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 #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?

Black Fridays 0001 — Every Black ‘You’re Not Black Enough’ is a White ‘You’re All The Same’.

Staying on my me ████, but hated on by both sides
I’m just a kid who blowing up with my father’s name
And every black “you’re not black enough”
Is a white “you’re all the same”

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


I’m not the brother you want, but I’m the one you’ve got right now.

Fear of a Black Story

Sometimes I wonder if we even want something like Live from the 3.5.

It’s been a challenging month—February often is. Horrible weather. Journeys in and out of town. A death in the family and people looking to make things really difficult for me at the 9-5.

The way it is now, I might not be the right guy for Live.

Beyond Black History Month

Black Fridays 0001 — Every Black 'You're Not Black Enough' is a White 'You're All The Same'. — Casey Unimpressed

The older I get and the longer I keep creating content, the more realistic I get about it all. Most of the people who used to just dabble in this found other things to do with their time, like pursuing careers or raising kids. And most of the creators around me today treat content as their full-time gig, choosing the potentially lucrative influencer life over office job drudgery or raising kids. The choices I’ve made—and still make—set me apart from many others, both in how unique my lifestyle is, and also the work I need to do to keep it all going.

Which is all a long way of saying Live from the 3.5 isn’t the kind of project you plan overnight. In fact, if I wanted to do it in 2020 without a hitch, I’d probably need to start planning it today, making room for all the stuff that’ll inevitably pop up over the year.

No—if I want to continue with this project, I’ll need to make some changes: do it in a way that’s reasonable for my life and doesn’t have me scrambling each year.

And so I have a little proposition—instead of trying to shove this all into a single month each year and working well beyond my capacity already strained at the seams, why don’t we just do away with Black History Month altogether and celebrate our community every day of the year?

Lord knows our country needs it.

Live from the 3.5, 2019 — Chapter 2: Being Black in the Great White North

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.

Live from the 3.5, 2019 — Chapter 2 — Being Black in the Great White North — Casey and His Brothers as Youths

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.