I first crossed paths with Jon in ye olde days of Twitter, long before it became the “it” place to be and we still partied at people’s houses, never dreaming of earning a pay cheque from this digital hustle. He was the guy I’d often see at birthday celebrations for our mutual friends, but we ran in different circles, too seldom crossing paths outside of that.
However — what I have noticed over the years is that he’s a thinker’s man, and felt he’d make a great addition to Tales from the 2.9!
I wasn’t wrong.
Jon’s submission, among other things, covers something I can relate with all too well — being the only one of your kind in the room, which all too often makes you the default representative for your race, whether you like it or not.
Today’s entry is good for thought — it’d be well worth your time to read it!
1) When you think of Black History Month, what are some of the stories and images that come to mind?
A couple of years ago in February, I listened to Malcolm X’s “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech and was stunned by how relevant and relatable it was for me, decades later. I’d recommend anyone listen to it, if only to get a better sense of what the conversation at the time was actually like.
2) The Black Experience we’re largely exposed to in the media is that of our southern neighbours and the struggles they’ve faced. What’s your experience been as a Black person in Canada, and what have you learned from it?
I’m from a mixed-race background, which makes my experience slightly different. I’ve been told I’m not really Black, or I’m not Black enough by ‘enlightened’ Canadians of every colour and creed more times than I can count, and I think that’s one of the things that’s shaped by interpretation of race, identity, and the relationship between the two.
Being Black isn’t just one community, in Canada. My experience as a Jamaican Canadian is probably different than it is as a member of the Somali community, or someone with US roots. It’s amazing how much a sense of commonality exists, despite the differences in background.
3) In sharing your voice with the world, what impression do you hope to leave on the world with everything you do?
When I still lived with my parents, every so often as I was heading out the door, my mother would say “Remember who you are, and remember who you represent”. In a lot of ways, I’m still mostly trying to make my family proud, and hopefully by extension contribute something positive to my community.
There’s a not-so-subtle reminder in there, too, that who I represent doesn’t just end with me or my folks. In a lot of situations, I might be the only Black or mixed-race or non-white voice in a conversation.
Remembering the responsibility and opportunity that gives me, is part of what pushes me to make sure I’m doing right by everyone I might be interpreted as representing.
4) We all benefit from good mentors who guide us along the way to make sure we reach our potential in life. Who was your mentor to teach you from a cultural standpoint, and what’s the greatest lesson you learned from them?
I can’t pick one. I have to give credit to both of my parents.
Like a lot of people, my father is my hero. Being a (White) man who married into a Black family in the ’60s probably wasn’t simple, but my dad is a man who knows who he is, and thinks with his heart about as much as his head.
Having a father who not only actively engages with discussions of race, culture and history that he could choose to avoid, but also goes out of his way to consider the opinions and experiences other people, has meant the world in terms of me being able to see beyond my own experience, and treat other people as I want to be treated.
My mother is probably the person who taught me to be reasonable. Her strength, reserve and control in confronting and overcoming more things than I can mention, has been my inspiration in more situations than I can count.
Having a mother who is so completely sure of her beliefs, her value, and the importance of her actions, both personal and professional, has always given me an example to aspire to, when it comes to facing the world on my own terms.
5) If you could say just one thing to the rest of the 2.9%, what would it be?
We have to open doors for each other. Not because I think anyone is actively trying to close them on us, but because so many opportunities come down to someone opening a door for a younger person who reminds them of themselves.
Given the simple numbers, it’s not necessarily easy, or even possible, for young Canadians of colour to find mentors or opportunities to connect with people who can provide the introductions or insight that lead to big opportunities.
And when we’re opening doors for each other, we need to make sure that we’re opening them for anyone else who needs them.
Tales from the 2.9 is an ongoing series on CaseyPalmer.com showcasing Black Canadian content creators and the experiences they’ve had growing up Black in Canada!