Let me tell you something! Growing up in Montreal and if we’re going to get more specific, growing up in the West Island- you will instantly be hit with a microcosm of races, languages and faces. Imagine the shock or adjustment I had to make internally and externally when I moved to the UK in 2007 and was suddenly hit with the reality that I now lived in an area where I was 1/3 of the “Black” people living in the area. #gulp I’ll be honest that it has only been an issue overtly once and it’s been the source of laughter and jabs from my friends, I can’t seem to live it down (it’s been 10 years!!!) But that doesn’t mean to say I never felt the impact of being the other. Does it matter? You might ask, and I’ll tell you why it does; this week’s post is about me coming to terms with that reality (especially after moving back to the UK), but also embracing what it means to be in the minority, in more ways than one.
Let’s go through and tick the boxes with me:
– Foreign (Canadian, Grenadian-born)
– Has an accent (although to me, the Brits have an accent- lol)
– Black/African Canadian/Afro-Caribbean/Canadian-Caribbean (whatever floats your boat)
In high school no one was in awe of your hair or your features, because there were just so many people of colour; we were actually trading tips and checking out each other’s hairstyles for new ideas. Move over to this side of the pond, in my local area and I have requests to touch my hair (NO) and legit awe over just how cool it feels or the fact that my skin is the colour it is. Nope, cool was never the word I used to describe my hair; hard work, frizzy, big and sometimes awesome (when it cooperates) and all mine! Spending a major portion of my twenties on this side of the pond in an area void of diversity, being the “token” Black girl is what made me embrace my hair and all that is my colour; feeling like maybe there is something good to being different and of interest to people. Even if it was the same questions all the time and sometimes verged on ignorance. Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t always been funny to answer some questions and it’s been somewhat of a chore when you open your mouth and you know you’ll get a double take or an odd look, after a while or if you’re having a bad day, it can make you want to scream.
There was a point in time when I used to resent being the only Black girl in the room, at the party, at the meeting, in the workplace. I used to also stutter when filling out forms which requested to know my ethnicity, the little pause to think, “What do I identify as?”, “How do I see myself?”, “How do they see me?”. I would grit my teeth because I became the touchstone for all things “Black”, my opinion would be requested when it came to a headline about someone of colour or about the new rap song that just dropped (this would boil my blood, because I don’t listen to rap music and the assumption that I do is annoying)(Black Is A Colour Not A Personality Trait, What The Race?, Embracing My Inner Oreo). But over the years, I’ve begun to take back the feelings of feeling like I don’t belong and embracing what it means to be different and what a unique perspective it allows me. Saying all this, that in and of itself, being the “token” one has made me so proud and has allowed me to embrace my “Blackness”. What if I didn’t get frustrated and instead used it as an opportunity to educate (not that it’s my job to do so), an opportunity to show people that we are inherently the same and different? Flip the script and embrace the fact that people are curious and most are not ill-willed, but of course I’m not a circus act either and I fully accept that it can get frustrating to feel “othered”.
I used to be very resentful of the fact that I somehow represented the “Black” population for some people, which I recognize isn’t something that’s exclusive to me, many people of colour feel the weight of representing not only themselves, but also their race.