“Where are you from, really?”
It’s a pretty innocent question until you are asked it enough times because people can’t believe you were born and raised in Canada.
I’ve experienced this microaggression since I was a kid.
You may think I’m being overly sensitive in my annoyance with this question. To many, the person asking is simply curious. In reality, when the question is a follow-up and I’ve already told you where I’m from, I’m hearing that I can’t be Canadian. If you want to know my ethnicity, ask me that.
This is how this particular microaggression—the othering of Black people—plays out: Over the last few months, COVID-19 articles and commentary about anti-Black racism were taking up my social feeds. Ontario’s race-based data showed that the virus was disproportionately affecting Black, Indigenous, and people of colour thanks to poverty and systemic racism.
During that time, the Quebec government also said that anti-Black racism didn’t exist in the province.
I posted a meme—maybe in bad taste—about Quebec and the virus. It read, “what province would you sacrifice to get rid of COVID-19 and why did you choose Quebec.” A friend, a former colleague and white woman, sent me a direct message.
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How could I make fun of her home province?
But the joke is, I was born and raised in Quebec, with family and friends still in the province who are affected by COVID-19. La Belle Province is my home province. And she knew this.
So how did my friend, a lovely person who has never said a negative word to me, manage to other me and hurl a microaggression, assuming that Quebec was not my home to critique or poke fun at?
These microaggressions are like death by a thousand cuts. They are constant reminders that people don’t believe I belong. They build a wall of anti-Blackness that blocks me out and tells me—and people who look like me—that I’m an outsider.
I have plenty of stories about how microaggressions have affected me: no painkiller prescription after my youngest daughter was born by C-section, my high-school geography teacher saying that I wouldn’t amount to anything—although I was an honour roll student—numerous workplace issues, and more.
My experience is not unique; the data bears it out: Research has shown that doctors don’t believe Black people feel as much pain. Anti-Blackness is a problem in schools to the point that Ontario’s Peel District School Board removed its director due to the board’s systemic racism. Canadian census data shows that Black people have higher rates of unemployment.
Anti-Blackness is big and pervasive, like the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, but it’s also small, like the everyday microaggressions that Black people face in a world built on white supremacy.
What are microaggressions? They are the experiences of racism that I endure each day and shrug off because I need to be able to navigate this world and the people in it. It’s why when Black people watch the news and see a crime, we cringe and pray it’s not one of us because we are often made to feel like we’re inherently pathological, although the Ontario Human Rights Commission found Black Torontonians are disproportionately policed, arrested and charged.
It’s exhausting—but you’ve heard that already because this is not new. We all know that microaggressions and anti-Blackness were problems a year ago—they just weren’t on the news every day.
The world is talking about anti-Black racism, white supremacy, police brutality, oppression and microaggressions because we all were horrified and sickened by George Floyd’s killing at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
Each microaggression builds and creates a more racist society. Individual microaggressions could be ignored, but together, and daily? They chip away at our self-confidence and self-esteem.
Who wants to feel like they don’t belong? Who wants to feel like they must be on their guard at all times? Who wants to live like that?
Enough is enough—it’s angering, frustrating and soul-sucking to always be seen from a deficit because we, Black people, are so much more than that.
And we deserve more than this.
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