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Live from the 3.5 2020, #4 — Canada’s Dance with Diversity (A Toronto Does Not a Canada MAKE.)

“Why’s your skin so dark?”

— an eight-year-old boy from small town Ontario at the Canadian National Comic Book Exposition, 2003.

When a little White boy asked me why my skin was so dark at my comic con table, I wasn’t ready for it at all. As a Mississauga kid, I knew diversity. I knew a public aware of all the races, never dreaming of a situation where people wouldn’t know about people who didn’t look like them.

But that also meant that I grew up in a bubble, thinking the Greater Toronto Area a reflection of how things worked across the country instead of seeing it for what it is—one big Canadian anomaly.

Many Torontonians make the same mistake (after all, being steps away from an international airport makes cheap trips to the Caribbean far more alluring than costly domestic travel), but I wanted to show my kids more of the country than I’d ever seen myself. In those journeys, I realised something:

This country is white as hell.

And, Toronto? This might come as a shock to you.

Yes, we have Black people in Canada. No, they’re not LOST.

Embed from Getty Images

For a long time, people were surprised we have Black people in Canada, sure it was a country full of White people living in igloos and travelling by dogsled through a wintry tundra.

And they weren’t entirely wrong.

But before Drake came along and showed the world a different side of what a Canadian looked like, there were always Canadians who’d run online to our country’s defence, telling everyone that they’d be stunned if they knew how diverse our country was. We have representation from every corner of the world. Canada embraces people and weaves them into a cultural mosaic instead of having them assimilate as the United States does.

And their hearts were in the right place—if you look at our urban centres like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, this is indeed the case, as vast proportions of our BIPOC population calls urban Canada home. But it doesn’t take much travelling outside of those metropolitan hubs to understand just how homogeneous the rest of our country is.

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Live from the 3.5 2020, #3 — Examining Blackness.

When I started this project, it had a straightforward premise—to let Black Canadians share their stories, seldom seen in our history books.

And that worked at first—interviewing my fellow creators and weaving our stories together into something everyone could understand—but what I didn’t realise was how much I’d learn from them, the breadth of our experiences slowly reshaping the way I think.

In the beginning, I worried about the perception—how others would view my brand if my work grew too serious. But the deeper I dug, the less I toed the line—I wrote and wrote and wrote again until I had but one deceptively simple question:

What is Blackness, exactly?

The Quest for Blackness.

Live from the 3.5 2020, #3 — Examining Blackness. — Black Self-Reflection
Source | Photo by jurien huggins on Unsplash

“You made us into a race. We made ourselves into a people.”

— Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between Me and the World (2015)

Blackness. What is Blackness? What is this thing we know is flowing through our veins, making us a little different from most of the world around us even if we can’t quite define it ourselves?

To most people, Blackness is just a label. It’s the thing that defines a people darker than themselves, a people connected to basketball, hip-hop and Spike Lee joints. They might not ever stop to think about it, but what so many see is just what’s on the surface, not understanding everything underneath, because they’ve never had to live it.

But what of the 3.5% of us who do? For us, it could be anything. Where you come from. How you think. It’s a web of traditions, experiences and unwritten rules, continually shifting but ever-present in a world that sees us as different. But with the discrimination, dehumanisation and just plain racism that happens every day, sometimes the Blackness is all that we’ve got. And though we’d like to think this couldn’t possibly be true and that anti-Black behaviour is a thing of the past, it only takes a little digging to find a story with a very different take on the matter.

The Difference Between Black History in Canada and the US is That There’s Very Little Difference at All….

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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?

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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?

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Live from the 3.5, 2019 — Chapter 3: “Where You From?” — 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”, Firestarter, Vol. 1: Quest for Fire (2000)

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

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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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.

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UP NEXT: Live from the 3.5, 2019—My Biggest and Best Black History Month Project YET.

We’re halfway through January, and before you know it February will be up close and personal and with it, all the stories of Black history we’ve waited a year to share.

Black History Month is Back Again!

That’s not entirely true—Black people are sharing their stories all the time, but is the world ready to listen? Our culture stretches to every corner of society—those flaunting their wealth on social media and in music videos. Or those seeking separation instead of assimilation as the best way to preserve ourselves. If you’re anything like me, that culture involves a little too much code-switching—trying to find our place by working with the rules of our non-Black environments instead of fighting against them and staying true to ourselves. The world gives us a number of ways to learn each others’ stories—I found The Hate U Give as a recent example, showing that no matter how much you try riding the line, the world will try its hardest to tell you who you are.

(The Hate U Give was released on Blu-ray™ and DVD on Jan 22nd if you want to check it out for yourself!)

But that’s not the only story we have to share, and that’s why I work on Live from the 3.5 every February to tell even more.

