I grew up listening to and watching Black artists. Imagine horse-crazy 9-year old me playing with toy Clydesdales pretending they were singing the parts to Ja Rule and Ashanti’s Mesmerize. I watched T.V. shows like Magic School Bus where the girl I most associated with was Keesha, because she had curly hair and wore the colours I liked to wear. I grew up watching Interracial relationships like Angela and Sean (Boy Meets World) and Black families like the The Proud Family and Smart Guy and Fresh Prince. I related to Penny because she was a leader (Proud Family), I admired Vince because he was so sporty and cool (Recess), and actors like Whoopi Goldberg, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Will Smith, Michael Jordan (Space Jam!), Eartha Kitt, Samuel L. Jackson, Queen Latifah, and Eddie Murphy were familiar faces and voices among many others. The first concert I ever went to was Janet Jackson, I was 7-years old, and I saw her as a powerful, smart, cool, amazing dancer and singer who was gorgeous, and I wanted to be just like her. Shortly after seeing her I started taking Hip Hop classes, and I took the genre very seriously. So much so, that I was moved up two age groups to compete in the style I loved most of all. My grade six dance consisted of hits from 50-cent or Nelly (Anyone try awkward slow dancing to “Candyshop” or Next’s “Too Close”?). Love and Basketball and Save the Last Dance were go-to sleepover movies. And Brandy, Ashanti, Aaliyah, TLC, Destiny’s Child (“Survivor”, “Independent Woman Pt. 1”, “No Scrubs”!), Beyonce (“Me, Myself, and I”), Mario, Usher (8701!), Missy Elliot, Ciara, Tevin Cambell, Salt and Peppa, were as important to me as Christina Aguilera, Spice Girls, Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, Nsync, Avril Lavigne, Barenaked Ladies, and Jojo. Every Christmas was punctuated with the Wynton Marsalis Septet and Kathleen Battle with their Carnegie Hall Christmas album (1991). Dinners at my Grandparents were filled with Jazz music, with Nat King Cole being a favourite. During my Grade 4 summer reading program at my local library, I took out a book about the underground railroad and Harriet Tubman and I was horrified but was assured that slavery was done and over with. I was aware that Apartheid in South Africa was happening within an extremely limited understanding. I thought that racism was something that you had to actively participate in to perpetuate and that it existed faraway from my life in both time and space so I could never be that. I could never be the problem.
What I didn’t understand was the sickening nuances of racism, and how it filters through antiquated institutions to perpetuate systemic violence that invisibly poisons us as we grow up in a society inherently violent, racist, chauvinist, ableist, homophobic, et cetera so that we become complacent perpetrators without even knowing it. What I realized is that in some directions, intercultural relations had grown towards love and inclusivity, like the budding of representation (not diverse enough) and how it affected an entire generation of children such as myself. I grew up thinking Black was cool, powerful, and intelligent and I wanted to be like that too. What I didn’t see was the stereotypes (fetishization, criminalization of Black bodies), the ignorance about the everyday struggle of Black communities around the world (including cultural appropriation), and my role within it as I didn’t know, wasn’t educated on the subject, and led to believe the if I didn’t see colour I was doing my part. It took years for me to wade through the “socially acceptable” norms to see them for what they were, that the global consciousness had not begun to truly reckon with the twisted, mind-numbingly complicated and exhaustingly evil ways in which racism is perpetuated by the very institutions and people that make up our neighbourhoods and our hometowns. We didn’t understand what the N-word meant, thought we heard it everywhere. We didn’t understand about intersectionality, though it affected everyone everyday. We didn’t understand about police brutality, we saw “flippant gangsters” on the news. We didn’t understand. But more importantly we failed to truly listen to the marginalized voices. I failed to truly listen. I was so caught up in the bright and shiny of the commercialized aspects of Black culture (often capitalized on by white businesses and business people) that I was unable to see real people who were Black and who struggled with their Blackness in a world that punished them for being everything that they were. What I remind myself of, is that the most powerful story is one of lesson learned. So, how can I begin to do the work to change myself and help change the “white legacy” I’m attached to? I do not want the story to end here, with so many lives lost and so many more fighting and struggling to be seen as worthy of human rights at the hands of people who look like me and who should hold no such power over others. The question goes further than “what can I do?” (there are several lists made up by Black folks and organizations if you’re not sure where to start) to “who can I be?” because this revolution doesn’t end with me making a one-time donation or sharing one Instagram post. No, I can be a person who educates themselves on racial struggles in this country and beyond without exhausting my friends, family members, and colleagues with questions I could easily find the answer to myself. I can be a person who supports Blackness by respecting and acknowledging the history and context of the art forms and cultures that I work and live within (and ENJOY) everyday. I can be a person who acknowledges that I am fully capable of being a completely ignorant asshole, perpetrator, and perpetuator of violence so that when someone tries to call me out or in I meet their anger or comments with understanding and compassion – because that’s what they deserve! I can be a person who listens to understand instead of listening to reply because I want to be a better person to help make a better world for EVERYONE. I can be a person who has love in their heart and a deep desire to see the world love, to see the world heal, and to see all people thrive. We owe it not only to ourselves, but to (ALL, every single one of) our ancestors to move ourselves forward towards true liberation for everyone.