GCL reading list: Personal narratives about being Black in Canada

Among the stories GCL has shared since launching in January 2018, some of the most illuminating and profound have been personal narratives about the experience of being Black in Canada.

These writers have shared intimate stories about family and gender dynamics, racism and inequity, anger and love, and above all resilience. Black lives matter and Black stories are a vital part of understanding our country and our world. Canadian publications large and small would be well-served in commissioning more of these stories, especially from emerging Black writers.

Here are seven pieces we’ve previously shared about personal experiences ranging from practicing law on Bay Street, to being harassed by police street checks, to exploring Black identity within families.

“The skin I’m in” by Desmond Cole – Toronto Life – April 2015

“I had my first face-to-face interaction with the Kingston police a few months into second year, when I was walking my friend Sara, a white woman, back to her house after a party. An officer stopped us, then turned his back to me and addressed Sara directly. “Miss, do you need assistance?” he asked her. Sara was stunned into silence. “No,” she said twice—once to the officer, and once to reassure herself that everything was all right. As he walked away, we were both too shaken to discuss what had happened, but in the following days we recounted the incident many times over, as if grasping to remember if it had really occurred.”

“Talking to my family about race” by Eternity Martis – The Walrus – February 2019

“In high school, I realized being biracial was incredibly complicated. I had trouble making Black or South Asian friends—kids from both groups too puzzled by my ethnicities to know how to approach me. It was then that I noticed I looked different from the rest of my family—much to the surprise of my mother and grandfather, who were oblivious to the stark difference in our physical traits. The rest of my family never seemed to notice my difference either.”

“The making of a Black man” by Andray Domise – Maclean’s – October 2018

“My hatred was not instilled in me by cultural factors like the hip-hop music I listened to, and I didn’t turn my life towards writing because I made a conscious choice to move back toward ‘mainstream morals.’ Rather, my choices were affected by the difficulty that I’ve had—as many Black men have had—dealing with a masculinity that is a binary between crime and what Jivani describes as ‘mainstream morals,’ a masculinity so often defined by the male role models in our lives, or by their absence altogether. Our choices are a fight against destructive forces, in the struggle to construct a version of masculinity that enables our survival.”

“Black on Bay Street” by Hadiya Roderique – The Globe and Mail – November 2017

“I desperately wanted a big law job. As the black daughter of low-income Caribbean immigrants, a cab driver and a customer service representative, such a job had a special allure. First year lawyers on Bay Street make about $100,000, a figure that puts them in the top 8 per cent of Canadians earners. Make partner and you’re a solid 1 per center. It’s a way to leap, instantly, into a different social and economic category. For first-generation children, the weight of our parents’ sacrifice is heavy, even when unspoken.”

“Race, Privilege, and the Canadian Wilderness” by Phillip Dwight Morgan – The Walrus – January 2019

“Little black boys don’t make compelling sharks, or at least, that’s what I thought growing up in Scarborough. We don’t have gill slits or multiple rows of replacement teeth, and the proportions from our heads to our trunks to our tails are all wrong. I suspect that’s why I failed Shark Level in swimming lessons. It simply wasn’t in the cards. Prior to that moment, I’d successfully convinced people that I was a pollywog, a tadpole, a sunfish, and even a dolphin. Becoming a shark, however, was far more difficult.”

“Between two worlds” by Anais Granofsky – Toronto Life – May 2018

“Phil and Shirley’s first grandchild was going to be a half-black American Methodist. My grandfather stood up and started shouting, telling them they were not welcome in his house. My father called him a fascist, and the two descended into a screaming match. My father was furious and terrified for his future. My mother was crying bitterly, wondering how they would make ends meet.”

“A history of violence” by Oscar Baker III – The Deep – July 2018

“In the United States, the fear of racial impurity is deep-rooted—the one-drop rule, at one point codified in many states into law, guaranteed that a person of any identifiable Black ancestry is irrevocably Black. For me, in Elsipogtog, it was the opposite: being half-Black, I was never, or at least never felt, Mi’kmaq enough. My aunt once told me “If you come from a Mi’kmaw womb, you are Mi’kmaq.” But I didn’t believe it.”

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