Some people I meet in the most interesting places.
Back in 2014, Tobago’s Division of Tourism and Transportation held the 60 Days in Paradise contest, seeking an “Island Connoisseur” to promote Tobago and all it offers to Canadians looking to travel. Though the competition wound up feeling like a bit of a sham, I did end up making new connections from the ordeal, and one of them was Chattrisse!
The narrative she outlines below is one commonly felt by Black kids when they choose not to follow the archetypes that youths of colour seem to frequently adhere to. I too have had more than enough helpings of “not Black enough” in my life, and I hope her words reach out to anyone feeling a little lost!
That said, enjoy Chattrisse’s submission, and I’ll see you tomorrow!
What does being a Black Canadian mean to you?
It means lots of code-switching! Being able to move comfortably into, out of, and through different environments and situations as seamlessly as possible. In my experience, it also means I have abundant reasons to be proud of my heritage and identity: as a Canadian, as the child of Caribbean immigrants, as a Torontonian, etc. I’ve always enjoyed disproving stereotypes, and over the years I’ve found that being a black Canadian gives me numerous opportunities to do that.
What’s your experience been like as a Black Canadian and how has it shaped who you are today?
I value my ability to adapt and to relate to people from all different backgrounds and different walks of life; that’s a character trait I continue to work on, and I don’t think I would have had as much practice with it if I were used to having my nationality, ethnicity, skin tone, etc. represent the majority wherever I found myself.
What’s something you’d like to see more of within the Black Canadian community?
Within the black Canadian community, I’d like to see more acceptance of individuals and families who break out of narrowly defined boxes or roles. There’s a certain kind of hurt felt when you’re having trouble “fitting into” a larger group or community, and also being treated as an outcast by the members of your more immediate community. The first example of this that comes to mind is a black teenager who in addition to all the “usual” pressures of adolescence is also subjected to the idea that they aren’t “black enough” because they’re going to university, or because they’re dating someone who isn’t black, or because they’re gay, or for whatever other silly reason. It’s especially important in a marginalised community to find and strengthen our common bonds, instead of creating turmoil out of our differences.
What do you think those outside the Black Canadian community need to better understand to coexist with Black Canadians in a respectful and considerate way?
Without running the risk of painting all “those outside the black Canadian community” with too broad a brush, I would simply say that every group, every community, and also every individual wants to strike an appropriate balance between fitting in and standing out. When conflicts are boiled down to that super-simple level, it makes it easier to coexist with others respectfully and peacefully, and we can learn a lot more from one another as well.
If your life could teach but one thing to your fellow Black Canadians, what would it be?
I might have a different answer for this at the end of my life! From my current viewpoint, though, I’d say a recurring lesson for me has been this: each of us will probably always feel some tension between the desire for attention (notice me, I’m unique and different) and the desire for acceptance (accept me, I’m just like you), and experiencing this tension doesn’t have to result in anger or violence or division. It’s far better to turn that into something positive, and not to take it personally when someone else, as a reflection of their limited thinking, attempts to put limits on you.
Chattrisse Dolabaille is a writer, performer and producer… and a very proud Caribbean-Canadian Torontonian!
Upcoming projects include a short film, new music, travelling to sunny places, and the occasional blog post.