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Being black in a white man’s world has got to be the most exhausting and unrewarding job I’ve ever had to do in my short years on planet earth. For me, Black History Month has always been a time of year, additionally to the rest of year, where I take more time to reflect on my black experiences. Experiences as a woman, as a professional, as a friend, a daughter and so much more. It is also the time I take to step away from the moral responsibility that is to educate white people on our history. I say our because it is not black people’s history alone, it is the history, period. There wouldn’t be a need for a Black History Month celebration if the injustices inflicted upon nations of colour hadn’t taken place. Injustices that we are continuing to pay the price for in 2022. Upon my reflections, what stood out the most this year were my experiences as a black woman in the workforce. I stepped into diverse professional roles as a social worker during the last two years and have come out borderline traumatized with more mental health and health challenges than I did going in.

I’ve never been one to shy away from challenges. I take pride in giving people the benefit of the doubt and only judging them at face value. The first challenge I took on was to leave Toronto, ON and move to Quinte West, ON. For those who don’t know where these places are on the map, imagine leaving a place like New York City filled with colour, diversity, inclusivity, and familiarity, to moving to the middle of nowhere where people stare at you from their living rooms because they’ve never seen a black person before. As if that wasn’t enough, the location of my place of work was an additional 45min North from there. Let’s just say that most of the population had never even left that village to drive 30min down to the closest city. I will always remember the hiring staff telling me repeatedly: “You know where the position is located, right?” with uncertainty and doubt in their voice. After asking around, the average person described the area a place populated with rednecks, poverty which came with intergenerational issues around a variety of things and that I might not be welcomed by everyone. People told me on multiple occasions: “Don’t be surprised by the issues you’ll see” “Even CAS gave up on them” “There are so many issues, but crimes run free” and all kind of other statements involving possible discrimination I might be on the receiving end of. It surprised me to know about all these crimes that people were aware of and yet there’s no police presence… interesting.

As mentioned above, I was never one to back down from a challenge and I welcomed it with both arms. A week before starting the position, a colleague that had worked within the community called me and attempted to prepare me for the role once again and what to expect. I had never been this prepped for anything in my life and began to fear my own presence in this town. On my first day, I finally understood what all the warning was about… but I was a city girl looking to get out of the big city, what did I know? I can honestly say that feared for my safety, my well-being and that long 45min drive (with unfamiliar roads, huge farming equipment everywhere, no street lights, etc.) to get to work. I had a terrible car accident on those same roads due to a reckless farming equipment driver that almost cost me my life. People stared at me everywhere I went, I was easily spotted by anybody and began to live in the fear that someone could harm me just for being there. I developed extreme anxiety around things like having my car break down in the middle of the country with no way to get to help and the fear of being ambushed. I had nightmares while asleep and/or awake about conversations I had overheard, followed with panic attacks about the simple idea of being the only person of colour for miles and miles. I couldn’t recognize myself anymore. I went from a strong, fearless, hardworking person, to feeling powerless and weak. There were no familiar faces, nor cultures, nothing to comfort me. I remain grateful of one thing, bonding with an extraordinary English teacher at work. I can comfortably say that I bonded with him because we had a mutual understanding and passion around different social justice initiatives and cared deeply about the community. Although we didn’t share the same race nor culture, he became my safe place because we shared intellectual beliefs and he was W.O.K.E among the ignorance I found myself surrounded by.

As if that wasn’t enough, my experience worsened and so did my mental health due to a member of the team who I’d described as self-serving, rude, with poor leadership qualities and quite honestly, the one who triggered this anxiety the most during work hours. This person took pleasure in making people feel small, especially women, so they’d feel better about themselves. Too many times did this person make me feel out of place with their racial micro-aggressions, the boundary crossing and how non-genuine they were, on top of their total ignorance about how to serve the community. The cherry on top was when I rendered my resignation, and an administrator high-up had the audacity to imply that they knew about these behaviours and yet did nothing. No wait, they played a role in promoting this person into that leadership position to begin with… lol. I’m sure some of you are wondering “why didn’t she just stay in Toronto then? Since it was so inclusive”. The answer lies within your ignorance and place of privilege: no one should have to choose between living paycheque to paycheque to survive in Toronto OR feeling culturally safe and included. If that’s a concept you still don’t understand, you have failed your EDI course.

I continue to look for this popular Equity, Diversity and Inclusion organizations keep bragging about. I would have thought by now, that after hiring all these “EDI officers” there would be greater change. They are only strong leaders when it comes to writing tweets about “standing against hate” and blah blah blah. Doing what is politically right and doing what is actually right are two very distinct things. All these systems surrounding us are just so broken and filled with racists and homophobes. I speak from first-hand experience, not from my emotional mind. The mental strength and resilience it takes to get up every morning and work for these systems, wounds me every day. When I try to heal one wounds, another cut is inflicted. It’s a never-ending cycle that I feel stuck in no matter the angle I tackle it from. I’m covered in invisible wounds, but I continue to slap a smile on my face and succeed at all costs.

Acceptance is such a big part of self-growth and self-regulation. However, somehow, this is hard pill for me to swallow and accept about my existence in these spaces I must navigate in. What I have come to accept from my black Canadian experience is….

  • Being black means having poorer health outcomes.

  • Being black means running into white doctors who treat us without hearing us or understanding our history. I don’t remember any of my male doctors even asking me about my woman health…

  • Being black means to be forced into segregated “improvement areas” with high police presence because it’s the only thing you can afford. Although you are not a “gangbanger”, you’ll have to live with the stereotype and side eyes from society’s idea of you.

  • Being black means being arrested, tried, and sentenced by someone laying eyes on you because all they can see is the complexion of your skin

  • Being black means to be the “diversity” token for your organization (bottom of the pyramid of course)

  • Being black means being “offered” to join equity committees (what in the world is an equity committee? Like seriously??)

  • Being black means having to work twice as hard to get half the recognition

  • Being black means not being able to talk back, be assertive or opinionated because that’s being “aggressive” & “intimidating”

  • Being black means being conditioned to the working class or lower class for generations and generations just to be told “well you have the same opportunity as anybody else now”

  • Being black is to not know where your ancestors are from, not knowing your roots and genetic predisposition

  • Being black means to living with Sickle Cell

  • Being black means living in a constant defence/ battle mode

  • Being black means living with intergenerational trauma

  • Being black means having to start a race 5sec behind everyone else

  • Being black means being a minority, being outnumbered and silenced

  • Being black means being exhausted…

Don’t get me wrong, being black has beauty, individuality, talent, diversity, gifts, and outstanding resources within our diverse cultures. If you are reading this from the same shoes that I’m wearing, know that you are beautiful and unique. Let that part of you shine brighter than everything else. Don’t let your pain, resentment, and anger change your soul, it’s not worth it. Put your well-being first and take care of your inner child. Being black my friend, is _____________. *Whatever you need it to be for you.

I honour our ancestors and their bravery. We got it from here, you may Rest In Power.

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