• Grace

What It’s Like To Be A Dark Skinned Black Girl In Canada

Oh Canada, the land of micro aggressions, colorism and white washed history.

While travelling may be scary for the change-averse, for me, picking up my bags every couple of years is pretty much second nature. Throughout my entire childhood, my father was transferred all around the world, so my family and I never spent more than a few years in one place. While moving a lot comes with a lot of emotional baggage, it also means I’ve gotten the opportunity to learn about different cultures and do some sleuthing on how black people are treated around the world.

What I’ve discovered is: racism is global. There is no city, country or continent black people can escape to and expect to be free of racism, colorism, texturism and all the other systems of oppression that act against our best interests.

With the rise of Trump’s America, you may be considering moving to Canada to escape all the emboldened outright acts of racism. But, while Canada is a great place to live, it’s certainly not perfect. No one will outright tell you when you’re not welcome, but they will never let you forget that you’re “different”. Whatever part of Canada you live in, you’ll have to get used to the question “Where are you from?” as though the default Canadian ethnicity is Caucasian. For someone like me, that question is unanswerable. I had no idea what to say when I was growing up, but now I proudly retort, “Canada” or whichever city I’m living in. I have as much right to live unbothered as other people do. This is my country too.

The Wikipedia definition of a microaggression is “the casual degradation of any marginalized group”. Microaggressions aren’t unique to the US and Canada has no shortage of them.

Growing up in the mid-West of Canada was similar to growing up in Texas, with hordes of overzealous country music lovers, avid hunters and right-wing conservatives. I’ve been followed around in in stores as though I was about to raid the store. For many people, I was the first black person they’d ever encountered, and children often pointed and cried when I would pass by. I’m sure you can imagine how this was traumatizing for an adolescent who simply wanted to blend in and go unnoticed. I often felt embarrassed to like black artists and entertainers, because there was no appreciation for anything black. As the only dark-skinned black girl in my classroom (and entire school) I was virtually ignored as a romantic option for the boys in my class.

It was also virtually impossible to wear your natural hair without the entire room being glued to your head. One time, someone I called my best friend made fun of my natural hair—needless to say, we’re no longer friends. Each day I had to fend off patronizing comments and insults about my “fluffy hair” and “rich skin”. I was called a “blackie” and teased for having “snakes” in my hair, which were really just box braids. I even had a couple of teachers who would ask for my opinion every time a ‘black’ topic came up, or ask the choir to ‘sing black’ like me (even though I wasn’t doing anything differently from other students).

I—and girls like me—had few role models in Canadian media. Canadian television is more than lacking in its representation of black people. Darker skinned actresses are often overlooked for roles, while most black roles are played by lighter skinned or biracial actors.

Contrary to what you may have heard, Canada has a deeply racist past. Slavery was practiced in Canada for over two centuries. Despite Canada having been touted as a safe space for escaped slaves from the U. S., many black people simply became laborers for white farmers, or maids and nannies for white families. Black women especially suffered at the hands of Canada’s early societies. They were abused physically, mentally, and sexually and some were even separated from their children.

The book Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present, was written by Black activist and writer, Robyn Maynard. In this book, she refutes the popular claim that Canada is somehow less racist than the US.

Here in Canada, the chances of hearing a racist word are slim to none. Canadians know how to be politically correct. We have what is called, nice racism. But the truth is, Canada is only better than the US at hiding its racism.

The good news is that we are beginning to have more discussions about race in Canada. Perhaps in the past anti-black microaggressions were tolerated, but now in the age of social media and with increased awareness of racial injustices, today’s black Canadians are unwilling to settle for the illusion of equality.

“While some have described her as overly opinionated, Grace much prefers the terms headstrong and passionate. She is a voracious reader, a dog-lover and a self-professed pop culture junkie. Her other hobbies include watching sappy romantic comedies, consuming too many strawberry-filled doughnuts and people-watching. Grace currently attends university, where she is working towards a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Pre-Law.”

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