JENNIFER NEWSOM + TOM CARRUTHERS

Dark Matter

a mixture of the unknown and the tangible - by Jennifer Newsom

Oh, (Black) Canada

This is the start of a post dated April 22, 2012:

My husband and I are contemplating moving from Brooklyn to his hometown of Vancouver, BC, Canada.

Questions:

Would I actually be freer to talk about blackness being outside of America?

Do I want to return to a cultural climate where my son and I are "two of few"?

Ironically, would Canada provide an escape from the pervasive discrimination and stereotypes black Americans face? Despite the lack of "people like him," is it a healthier/saner place to raise a young man, divorced from Stop & Frisk and other policies that target black males?

Would we, in fact, be happier there?


Fast forward 26 months to March 19, 2014. . .


We now live in Vancouver, and I still struggle with some of the questions posed in my original post. We certainly are an anomaly in this town. I tell myself that the stunning beauty of the surroundings provides community enough, but there is something still searching within me to "be known" to others of my cultural group. We can still count the number of black people I see in a day on one hand (maybe two hands on a good day). My son is one of many mixed race kids in the city, but not too many are the mix of "plain ol' black" and white.

That said, when I hear of disparaging news coming out of the States, I feel truly blessed that I don't have to deal with many of those issues on a daily basis. The discrimination black people face in the US has traditionally been focused towards First Nations or Asians in BC, thus lending an invisibility to blackness as a targeted "other." Sometimes I feel as though people are looking through me, wondering why I am here, where I came from, and whether I will go back there (not out of hatred, but more from curiosity). 

I was listening to a radio program recently regarding black Canadians and these very same sentiments. But the fact is that black people HAVE been here for a while, they just assimilated rather than form their own Vancouver Chocolate City. The railroads brought porters and others to the city in what was a vibrant neighborhood called Hogan's Alley. In a replay of US Highway Act destruction, this black neighborhood was the first to go in the construction of the Georgia/Dunsmuir Viaduct (an elevated roadway into downtown). Jimi Hendrix's grandma and others like her saw their neighborhood destroyed - activism from neighboring Chinatown residents stopped the wholesale destruction of the area.

I realize that I will have to do much to make sure my kids know about their black American heritage. I remember being annoyed/confused about going to Jack & Jill meetings as a kid. But now I realize what my mom was doing, all those years ago in Minnesota: making sure I knew parts of myself, seeing familiarity in the surfaces of other children. . .