The Writing on the Wall

February 19, 2010

As you may or may not know, February is Black History Month in the Canada and the United States. It’s a month of recognition not without controversy, but one that for me can at times draw my attention to where and how I fit into the place I call home. My neighborhood, Toronto (where I live), Winnipeg (where I grew up) and my country as well as the world at large.

My very own black history goes a little bit as follows: Grew up in a Winnipeg neighborhood with very few black families (or any visible minority). My school life fit the same pattern. Winnipeg at present looks a lot more colourful than it did in the late ’60s and ’70s. In a general sense, I felt welcome growing up in my community although I carried a fairly persistent ball of tension in my stomach and on my shoulders while I unconsciously sussed-out my environment. It was difficult to truly feel like I fit in because I didn’t. One of these things is not like the others… I had the afro while most of my friends had feathered hair. But the people I went to school with seemed to pay no mind to my differences, and at the time, many of my race related discomforts were so underground even I had difficulty seeing them, because more often than not, nothing was said or happened but when it did, it hit hard.

Thirteen years old. Boys from a visiting basketball team bust into the girl’s locker room. A change room frenzy ensues (which every teenage girl prays for)- screams, hoots and get-outs! ricochet of the metal lockers until I hear one of the boys say (was I really the only person to pick this up?), “This would be great if we could just get rid of the nigger.” Ouch. The helium balloon hoisting my heart immediately deflated. I quietly leave the room. When I’m sixteen some dude tells me, “You’re the best looking black woman I know.” I skip my next few steps, then stop batting my lashes as I wonder, in the atmosphere we live in, exactly how many black women does he knows? Jump twenty years later. I’m walking on a peaceful Sunday morning, in Toronto, through an almost deserted parking lot. Two woman stand face to face at the booth where you pay. The closer I get the clearer their conversation becomes. The parking lot attendant wants the money she’s owed by the person who parked there. “You effin’ N this, you effin N that,” (not the exact words) the finger wagging parker shouts, clearly not interested in paying. I feel as if my head will blow off as I approach the scene. I slide my arm around the attendant’s shoulder telling her to turn her back to the nonsense and walk away. “No piece of change is worth this bullshit,” I say. Before getting into her car the woman pitches a few bills in the attendant’s face then drives off. The situation seriously stuns me. I’m shaken up. And even though I feel like puking, stepping in never felt so good. There have been other slurs along the way. Not many. Unfortunate fucked-up blips, I’ll call them.

Several years ago, I was shocked to discover I felt lucky to have had experienced so few run-ins with blatant-racial-tension when the truth is I should have felt angry to have had collided with any at all. But I’ve come a long way. I honestly believe if someone has an issue with who I am, solely based on what I look like, although it doesn’t feel so great, it’s their problem. D’uh… But I tell you, yesterday, when I walked into my neighborhood subway station and saw the graffiti I hate niggers scrawled on the wall (yeah, I’m serious) my heart sank. I most certainly did not take it personally but I felt sad knowing that’s the way someone was thinking. I felt angry, too, and let down, but it didn’t stick to me. Over the years we’ve all made strides, leaps and bounds in a positive direction from where we were fifty (even five!) years ago and no one can touch that except, I hope, by making the world an even better place for everyone. But those three words that stopped me in my tracks made me wonder exactly how far we’ve really come.

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2 Responses to “The Writing on the Wall”

  1. Angela said

    I buy apples by the bag and in general this works beautifully for me but every now and again, I get one bad one… hasn’t stopped me from buying by the bag cause one bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch girl..

    That much I know is true.

    Great post!

    • Kim said

      I have to admit, I’m always a little disappointed when I buy a bag of fruit and find a bad one included in the batch. But, I hear you and I agree.

      I do not feel as if those words speak for the majority and I certainly haven’t lost my faith in humanity (at all!!!). Au contraire, I’ve never felt more comfortable with myself and those around me (whether they like it or not;) I think (as I wrote), we’ve all come a very long way. But to see such hateful words scrawled on the wall of the subway (a very public place) made me feel as if I was in a time warp. The good news is I didn’t recoil, hide or ignore it. I snarled, shook my head, then wrote about how it made me feel. To see something like that – in my face – was shocking. I guess, because it was so shocking, shows how far we have come and I am forever thankful for all the many miles covered…

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