We are not Black Americans.
We’re not all that different from our brothers and sisters to the south of the 49th parallel, but it’s the differences in our narratives that define how our cultures work. We don’t have over 80% of our population descending from slavery—the vast majority of us came here by choice from the ’60s on seeking a better life. And though I can’t immediately tell you the number of countries we’re from, Black Canadians come from every corner of the globe, retaining much of their culture when they come here.
But we do know what it’s like to be marginalised. We do know what it’s like to struggle. Though we must learn to reframe our success as a culture distinct from the portrait of Blackness dominating popular culture, it doesn’t mean we’ve had an easy run, and that’s something Sagine Sémajuste has dealt with in her personal journey as a Black Canadian.
Ultimately I think Sagine’s submission touches on a point I’ve known since I was a boy—You Are Responsible for Yourself!
A phrase originally taught to me by my Grade 5 teacher, it holds so much more meaning to me as an adult. There’s no end to the problems and obstacles looking to keep us from reaching our potential, but we can’t blame them if we don’t get where we want to go in our lives. It’s up to us both individually and as a community to keep working for a better tomorrow, and if we continue hustling with that mindset, who knows what might be possible?
But since Sagine’s post beautifully outlines this point and more, I should just leave her to it. Enjoy her words below, and I’ll see you tomorrow with another Tale from the 2.9!
What does being Black Canadian mean to you?
Being Black Canadian means my parents were able to leave their country of birth (Haiti) and freely enter Canada without having to conform or abandon their culture. It means being accepted and able to live in a diverse environment, where my differences are acknowledged without judgement and embraced without ridicule. That I got to freely learn and speak my mother tongue (kreyòl-Creole) as well as the country’s two official languages (English and French). It means responsibility. Sacrifice. Pride. Privilege. It means going to sleep with all that I am and rising looking forward to who I will become.
What’s your experience been like as a Black Canadian and how has it shaped who you are today?
My experience as a Black Canadian has gone from sheltered and naïve to exposed and aware. It has allowed me to remain empathetic and open-minded about situations and people while living in different environments. I make it a point to approach everything with grace and a smile. Dance instilled a sense of discipline, hard work and tenacity that I still carry with me ’til this day. Even more so now in my acting.
As an entertainer, I’m used to being judged, analysed and placed in a “box.” I’m no longer offended by any of it. Although still a work in progress, I embrace it and use it to my advantage. It gets me noticed and gets me in front of their faces. What I do with those moments is what sets me apart. I’m not afraid to be the only Black woman in the room. I invite the questions and look forward to the exchanges. I know I’m different and that excites me. My story isn’t determined by the hue of my melanin but by the collection of my experiences.
What’s something you’d like to see more of within the Black Canadian community?
I wish we would not only underline but truly embrace our diversity in this country and allow it to really set us apart from everywhere else. Unfortunately, we tend to mimic and look up to other countries while failing to notice our own strengths and beauty. I also wish to see more support amongst each other and towards those making a difference in our community in all fields/lines of work. Let’s see how we can build here that we admire so much abroad so we don’t feel the need to leave what we call home to achieve the normal ideologies of success. Lastly, I hope we continue to build and own our businesses and write our own stories so that we have more control on the narratives that depict us as Black Canadians.
What do you think those outside the Black Canadian community need to better understand in order to coexist with Black Canadians in a respectful and considerate way?
That we don’t all fit into the same box. Get to know us INDIVIDUALLY. Have conversations with us. Educate yourselves on our vast history and different cultures. Understand that we all have different upbringings and how that influences who we are and who we become. Don’t assume to know us based on a movie/TV show you saw or a book you’ve read. We are diverse WITHIN our community and we deserve not to fall victim to assumptions and stereotypes.
If your life could teach but one thing to your fellow Black Canadians, what would it be?
This is a tough one and I don’t know if I can answer it this early on in my life. However, I do know that I have never told myself that I couldn’t do something. I have never blamed my failures or shortcomings on anyone else or anything else. You are responsible for YOU. We are responsible for our own happiness and we dictate the outcomes of our situations by choosing our attitudes towards them. So I hope so far, my life can teach others not to set limitations on themselves. Be as loud as you can be and dream as big as you can dream!
Be as loud as you can be and dream as big as you can dream!
Sagine Sémajuste is a Commercial and TV/Film Actress. Some of her credits include Heroes Reborn, Hemlock Grove, Shadowhunters, Rocky Horror Picture Show and 19-2 (coming this Spring – 2017).* She is also a dancer, a writer and will soon be starting up her very own Pop Up Workshop Series titled: TRANsitIONS! This workshop is geared towards dancers looking to transition into the acting world and also for actors looking to transition into the dance world or who simply want to learn to move well. To find out more about Sagine, her upcoming workshops and events, follow her on her social media pages:
*For full bio, resume, videos and more please visit saginesemajuste.com