Being Canadian and Black in America

I never fully understood how much of a social construct race was until I moved from Canada to the States. Growing up in Canada, race did not seem to be a social construct that was the basis for how people of color were treated differently from white people. From what I remember about growing up as a black girl in Canada is that I had predominantly white friends who did not treat me differently because of my race. Many of my friends, including myself were also of mixed-race, which is very common in Canada, so I think because of how much of racial melting pot Canada was, most people were treated equally. It was not until I moved to America that I realized that white people would treat you differently for being black.

When I moved to the states, I realized that other black students treated me differently. I later found out they treated me differently because I was from Canada, and technically “not black” or African American as I think they meant to say. I did not quite understand at the time what they meant by saying that I was technically “not black” just because I was from Canada since Canada had a large black community, primarily from the Caribbean, and I had always identified as black. I felt isolated from other black students at school, and felt even more isolated when I befriended the white students. I did not purposefully choose to be friends with the white students over the black students, but the black kids felt that I did. Living in Canada, I had never picked friends because of their race, and I did not see what the problem was when I befriended the white kids.

I realize now why many black students felt that I was “not black”. I believe it is because my family and I did not have a shared history of living in the states and being discriminated against on the basis of our skin color. I think many of the students felt that I had not experienced racism, and in order to be considered black you needed to have a shared experience of racism, something you could bond over. It was then I became more aware of my race, and what it meant to be black and living in America.

I find it fascinating that because racism is so embedded into the American social system, that race has become the first thing people notice about you. Living in the states has made me more aware of my race, and how my white friends treat me differently for being black. The racial contrast between the two countries is quite different probably in part to Canada’s large population of mixed-race people, however I’m not so sure now how differently the two countries compare since I have been living in the states for quite some time, and with the Black Lives Matter movement in the states, i’m sure it has spread to Canada, making black Canadians more aware of racial discrimination.

 

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2 thoughts on “Being Canadian and Black in America

  1. This is very interesting, Jodi. As someone that has never left the country, I have never had this perspective on race. I unconsciously categorize people by race all of the time, and did not realize until I read this post. It is sad, but my entire life has been defined by race. From choosing friends, to filling a private school quota, I have always been aware of of my race. My parents have always reminded me of my blackness, but they never had to. All I had to do was look at my surroundings. The “struggle” that you speak of is very interesting because you are absolutely correct. Black people cling to each other when they feel that others are “black” and understand their “blackness”. More often than not, a black person that try not to exercise their “blackness” gets categorized and judged. You begin to hear words like “Uncle Tom” and “traitor” when someone is not overly expressing their “blackness”. This conundrum always makes me wonder what being black means. Black is not a lifestyle, like most people show. Yes, most black people share a common history, but this does not mean that blacks are all to think and act in the same manner.

    I cannot begin to imagine how you felt coming to such a racially divided country. I imagine that you had such an even tougher time, as black struggle and black oppression are a major components of this country’s history. You blindly walked into a life-categorization with such long-lasting, dark, history. What an experience! I commend you for being able to remain who you are. I understand what it is like to be raised in such a society, but coming from such a loving, inclusive, melting-pot, such as Canada, and coming here must have been quite the culture shock; to say the least.

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  2. That was a really interesting and enlightening post, Jodi. What you are saying about the importance of being able to connect to a shared history in order to feel like you are part of the specific black American culture highlights how much race is in fact a social-construct. Your experience reminds me of what I have heard from many people when they move to a different country, who feel that they have trouble connecting with others there because they have not had the same life experiences within the specific social setting of that country. However, the interesting thing is that if I as a white person were to move to a different country, I would not be expected to identify with the white culture of that country or feel like I shared something special with the white residents. I would defined solely by my status as an American, rather than any similarity of skin color that I would share with the native residents of the country. I think that is an example of the way that whiteness operates as the standard of normality, in that for white people their race is not their defining factor. It is, rather, invisible, still operating as a social fact but taking the backseat to other defining factors such as occupation, gender, etc.

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