Live from the 3.5, 2019 β€” Chapter 3: “Where You From?” β€” Why ‘Black Canadian’ isn’t JUST ONE THING.

“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”,Β Firestarter, Vol. 1: Quest for Fire (2000)

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

A Culture of People from Every Which Place

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

You won’t get aΒ 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 andΒ sixty across Africaβ€”there’s a wholeΒ 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’sΒ justifiedβ€”curious Black and non-Black Canadians alike asking where you’re from not as where youΒ currently live in the Great White North, but from where your lineage came fromΒ before.

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

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

Yes, theΒ 1976 Immigration ActΒ opened the floodgates, allowing for more Black Canadians than ever before, butΒ 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 aΒ 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 beenΒ aroundβ€”so when you ask where they’re from, the only answer isΒ here.

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 soΒ 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 theΒ same thing in Canada forΒ just about as longβ€”the only differenceΒ is that Canada hadn’t established itself yet as the country we know today. Noβ€”Canada isn’tΒ 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 raisedΒ just outside of Toronto, Canadaβ€”our mostΒ populous city with the largest concentration of Black Canadiansβ€”I grew used to the idea that I wouldn’t see myself represented in the world around me.

It’s probably betterΒ 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 workedΒ 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. AndΒ 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 andΒ redefine themselves.

But it’s not all bad.

Live from the 3.5, 2019 β€” Chapter 2 β€” Being Black in the Great White North β€” 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 beΒ heardΒ if weΒ give up.

There’s no magic solution to make being Black in Canada anyΒ easier, but at theΒ very least we’re building the stage for aΒ future where little Black boys and girls can dream bigger than they ever have before.

Asante Haughton | What IS Blackness, Exactly?

Am I Black enough?”

Blackness β€” More than just Melanin

Those who’ve followed my podcastΒ Chatting with Casey from its very first episode know that this isn’t theΒ first time I’ve asked this question.

If you considered the archetypal Black man you know from popular mediaβ€”rocking an oversized hoodie; listening to rap music full-blast; and having a deep affection for curvaceous women, basketball and ballin’ outta controlβ€”notΒ only would you fail to capture what my Blackness means toΒ me, but you’d entirely miss theΒ point of why we’re doing this in theΒ first place.

What IS Blackness, Exactly β€” Black_Canadians_at_Queens_Park
Group of Blades at Queens Park | Source

Every Black person I know has had to come to terms with what Blackness means to them in their own way. There’s no unifying guide to being Black like what the Bible does for Christianity or the Quran for the Muslim faith. We use it as an identifier for our culture, but Black literature could mean books fromΒ the Congo to St. Vincent and back. It’s an oft-debated and loosely defined term, but we all understand what we mean when we say it.

Being Black in Canada

Black culture is uniqueβ€”one of the few cultures thrustΒ upon a people and not developedΒ by them. A Jamaican is not a Gambian is not an Australian Aborigine. We’ve got tribes within tribes and languages within languages but somehow lumped together by the colour of our skin.

And we’ve made the best of it. From Canada’s first Negro History Week in 1926 to officially recognising Black History Month in 1995 thanks to the help of the Honourable Jean Augustine, we’ve celebrated our Blackness and looked to remind the world that we’re not just one thing.

But it hasn’t been easy, with “Black Canadian” conjuring up images of The Weeknd or Drake and not so much Cameron Bailey or MichaΓ«lle Jean. You hear about Black Canadians on February 1st, but where do they go for theΒ rest of the year?

And that’s why I’m here working onΒ Live from the 3.5β€”because ifΒ we don’t invest the time to own our stories, whoΒ will?