Live from the 3.5 — Telling the Stories of Black Canadian Culture

UP NEXT — Live from the 3.5, 2019—My Biggest and Best Black History Month Project YET. — Casey on TV for Black History Month

If you’re unfamiliar with my work, I’ve been running month-long projects for Black History Month, usually either interviewing other Black Canadians to hear their stories or discussing topics that affect us all regardless of our heritage, language or beliefs. I wasn’t able to put it out last year due to some scheduling conflicts, so I’m doubling down this year to get it done right.

While past years have been almost entirely in written form, this year I want to do a better job of appreciating the oral tradition deeply rooted in our history and spend some time creating podcasts for the things I’ll be discussing this February. If you have a computer microphone or a landline phone and feel compelled to spend 10-15 minutes chatting on any of the topics below, do let me know. February’s around the corner, and I’d love to start locking the recordings in sooner than later. With anyone who participates, I’ll include a photo, mini-bio and the most relevant links that tell us what you do! If you have a computer mic or landline phone, we can make it work.

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The Life and Times of Casey Palmer — The State of the #BloggerLife, January 2019 — Janu-WEARY.

We’re a week into 2019, and I’m here drawing up battle plans for the year of content ahead.

The Life and Times of Casey Palmer—A Bustling Era Ahead

With any luck, you’ve had yourselves a very happy new year so far, full of new opportunities and experiences as you reach for everything 2019 has to offer. In my case, I just got The 2019 200 up and running (so I can stop agonising over every aspect of the 3700-word treatise to resolutions every night—you should really check it out), so, with that out of the way, it’s finally time to work on some time-sensitive things that could probably use my attention.

Hasta la Vista, 2018.

The Life and Times of Casey Palmer — The State of the #BloggerLife, January 2019 — Janu-WEARY. — Me and the Youngest in 2017The first is to say goodbye to 2018. Officially.

The problem with my world is that there’s rarely enough time to keep the past in the past.

In my quest to do everything—saying “yes” to plenty of things I probably shouldn’t—I somehow forget that one can’t juggle parenting, work and a world of content without sacrificing something in the process.

But I keep trying anyway despite reality, leaving me with some 2018 content left to deal with and a 2019 that’s not sitting around to wait.

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Keepin’ Up with Case P — The Week that Was… February 25th – March 3rd, 2018

First off, a massive shout-out to Laura Fuentes from MOMables for the inspiration to move my weekly newsletter from everyone’s email to my blog.

Dad 2.0 Summit 2018

In seven years, you can learn some things. I’ve seen great success in growing this brand, but at the same time developed habits that hold me back. Spreading myself too thin to give my all to any one area. Not finding the time to do better with what I’ve already produced rather than always chase after new leads. You reach a point where you understand what will help your growth and strive to make as much of that happen as possible.

And this move’s just that—putting more of my efforts into the digital home I’ve built myself rather than fritter it elsewhere. This weekly write-up will be more connected, more intentional and more focused than ever before. I’ll spend less time thinking about what to write and more spent learning from what I’ve done—that’s what makes for a better story, right?

So without further ado, let’s get it.

The Week That Was… February 25th – March 3rd, 2018

This Week’s Tweets

Alright, so firstly, if you’re not following me on Twitter, I promise you’re missing out. Here are some of my better-performing tweets from this week, designed to make you laugh, think, or lick the flavour off your screen:

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Live from the 3.5 — February’s Over, But We’re STILL BLACK.

When you’re a one-man operation trying to put out a series for Black History Month, there are some things you might not want to do with your February, like:

  1. Hit up a Dad Summit in New Orleans to make dozens of new friends and better understand all the possible ways to be a great Dad,
  2. Take a trip out to Kelowna, BC to keynote a parenting conference and change others’ thinking on what fatherhood means in 2018, and
  3. Think it’s a good idea to take on such an ambitious creative project when it’s the financial year-end at your 9-5… and you’re in charge of keeping the numbers balanced.

But for those of you keeping score at home, that was my situation exactly this February, and though I got a bit of content out in its last few days, there was still so much I could do to move the needle.

Because after all—we’d danced this dance before. The dance we danced every February, schedules packed with dinners, discussions and dialogues as we revel in the attention everyone’s giving us… but what then? What happens when Black History Month’s over and we’re back to our regular lives, the Black Canadian narrative nothing more than a side note to everything else going on? I’m sorry, but as a Black Canadian myself, I’m still Black full-time well after February ends. I’ll celebrate other aspects of who I am as the year goes on from fatherhood to masculinity and back… but what says I should hold back from celebrating my Blackness just because it’s not the month where everyone else is doing it too?

And that’s why I’m thinking… maybe it’s time I tell some Black Canadian stories beyond the work I do each February.