one look in the mirror to tell you that—but how you come off to everyone else as a Black person, with someone always willing to call you to account if they don’t think you measure up.

Too “White” for the 3.5%, too Black for the rest. This is Casey Palmer’s Trouble with Tokenism, and it all started with one little test.

What’s The Trouble With Tokenism?

“And every Black ‘You’re not Black enough’
Is a White ‘You’re all the same'”

— Childish Gambino, “That Power”, Camp (2011)

One of the problems with being Black in Canada is that we’re often grossly underestimated—that our economic, social and situational disadvantages are somehow due to a lack of intelligence instead of a lack of opportunity.

When I was six, my Mom wanted me tested for gifted education, thinking me capable of more than what my school offered. And so she did what any concerned parents would do and asked the school board to make the arrangements to make it happen.

And they refused. They thought my shows of intelligence little more than a phase I’d outgrow if they gave it a little time. But my Mom wasn’t one to takes things lying down, fighting them until they let me take it, doing better on it than anyone on the board expected.

But that just might be part of the reason why I wouldn’t see many Black faces for the next ten years—in a country that didn’t expect much of us, it took a lot just to get through the front door.

I was lucky, though, to have a mother who believed in me even when others wouldn’t—to have me rise to the challenge even when others thought I didn’t belong.

I just wish I understood all that sooner.

Live from the 3.5 2020, #4 — Canada’s Dance with Diversity (A Toronto Does Not a Canada MAKE.)

“Why’s your skin so dark?”

— an eight-year-old boy from small town Ontario at the Canadian National Comic Book Exposition, 2003.

When a little White boy asked me why my skin was so dark at my comic con table, I wasn’t ready for it at all. As a Mississauga kid, I knew diversity. I knew a public aware of all the races, never dreaming of a situation where people wouldn’t know about people who didn’t look like them.

But that also meant that I grew up in a bubble, thinking the Greater Toronto Area a reflection of how things worked across the country instead of seeing it for what it is—one big Canadian anomaly.

Many Torontonians make the same mistake (after all, being steps away from an international airport makes cheap trips to the Caribbean far more alluring than costly domestic travel), but I wanted to show my kids more of the country than I’d ever seen myself. In those journeys, I realised something:

This country is white as hell.

And, Toronto? This might come as a shock to you.

Yes, we have Black people in Canada. No, they’re not LOST.

Embed from Getty Images

For a long time, people were surprised we have Black people in Canada, sure it was a country full of White people living in igloos and travelling by dogsled through a wintry tundra.

And they weren’t entirely wrong.

But before Drake came along and showed the world a different side of what a Canadian looked like, there were always Canadians who’d run online to our country’s defence, telling everyone that they’d be stunned if they knew how diverse our country was. We have representation from every corner of the world. Canada embraces people and weaves them into a cultural mosaic instead of having them assimilate as the United States does.

And their hearts were in the right place—if you look at our urban centres like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, this is indeed the case, as vast proportions of our BIPOC population calls urban Canada home. But it doesn’t take much travelling outside of those metropolitan hubs to understand just how homogeneous the rest of our country is.

Live from the 3.5 2020, #3 — Examining Blackness.

When I started this project, it had a straightforward premise—to let Black Canadians share their stories, seldom seen in our history books.

And that worked at first—interviewing my fellow creators and weaving our stories together into something everyone could understand—but what I didn’t realise was how much I’d learn from them, the breadth of our experiences slowly reshaping the way I think.

In the beginning, I worried about the perception—how others would view my brand if my work grew too serious. But the deeper I dug, the less I toed the line—I wrote and wrote and wrote again until I had but one deceptively simple question:

What is Blackness, exactly?

The Quest for Blackness.

Live from the 3.5 2020, #3 — Examining Blackness. — Black Self-Reflection
Source | Photo by jurien huggins on Unsplash

“You made us into a race. We made ourselves into a people.”

— Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between Me and the World (2015)

Blackness. What is Blackness? What is this thing we know is flowing through our veins, making us a little different from most of the world around us even if we can’t quite define it ourselves?

