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.