Two white skinheads saw me and called me a “cute nigger baby”. My white mother first told me about this some five years later in an effort to prepare me for the difficult life the colour of my skin would apparently give me. At twelve years old, my mom begged me to read To Kill a Mockingbird, to further deepen my understanding that Black people have been and would continue to be wrongly persecuted until they unlearned their ignorance.
From Kindergarten to the beginning of grade ten, I was the only Black person in my classes. In grade ten, one Black male student joined but was not in French Immersion like myself, so I had very few classes with him. In these years, kids had said generally mean, racist things I didn’t know how to characterize. I remember being called a “chocolate bar” and a teacher trying to defend that as a compliment. “Because chocolate is sweet,” they said. This kid’s parents brought me homemade cookies to make me feel better but it didn’t, and later that year the same child drew a swastika on my jumbo eraser. Looking back now, I understand that this child was seeking attention. He was constantly causing trouble and I, being Black, being Other, was an easy target. That happened often. In grade six I let a group of kids take turns bouncing badminton rackets off of my afro to feel liked and included. I realized now that I allowed myself to be an easy target so that I could try to make friends; because being Black and “othered” is lonely but being light-skinned was somehow lonelier.
What I’ve come to realize is, by being a light-skinned girl raised by a single white mother, I had no father figure, no Black community, and no pride for an entire part of my identity. I was completely whitewashed. In my lifetime I have spent thousands of dollars to try to get my hair as straight as the white girls I was raised around. I never wanted the Black baby dolls or Barbie dolls. I wanted to be like everyone around me and everything portrayed to me through media. But as much as I wanted to be white, I wasn’t. These kids were always going to see me as different and never understand any of the racism I was facing.
Unfortunately, that reality has not changed. In the past month, news has come out of Fredericton High School that the grad class was planning on dressing as thugs for their Grad Class photo. Though some students have said the administration was aware, we do know that the staff allowed all of these students the opportunity to retake their photo, which to me is shamefully siding with this racist behaviour and not punishing these students in the slightest. As this news was exposed, former student Savannah Thomas spoke out about the racism she experienced at FHS and how unsurprised she was at this behaviour. This story encouraged another former student to speak out about being sold in a mock "slave" style student auction in the early two-thousands. What saddens me is how New Brunswick schools continue to be archaic and full of racism. Like me, a lot of the students feel isolated and alone with no sense of Black community as they are being bullied for their skin tone.
All three of our experiences at various New Brunswick high schools have left us with severe trauma and scars that are only just healing, at least for myself. Seeing these students who recently tried to "dress like thugs" get off with minimal punishment and the ability to wipe their slates clean by retaking the photos, leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth. They get to hide the evidence of their racism, take new photos, and appear presentable to polite society, whereas our society has already deemed me worth less than these teen bullies. This is the truth of growing up “different” in New Brunswick.
It is hard. It is harsh. Worst of all, it is unfortunately still filled with racism almost 20 years later.