To most people, Blackness is just a label. It’s the thing that defines a people darker than themselves, a people connected to basketball, hip-hop and Spike Lee joints. They might not ever stop to think about it, but what so many see is just what’s on the surface, not understanding everything underneath, because they’ve never had to live it.

But what of the 3.5% of us who do? For us, it could be anything. Where you come from. How you think. It’s a web of traditions, experiences and unwritten rules, continually shifting but ever-present in a world that sees us as different. But with the discrimination, dehumanisation and just plain racism that happens every day, sometimes the Blackness is all that we’ve got. And though we’d like to think this couldn’t possibly be true and that anti-Black behaviour is a thing of the past, it only takes a little digging to find a story with a very different take on the matter.

The Difference Between Black History in Canada and the US is That There’s Very Little Difference at All….

Live from the 3.5, 2020 #2 — Do We Even NEED a Black History Month?

Angry White Person: “Why isn’t there a White History Month???”

Me: “Because that’s ‘history class’.”

If you ask those who believe we live in a post-racial world, things look a little like this:

Racism is over. Everyone’s equal. We know the evils that men do and teach our children not to become them. We’re in a respect-first culture with everybody dedicated to the cause—segregation, ostracisation and blaxploitation are things of the past. Blackface is extinct, Black people can be anything, and we have the same fighting chance that everybody does, so the day for a Black History Month’s long behind us.

Which would be nice if it were the case, but if you’ve chatted with a Black person for five minutes or more, you’ll know that the reality we see paints a very different picture.

The Bother with Black History Month

Now—Black History Month is a tricky subject for a group of people whose histories come from wildly different directions. Black people who’ve been here for centuries, the descendants of slaves both freed and not. Those who made their way here as legal discrimination slowly dissolved in the decades following World War II. As metropolitan Canada became more diverse, our Black identity did, too, and now we find ourselves with a history that’s not so easy to distil down to just one thing.

But despite the fluidity found in Black culture and how much the very idea of Blackness can differ from person to person, there’s a shared narrative that we’re trying to share with everyone else…. if only they’re willing to hear it.

Experiences show us otherwise, though, with teenagers making racist jokes just outside of our nation’s capital and schools trying to replace Black History Month with “Diversity Month” as if all members of the BIPOC community are the same. (BIPOC = Black/Indigenous/People of Colour.)

As a Black person, it can often feel like your history and your very identity is regularly stepped on, and Black History Month is that one month in the year where everyone finally stops to listen, so we need to make the biggest impact we can.

But it’s not that simple.

It’s Black History Month, but WHICH Blacks and Whose HISTORY?

Live from the 3.5, 2020 2 — Do We Even NEED a Black History Month — Black Women Saluting Black Power v2
Source | CreateHERStock

As I said before, with a community made up of over two hundred different ethnic and cultural origins, things aren’t cut and dry. And just as our Blackness shouldn’t be just one thing for those from the outside looking in, it also means we’re not always on the same page within the community, either.

The sentiment of Black History Month is nice, but some feel it can be lacking in execution, with some alternative approaches to our twenty-five-year-old tradition that might make it better.

So—which way do we go? Do we stick with the Black History Month we already know and work to make it better, or do we fight for an approach that could transform it into something else entirely?

That, my friends, is what we’re looking to figure out in Live from the 3.5 #2: Do We Even Need a Black History Month?

Live from the 3.5, 2020 — INTRO: Back to Black.

“When we talk about black maybe
We talk about situations
Of people of color and because you are that color
You endure obstacles and opposition
And not all the time from… from other nationalities
Sometimes it come from your own kind
Or maybe even your own mind
You get judged..you get laughed at… you get looked at wrong
You get sighted for not being strong
The struggle of just being you
The struggle of just being us… black maybe”

— Common, “U, Black Maybe”, Finding Forever (2007)

So here we are in the twenty-fifth Canadian Black History Month since the Honourable Jean Augustine made it official back in December ’95.

And we’ve grown—while not everyone agrees with the need for a Black History Month, it brought much more discussion to the forefront.

That said, we still struggle to find our home online.

