Written by Rosemond Ennin of Brampton, ON
Recently I saw a video on Facebook from CBC News that interviewed black boys from the Peel District School Board, a region just outside of Toronto. The black high school boys expressed their daily experiences with racism, prejudice, and students and teachers treating them differently because of the colour of their skin. They shared that students of other races fear them and teachers would not encourage them to excel in the classroom as much as others.
In recent times, when we think of racial inequalities we tend to refer to what’s going on in the U.S.A. But what does racism look like for young black men in Canada? Are the experiences of the young men in the video widely shared? The video inspired me to interview some young black men to try to find out.
When I interviewed Chris, he recalled being stopped and questioned by police officers while on his way to a semi-formal school event. Even though he was dressed in a suit and tie and was behaving appropriately, the police still found the need to stop him. It was the first time he says he experienced prejudice from a person in authority based on what appeared to be the colour of his skin.
Once, Chris joined the basketball team at school. The teachers would encourage him to only excel in basketball, but not in his academics, he says. Despite the lack of encouragement, Chris was the only one from his basketball team to go to university right after high school.
When I asked a 14-year-old whether he has experienced racism, I was surprised to hear from him, at such a young age, that he had. It came from his friend’s parents who did not want their child to befriend him. I asked him if there was anything he did that would cause his friend’s parents to be concerned.
“There is nothing that I have done wrong,” he says. “I have always been a good kid who listens to teachers and is respectful to people. I honestly asked myself what is it about me that would make my friend’s parents feel uncomfortable? I couldn’t think of anything.
My friend finally told me, ‘Bro, it’s because you’re black.’”
“It makes me angry,” he says, “to know that I am judged based on how I look and not for who I am. What makes me more upset is this an example of racism they are teaching their son to have towards me and people who look like me.”
I asked a successful 25-year-old black man about his experience, and I was surprised to learn that racism fed into what he thought of himself. “You may see me being successful now, achieving my goals and impacting lives, yet it wasn’t always like that. Because of how the media portrays young black boys, in high school I lived off of the ‘just-getting-by’ mentality,” he says.
“It was cool to not care about doing well in school and in life. After all, I believed I was dumb because of my race. My friends and I settled for marks in the 50s and it never bothered us,” he says.
The experiences of these young men surprised me. Their current success would make you doubt they ever went through any prejudice. But one common thing I noted – from the young 14-year-old who wants to be a mechanical engineer all the way to the 27-year-old who holds an executive position with United Way – is they don’t allow racism to have the final say on who they are.
One of them summarized it this way: “I had to take ownership of my life.”
Hearing the experiences of these three young men helped me realize that young black men in Canada face racism, just like black men in the U.S.A. – not just from races outside of their own, but within their community and themselves as well. They all have histories plagued with racism. And even though it still occurs, their histories are filled with a bigger conviction to fulfill destiny because, ultimately, God doesn’t look at the colour of our skin.