Sherley Joseph | “Where You From?”

Last updated on April 21st, 2021 at 02:34 am

Why ‘Black Canadian’ isn’t JUST ONE THING.

It took a long time for me to understand that all Black Canadians don’t act like Jamaicans do. Yes, we might make up a good chunk of Black Canadians (25.8% of them), and Jamaicans are who I mostly grew up around, but we’re far from all that Black Canada has to offer.

A Culture of People from Every Which Place

“You think we all Jamaican, when nuff man are Trinis
Bajans, Grenadians and a hole heap of Haitians
Guyanese and all of the West Indies combined
To make the T dot O dot, one of a kind”

— Kardinal Offishall, “BaKardi Slang”, Firestarter, Vol. 1: Quest for Fire (2000)

Live from the 3.5, 2019—Chapter 3—"Where You From?"—Why 'Black Canadian' isn't JUST ONE THING.—Black_Canadians_at_Queens_Park_(detail)
Detailed Photo of a Group of Blades at Queens Park | Source

You won’t get a complete picture of the Black Canadian population by studying the list of ethnic origins from the 2016 Census, but it lists about twenty different Caribbean roots and sixty across Africa—there’s a whole world of Black people beyond the ones occupying 10,992 square kilometres in the western Caribbean.

With so much diversity in our population, one could almost say it’s justified—curious Black and non-Black Canadians alike asking where you’re from not as where you currently live in the Great White North, but from where your lineage came from before.

Live from the 3.5, 2019—Chapter 3—"Where You From?"—Why 'Black Canadian' isn't JUST ONE THING.—montego-bay-painting-landscape-in-jamaica
A painting of a Jamaican landscape. Source

But that question’s not as simple as it seems since not all Black Canadians showed up so recently.

Yes, the 1976 Immigration Act opened the floodgates, allowing for more Black Canadians than ever before, but long before that, Black Americans fled here to seek refuge from the persecution and discrimination down south, and we shouldn’t readily forget that. They didn’t arrive to a perfect existence, don’t get me wrong, but they’ve been here as their part of our national fabric for as long as Canada’s been around—so when you ask where they’re from, the only answer is here.

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