After all, just because it’s Black History Month doesn’t mean we fix our gazes firmly in the past. Yes, the notable moments and achievements in Black Canadian history need to become part of our daily discussion instead of examining it once a day… but where do we go from there?

Casey Palmer 2020: Growing Up For Once.

January 29, 2020—we’re almost a month into the new year; I wouldn’t be surprised if people thought that I quit 😂

But no, as usual, it’s quite the opposite—I’m working hard to reach the point where I don’t have to work this hard at all.

…let me explain.

Where We Left Off.

We ended 2019 with a post looking back at my last ten years, all the things I learned, and some of the hopes and dreams I had for the decade ahead.

But hoping and dreaming for things isn’t nearly enough to make them happen, so I hunkered down to start laying the groundwork for the future I saw ahead.

Casey Palmer 2020 - Growing Up For Once. — The Life of Casey the DadHammering away blindly looking to stumble upon a result isn’t good enough, though—you can only work so hard. There are only so many hours in the day. You run out of steam, life distracts you, and if you’re not creating with an ongoing distribution strategy in mind, it means you’re shooting content off into the internet, never to see it again.

And when you’ve spent the better part of a decade putting well over a thousand posts out into the digital ether, let me tell you—that’s a lot of wasted potential.

But sometimes even the oldest dogs can learn new tricks, and that’s what squirrelled away this last little bit.

That said, though we have a myriad of tools in 2020 to do fantastic work, do we have what it takes to use them?

The 2019 Wrap-Up: Design of a Decade

“Reality tells you what you can’t do.”

— Rick Rubin on HBO’s The Shop: Uninterrupted, Season 2, Episode 4

It’s the end of a decade, and I can’t help but reflect on where I am now versus where I was back in December 2009.

The 2019 Wrap-Up — Design of a Decade — Looking Back

This entire decade, pretty much, has been the balancing act between the blog, the family, and the day-to-day work as a public servant for Ontario.

Back then, I’d just started my first job out of the Ontario Internship Program, putting my time and energy into that and the time I spent with Sarah. I didn’t even really use Facebook at the time, much less everything I’d get up to on Twitter just a year later—the world I spend all this time on now as a Canadian Dad was utterly inconceivable to me back then, because so much less was on the line. Nor was I married. Or had any kids. So many of the things that make me a better man and keep me coming back to do the best that I can for all that are things I wouldn’t appreciate until I had them.

But a decade later, my friend Ramy put it to me best—the more you do something, the more your capacity grows to take on even more, and that’s the mentality I’m keeping with me as I get ready for 2020. Work smarter. Plan better. Make better decisions. I’ve come this far this last decade while doing whatever I wanted and getting better at it along the way. But you eventually hit a point where that just doesn’t cut it anymore, and in 2020, I think I’ll finally learn what I’m made of.

LESSON ONE: Success is More Than Just a Number on a Screen

One thing I can tell you that separates the me today from the person I was a decade ago is that I think differently.

When I started this blogger journey, I treated success like it was a quantifiable measure. That I was the sum of the followers I had. Or that I should measure my happiness by the number of comments I got on my work. I would chase after engagement rates, post frequencies and Domain Authority scores, thinking that they were the keys to my success, but what I understand now is that they’re all just indicative of something much larger at play.

It goes back to what I’ve been saying all along—the medium doesn’t matter if you’ve got an amazing story to tell.

The 2019 Wrap-Up — Design of a Decade — Flying for My Hopes and Dreams

When I took a break from creating as intensely as I usually did in the last few months of the decade, it made me understand that it was what I probably should’ve been doing all along—taking the time to make my work great instead of just good. You get used to trying so hard to be first or trying to be on trend that you forget that great work usually doesn’t just pop out of thin air. If you don’t spend the time and nurture it, you’re only doing yourself a disservice.

What that sweat equity looks like for me is bleeding pens dry. Blazing through as many notebooks as I can. I’m trying to spin gold from a dining room table full of straw every night, and as much as it pains some right now to see me work as hard as I do, I keep doing it because I know there are higher heights I can reach if I try.

