If St. Patrick’s Day happens and everyone forgets that it’s St. Patrick’s Day, did it even really happen?
The funny thing about me forgetting about St. Patrick’s Day, in particular, is that I’d bought a green shirt from UNTUCKit on my recent trip to DC with the express purpose of having something thematic to wear when the day came along.
But COVID-19 changed everything, and I forgot all about it.
It probably has something to do with the childminding not ending up as equitable… or as easy as either of us initially imagined.
And so begins the first day of a strange and new normal.
Working from home isn’t entirely new to me—I’m fortunate enough to work for an organisation that values flexibility alongside productivity—but I’ve rarely done it with my kids underfoot, constantly seeking entertainment and asking for something new every five minutes. I don’t quite know what I expected—perhaps that with how well I knew my job, I’d be able to do it all without a problem.
But if this first day was a taste of what things could look like in the weeks ahead… we might be in for a problem.
Day Two had me feeling a bit more like an outdoor cat trapped indoors, clawing away at the screen door for the world he thinks he’s supposed to be in.
The weekend’s over and tomorrow will be the first real taste of just how much the world has changed for many Ontarians. For those of us not working at home, or employed by one of the numerous services already shut down in the province, it won’t be a regular Monday, and will start to set the tone for the next few weeks ahead. But rather than dwell on the negatives and let them burrow deep inside us, we should look at all this as a challenge to our norms, giving us new ways to do the things we’d always taken for granted.
It’s Day One, and things are still a little surreal. We still went forward with our plans, shopping for furniture and taking a leisurely lunch while our kids’ godmother looked after them at home. We’ve shut down just about anywhere where 250 people or more could gather, but it was clear there’s still several of us not quite ready to shut ourselves off from the world.
This is only short-term, though. The restaurants and small businesses operate in constant fear of a national lockdown, barring doors and keeping everyone at home, so we’d better enjoy it while we can, right? But I’m taking every spare moment I can find to jot some thoughts down, sure they’re a lot better here than jumbled inside of my head.
I think I’m trying to hold on to a sense of normalcy as long as I can, fully aware that it could all get a lot worse before it gets any better. But the most important thing we can do right now is prepare, and that includes what we’ll do while the kids have nowhere to go.
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.
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.