Nadine knows me from a life before I’d ever realized what I’d get up to as a writer — Casey Palmer the comic book artist, manning booths at local comic and anime conventions with my creator-owned series Fish & Chimps and a number of other projects I was always working on. We kept in touch over the years through the magic of Facebook, and though life has taken us both down some interesting paths, if I remembered her correctly, I knew I could count on Nadine for a passionate look at the Black Canadian experience and everything that came with it.
What I got was a very personal entry for Tales from the 2.9, a detailed coming-of-age story of a girl growing up in a world whose values, lessons and prescriptions on fitting in with the crowd reflected little of what she saw in herself.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading an entry that feels like it could be the childhood of any Black Canadian raised in the ’80s, and I know I hope to see far more from Ms. Nadine Kennedy!
Enjoy her thoughts below — I know I did!
1) When you think of Black History Month, what are some of the stories and images that come to mind?
Some of the things that come to mind when I think about Black History Month is how boring it is that I was basically forced to learn the same things over and over, year after year in school; I think about how much the world has progressed, how the Black diaspora is viewed globally. I think about how far we’ve come as a people in all aspects of life.
I think about my grandmother bringing my father and aunt here in the middle of a snowstorm on December 23rd in the ’70s, how she cried when she watched my father walk home from school with a small mound of snow on top of his head because he didn’t have a hat. How hard she worked as a nurse and now she’s retired and doesn’t look a day over 62…
What else… the movement to change Black “history” to Black “future” month, because we’re more than our past, and this generation of students, teachers, entrepreneurs, and leaders are making that very clear with every passing day. Whether it be though supporting Black-owned businesses, political activism, education, creation, or love, we outchea grindin’, creating new stories for future generations to read and share and expand on.
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?
The Black experience from my point of view has been… varied. Due to my proximity to America, as well as having friends and family living there, I hear and see a lot of what goes on there on a consistent basis, thanks to the connectivity of social media outlets and prevalence on the news. I feel like Black American culture has a heavy-handed influence directly on Canadian culture (to be honest, Black culture influences many aspects of global culture, but that’s for another time) sadly because of proximity, so many of us never really get the chance to create for ourselves a “Black Canadian” identity that doesn’t in some way have hints of Black Americana in it.
As a Canadian-born Jamaican, I feel as though I’m forever trying to blend my worlds—Canadian and Jamaican—together without coming off as fake or “trying too hard”, because we’ve all heard those folks out there who’ve never been to Jamaica/are not Jamaican, and the closest they ever experience is Caribana and a beef patty… no shade though. Not everyone has the same privileges or opportunities, and I realize and respect that, as well as thank my parents for staying as true as they can to their roots while assimilating to Canadian life while trying to raise two daughters.
I’ve had run-ins with all sorts of racists through my life, from being spat-on as a child during elementary school, to most recently working in an all-white environment and having my coworkers playfully pat my curlpuff every time they passed me (no, I ain’t bringin’ you no luck, my name ain’t Buddha—don’t let the belly fool ya!). I’ve learned a few things… the more you allow, the more you are silently telling them that it’s okay to do, and that if you speak up, it’s not you being a binch or an arsehole, it’s you asking people to respect you entirely because you are a person and not a novelty item.
Also, and this is a biggun, I’ve learned that “Black” is not a monolith, and there is no “right” or “wrong” way to be Black, except for denying your Blackness and not loving yourself or other Black people. Respectability politics is the best way to divide ourselves (“I can’t respect this person because they do A B C things”, “if you do J K L things, then you a ___”, “you would be so much more ___ if you didn’t do ____”, etc.) and place us in categories of elitism, which is disadvantageous to the entirety of the “Black love” movement—Black love doesn’t just start and stop with couples or immediate family, but to friends, neighbours, strangers… you love and respect everyone because that’s what we’re supposed to do, not argue and belittle and divide.
3) In sharing your voice with the world, what impression do you hope to leave on the world with everything you do?
Well for starters, I hope folks reading this think I’m smrt enough! Secondly, that I have a sense of humour and that it reads well. Finally that I’m insightful and have something of worth to say, even if I’m a li’l wordy… apologies!
I do a lot of things on- and offline, such as manage Facebook groups, share messages of awareness or events of interest or Black-owned businesses (sadly, most of which I share are American, due to proximity and saturation). I’m also a nerd, so I hold a panel at Anime North every year since 2007 or 2008 titled “Black Folks Like Anime, Too!”, and I have a dedicated blog and podcast in the works (fingers crossed!)
I’m that cheerleader friend, always encouraging others to do and try things, sharing their artworks, promoting them if they’re open for commissions, sharing any and everything they do because… to be blunt, I just do it because! I want everyone to know about these people, connecting people who need to be connected, expanding networks… it feels good to know that I helped someone find something or a person that they needed. The world could always use more cheerleaders, and I hope my enthusiasm for my friends and family is well-received and mimicked.
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 say I had a singular mentor in life, as I’ve had a multitude of them along my journey—my grandmother (taught me to stick to my guns, but love even if you don’t want to); my 4th grade teacher (a Black woman teaching in a predominantly minority/Somalian school), my older cousin (still encouraging me to be creative every day); the actresses and actors on TV (I thought the original Black Ranger was the coolest, sue me, I was like 9; Cree Summer voiced so many of my favourite characters and was/is honestly so pretty. I grew up with a lot of conflicting imagery, and like quite a few kids who grew up on ’90s TV, wanting that white bread family like on Full House was a fantasy… but thanks to shows like Family Matters, I began to unlearn toxic mentalities about myself and family. I’m still unlearning many things and still learning to love myself. Kids today have it so much easier…!
Of all the things I learned, it was to be honest, authentic, true to myself and proud of the person I am and will continue to develop into… it’s not an easy road to travel, it’s long and full of obstacles, but it’s mine and mine alone to take.
5) If you could say just one thing to the rest of the 2.9%, what would it be?
Just one thing? Well dang! I got a lot to say though, but if I must… Listen. Listen to everyone, as many people as you can; respect them for letting you into their lives and sharing their stories as well. Never stop listening to others, as there is so much to learn from their stories. We all have something to say, sometimes we just need someone to listen to us.
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!