We don’t talk a lot about Black Canadian history, and that’s probably because so much of it was so horrible.
We had segregation. Just look at Viola Desmond, convicted after refusing to leave a whites-only area of the Roseland Theatre in 1946. And though we shake our finger at the United States and their centuries-long enslavement of Black people, we were doing the same thing in Canada for just about as long—the only difference is that Canada hadn’t established itself yet as the country we know today. No—Canada isn’t quite the utopia we make it out to be for its 1.2 million Black Canadians, but we work hard to thrive with the little bit we’ve got.
A Quick Idea of What it’s Like to be a Minority with a Loose Idea of their Identity.
Born and raised just outside of Toronto, Canada—our most populous city with the largest concentration of Black Canadians—I grew used to the idea that I wouldn’t see myself represented in the world around me.
It’s probably better now, but back in the ’90s, being Black and smart just drew comparisons with Steven Q. Urkel. And I’d argue that before we became more Americanized with a basketball team, access to BET and the meteoric rise of Drake, we struggled to find an identity that worked past our discrete pasts into something decidedly “Black Canadian”. We had Caribana. The various neighbourhoods we made our own. But we also had limitations on our educational and work experience from abroad. And continual discrimination from those wary of giving up their way of life. This country’s not only made it tough for Black Canadians to find themselves, but also to get ahead and redefine themselves.
But it’s not all bad.
With Black Canadians holding down five of the 338 seats in the House of Commons (1.5%), six of the 124 seats in Ontario’s Parliament (4.8%), and one of the 25 seats in Toronto’s city council (4%), we’re starting to see representation. Sure, we’re not at every table. We often feel ignored. But, we’ll never be heard if we give up.
There’s no magic solution to make being Black in Canada any easier, but at the very least we’re building the stage for a future where little Black boys and girls can dream bigger than they ever have before.
Being Black in the Great White North — Casey Palmer’s Story
For the second instalment of Live from the 3.5, I looked back to a talk I gave in collaboration with the East Enders Against Racism last February at the Toronto Public Library by Pape and Danforth. While I wish I’d recorded the Q&A session that came after it—quite a few people urged me to pursue political office and I got to change at least one mind about Black people—I still enjoyed sharing a bit of my story. Not everyone gets the chance to have candid conversations with Black people about their truths—I hope this series makes more of that happen.
So sit back, relax, and prepare to open your mind to some possibilities—it’s 2019’s Live from the 3.5, Chapter 2: Being Black in the Great White North.
Let’s check it out!
Dear World — There IS Colour in the World. Let’s Work with That.
And that’s it for another episode of Live from the 3.5.
As much as I take it for granted at times, it’s so important that we set the tone for what it means to be Black in this country. I was recently featured in an interview in HuffPost Canada, and while the article itself was an honour, when it got shared to Facebook, it reminded me how the rest of the country sees the things we just take as true.
I saw thoughts like:
- Regardless of their skin colour, my boys are Canadian humans, and nothing else should matter.
- We should let kids be kids, and as a Dad, I should just set a good example.
- Or that I shouldn’t talk about race with them at all and that I should let them discover the world on their terms, come what may.
But here’s the thing—we’re minorities living in a country that’s almost four-fifths white. We don’t have the privilege of acting like we’re all the same, because it only takes one act of hatred to forever impact my children and the way they see the world.
Hell—at three and five they’ve already had brushes with racism—if I don’t teach them how complicated the world can be, I’d worry about who would.
Until the next.
So let’s be better. Let’s find space to be Black and Canadian. One doesn’t preclude the other—for us, it’s all part of one bigger, confusing puzzle of our identity and what it all means.
But be well out there. Keep your head up. And make sure to come back for even more Live from the 3.5!
Until then, I remain,