The 14th Annual CaribbeanTales International Film Festival — Our Films. Our Stories. Our Legends.

Okay—before we get into the 14th annual CaribbeanTales International Film Festival, I’d like to go on the record with this:

Rattlesnakes may quite possibly be the best movie you’ll watch in 2019. Hands down.

It’s the kind of movie one can’t quite do justice unless it’s seen—to talk about the synopsis alone it sounds good:

Robert McQueen has a wonderful family and he makes a decent living. However, underneath the perfect husband act, he lives a double life and often has affairs with other married women. When one of their husbands finds out his identity, Robert finds himself abducted and tortured for his adulterous affairs.

Source: https://caribbeantalesfestival.com/2018-opening-night-new-day/

But oh my goodness is that ever an oversimplification of what might be the wildest ride you can have in 85 minutes! If this makes it out to wider distribution, I can’t recommend this movie enough. But I’d never get to see it without the help of the CaribbeanTales International Film Festival.

The Life and Times of Casey Palmer—The State of the #BloggerLife, August 2019—Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts

“I’m not even trying to win—I just want to get by without struggling too much.”

— VV

As the great Marie Kondo put it, if something doesn’t bring you joy, then you shouldn’t keep it in your life… and I think that’s how I’m finally feeling about blogging.

The Life and Times of Casey Palmer—The State of the #BloggerLife, August 2019—Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts—Casey's Done Blogging

Now. I’m not quitting. I’m not announcing the death of the blog for the millionth time. But what I know is that I’m ready for something else, because Dad blogging just isn’t cutting it for me anymore.

Casey Palmer, Canadian Dadfluencer 2.0

If you told me about the wild roller coaster ride ahead back when I was tweeting about my lunch in ’08. There’s no way I ever could’ve seen it. The blog’s given me so much—it’s let me travel across the continent. Play with all sorts of toys. I’ve made countless friendships and opened my eyes to a bigger world than I’d ever imagined… but it’s time I start striving for whatever comes next.

The Life and Times of Casey Palmer—The State of the #BloggerLife, August 2019—Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts—Casey Peering Into the Future

The writing’s been on the wall since forever as the opportunities dried up and the world’s attention moved elsewhere.

It means that the average blogger can’t make money from their work as quickly as they did before. The world continually asks more from the content it consumes, and despite tens of thousands of years of history, the written word can’t keep up anymore.

But for me, that’s okay. I mean… I never really meant to become a blogger anyway.

Why Me Blog?

Back in the day, all I ever wanted to do was draw.

As a kid, I’d read Nintendo Power and sketch out the levels for video game sequels I dreamt up in my head. Year by year, I kept drawing up ideas, so much so that I believed it’s what I’d do for the rest of my life.

However, life had some very different ideas in store. Business school. Finding a career. A post about sandwiches that established me as a writer for several years to come.

But I never intended for writing to be the only thing.

THIRTY-SIX: Trying to Learn a New Bag of Tricks!

Today I’m thirty-six. I’m thirty-six, and I blog in a world that doesn’t read blogs anymore.

And who can blame it? The written word only does so well at telling a story, with podcasts, videos and photos doing a far better job of filling the details between the lines than we could’ve ever imagined. The world’s changed aplenty from what it was when I started this a decade ago, and the one thing it continually asks me to do is something I still struggle with no matter how many times I work to figure out my ideas—

It’s time to re-think how I deliver my content.

The Biggish Blogger Problem.

I had coffee with a good friend from TELUS the other day, and he gave me some proper perspective on the current lay of the land.

The blog is dead. It’s long past the point of accepting the fact—though long-form content still does remarkably well on Google, we should be rethinking the way that content works in 2019 instead of looking to game the system with the stuff we’ve already got.

We’re in an age where smart assistants are popping up in homes across the country, with preference given to short answers that get to the point rather than meander about like the thousand-word treatises we’ve grown so used to. Stellar video’s not limited to big studios; music’s made at kitchen tables. There’s so much content out there, and the bar’s so high that everyone’s looking for stuff that’ll blow their minds… and that’s what I need to work on next.