I feel like with Kelowna being a lot smaller, and being in a valley it is so sheltered. People just have this valley mentality. Their world is so small, and there is less diversity there, if you can believe that. In Kelowna I experienced more overt racism, more like getting called nigger by random people, which I haven’t experienced here, but in Victoria there is a lot of fear that’s below the surface. Victoria has this reputation as this really friendly town, and I’ve definitely noticed that if I am walking down the street with a white person, people are way more friendly, and if I am alone or with a black person or a couple of black people, there is a huge difference. Like, you are walking down the hallway of an apartment and people are scrambling to get their keys out, and get their door open, and keep checking over their shoulder for you. So, there are definitely those two different worlds, for sure. It has gotten to the point that I will cross the street sometimes, because I just don’t want to deal with that. If there is a white person, or couple, walking in front of me and they are walking slow, rather than pass them on the sidewalk, I’ll j-walk across the street. Not all the time, but there are definitely sometimes where I have done it. I am trying not to, but that is the thing that is hard, you have to survive other people's fear, and they’re not going to deal with that fear, so you have to adapt your behavior, you have to survive that fear.
I have an uncle who supports Donald Trump because he is pro-life, and to him that is the only thing that matters. Pro-life, what that means is not pro-life, because you can’t be pro-life and pro-war. I guess anti-choice or anti-abortion, that overrides all the racism, the sexism. It is pretty messed up. I have several family members that just hate Justin Trudeau, I also don’t like Justin Trudeau, but they hate him for completely different reasons. They hate him because he lets people immigrate to Canada. He doesn’t have a radical immigration policy, but the fact that refugees have been welcomed, they are just like, “we gotta get this guy out of here. No more refugees.” The racism in my family has been really shocking. Since I have moved away, and grown, and going back and looking at those relationships again and reevaluating those relationships has been really shocking. I found out my grandma on my mom’s side, who’s white, when I was born she didn’t come to the hospital to see me, to see my mom and me, she didn’t come to witness my birth, because my dad is black, and I was black. That type of thing is just so crazy. As a person of colour, you have to constantly modify your behavior to survive everyone else’s fear.
Work is weird for me too, because I work at a music store, and there is a lot of opportunity for weird racial tension and misunderstanding because music is so multi-cultural and political. So, I always have weird interactions with usually older, middle aged white men. This one guy actually comes up to me, I am at the desk, and says, “Hey, do you want to do a blues radio show at my radio station? We need someone to do a blues show, are you into it?” I was like, “yo, I have never talked to you about the blues. I have never indicated that I know anything about the blues.” It is hard to even be mad about that, but I do think it comes from a place of prejudice, making judgments about people based on the colour of their skin. But, that is one of those situations where I can’t even get mad really, it’s so bizarre to me. It is still kind of alienating, stuff like that still creates a bit of shame and alienation, but it doesn’t necessarily make me fearful for my safety.
One time I was wearing an African pendant on my necklace, and this guy comes up to the counter and says, “Oh sick, you are really letting your freak flag fly.” I said, “What is freaky about this?” He got defensive, and said, “Oh your freak flag, it is this Jimi Hendrix thing, you know Jimi Hendrix had a song about letting your freak flag fly.” He starts explaining Jimi Hendrix to me, and I know the song, I know Jimi Hendrix, but it kept getting worse, this interaction kept snowballing. One time this guy started calling me “boy,” while I was working, an older, white guy. I can’t remember what led up to it, but he referred to me as boy. And I stopped, and looked him in his eyes, and just said, “man.” And he looked back at me and said, “boy.” So, I kicked him out of the store. That is the lucky thing about working in a small business for me, is that I can exercise that. If I worked for a bigger, like Walmart or something, I wouldn’t have that power. So, I do feel lucky with that. I can curate which customers I have to talk to. I am definitely used to getting talked to in the third person, and I don’t know if that is just the power dynamic of people coming into your workplace, or whether it is a race thing.
I was working this job where I was basically doing set up and tear down for music events, and I remember one client was running this opera event, and I was running around, setting up tables, making sure everyone had everything, and getting people water, and at one point, the white woman running the event turned to her friend and said, “Oh, this one is great, where did we find this one?” And that’s the thing, is that because I am black, or is that just because they are out of touch people that are doing this opera event, and don’t consider people who work in service as people. As a black person who has almost always been poor, I have definitely experienced the intersection between class and race.
UVIC is way more diverse than Victoria. Sometimes I go up there and just say, “Whoa, where am I? There are so many black and brown people, why don’t any of y’all ever come down to my store?” There is a lot of diversity at UVIC. It’s is so far away geographically from downtown, but I am always hoping that there’s ways to bridge that gap and get students from UVIC integrated into the community that is in town. I get that a lot of students just don’t want to leave the campus. They don’t have time, they don’t have money, they want to study and stay on campus, and I totally get that.
I was on a date with a woman, a white woman, and we sat down, it was the first date, and the first question she asked me was, “so, what’s your race?” And I was like, “Do, I just leave now?” I basically scarfed down my food as fast as I could and got out of there, and never contacted her again. I have been in a lot of situations like that. What are you? Where are you really from? Sometimes I like to punk people with that. Some of my family is Polish, so if someone is having pierogis, and say, “hey, you want a pierogi?” I’ll say, “Hell yeah, I’m Polish, I love pierogis.” I am part Irish too, and it is so funny seeing people’s reactions.
Oh, this is a crazy thing. I did some modeling a while ago, and they took a photo of me in this particular Fred Perry polo shirt, and then the proud boys, the alt-right white nationalists, used a photo of me from that photo session for the store on their official proud boys magazine/website. It was the main photo of the article because they mentioned that colour of shirt in the article for some reason. It was part of their uniform or something. My friend was on Twitter on Christmas and sent me this article and said, “Yo man, this looks exactly like you.” And I said, “that is me.” It was really weird.
Have you seen the hashtag, black men smiling? It is sweet. It is such a simple thing, and it makes you realize: how many images of black men smiling do I even see on a daily basis?