So let’s talk tokenism for a moment.
I’ve had a book in the works for a while now—TOKEN: Living Life Black in a World Coloured Otherwise. You haven’t heard much about it because I’m already doing more than enough writing to keep me busy, and no number of things I experience today will suddenly change a childhood where the only Black faces I saw were often the ones I was related to.
So then, does your community dictate your culture?
Well, if your definition of Blackness comes strictly from popular culture where stereotypes reign supreme, then I’m sorry my culture disappoints. The world I know is built on community service, extracurriculars and a private school education, so I might be a little different than you expected.
Today’s entry from Kevin David mirrors much of what I’ve experienced and then some. When you’re a token, you often become an unsolicited ambassador for your race, questioned whenever you do something that doesn’t fit the expectation. Hopefully this entry—and others in the series—help shatter those expectations and give us a world where kids are only expected to be one thing… themselves.
It means being a chameleon. I find myself often having to be different things to different groups of people, be it Black, White, or whatever, in order to exist within this society. So much so that if you asked me what I am really like, I am not sure that I could really answer that question. It also means that I have break stereotypes on an almost daily basis. If I don’t, I will get placed into a category that really doesn’t apply to me.
What’s your experience been like as a Black Canadian and how has it shaped who you are today?
That experience wasn’t exactly pretty. I grew up in the late 70’s and 80’s in Canada and I got used to hearing the “N-word” a lot well into my teens. I also was one of the only or few Black kids in whatever school I attended, or on any sports team that I was on which put a spotlight on me and anything that I did. I figured out very quickly that I needed to be better than most which helped me to become the person that I am today. Driven, goal- and result-oriented, and focused on being the best. Which in turn resulted in things like my blog and why I have had a very unique and interesting life. This proves that whatever doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.
What’s something you’d like to see more of within the Black Canadian community?
I’d love to see the Black community embrace differences within the community a lot more than it does. One of the problems that I’ve always had is the fact that I don’t “fit” what it means to be Black according to some in the community. For example, the fact that I listened to bands like New Order, Depeche Mode or Pet Shop Boys when I was growing up instead of listening to Hip Hop or other so-called “Black” music doesn’t make me any less Black. Nor does the fact that I played hockey (at a time when very few Black people played hockey); raced road bikes (at a time that almost no Black people did that); or did Nordic Ski racing (which has only had one Black person ever compete at the sport’s highest levels). I strongly feel that encouraging diversity within the Black community would make us as a group stronger, not weaker. Thus we as a community must overcome our need to put each other into neat and tidy categories and embrace everything that every person in the community has to offer.
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?
The Black Community is not a monoculture. There are all sorts of people with all sorts of backgrounds that make up the Black community. Thus don’t be surprised if you come across someone who isn’t an athlete who drops rhymes and wears baggy clothes most of the time. Plus we’re not all from the West Indies or from Nigeria. We’re a very diverse group of humans with all sorts of things to offer. I think it would a mind-blowing experience if people from outside the community took the time to understand that. If they did, maybe the issues that we face in terms of racism and just generally getting along with each other would be reduced.
If your life could teach but one thing to your fellow Black Canadians, what would it be?
I’ll quote someone that has had a huge impact on my life. You might have a lot of bad stuff that happens in your life. But If you work your ass off and treat people right, good things will eventually happen to you. I’ve had lots of bad stuff happen to me. A lot of it because of my skin colour. But I’ve worked hard, tried to treat people with respect and dignity, and am in a very good place at the moment, letting me do things that most people can only dream about. Just read my blog and you’ll see some of what I mean. I strongly feel that if others do that, they’d not only be successful, but the world would be a better place.
Kevin David is a blogger, journalist, IT Nerd, cyclist, and Nordic skier. He runs the IT Nerd blog (blog, Twitter), which covers and reviews everything from smartphones to cars, and The IT Nerd which is a technology consulting company in Toronto.
By day, he’s the Senior Tech Support Manager for a global software company with direct reports around the globe.