I remember trying as hard as I could to be "whiter". I never wanted Black dolls; I hated my curly hair, I hated talking about my Blackness during Black History Month and feeling like I was having a spotlight on me. I wanted to blend in, fit in, and be liked. At the time, I was experiencing a lot of bullying, and for years I thought it was either because I was Black or because we were poor. While I now realize that neither of those facts was the reason kids didn’t like me, it didn’t change the series of events that contributed to my addiction which I have only fully realized since becoming sober and embracing my Blackness.
I felt uncomfortable in my skin, and I hated feeling othered, so I started making racist and Black jokes at my own expense so that kids would feel more comfortable with my existence. I bullied myself daily and allowed other kids to say very harmful things about me (you’ve got n***** lips, you’re the only cool Black kid in school, your mom must have birthed you in the back of a car) so that I could feel like I fit in or have their attention for a few minutes. Some teachers realized this and tried sending me to girl confidence-boosting conferences. However, I was still very alone at home and wanted any “friends” to fill that void–even if the friendship presented itself with racist undertones.
I thought I would make friends in university, which is much more diverse as it has a 40% international population because it is the only French university east of Quebec. However, I was too intimidated by their level of French to make the first move and put myself out there. I stayed with the French Second Language kids, as the only Black one yet again, and continued to laugh at myself with them.
When my mom became ill, with no dad in the picture, I was lonelier than when I was just the only Black kid in the class. I went from minimal friends, and no sense of community, to no family at home and essentially an orphan. With no self-esteem or self-worth, I started participating in risky behaviour to fill the void when my mother was placed in a nursing home. I immediately met a man on a dating app who sold drugs and spent three years of my life in a downward spiral consuming any substance that would make me feel less lonely. Those substances led to more traumatic moments in my life, which led to more substance use. It created a vicious cycle that only stopped when my Senegalese father finally tried to be more active in my life and asked me to move in with him so we could build our relationship.
Being over two years sober now, I look back at the lost girl I was and wonder how the whiteness of New Brunswick contributed to my overall self-loathing which led me to this substance abuse. I can only wonder how my life may have been different if I had my Black relatives in my life. If embracing my skin, hair, culture, and otherness would have made me care more about my body and temple. Would having Black friends who understood my daily struggle, the racism I was facing, and the microaggressions from my peers, have helped me from turning down a dark path at the first traumatic moment? I’ll never fully know.
What I can attest to, is the minute I surrounded myself with Black people who could validate my experience, validate my self-worth, commiserate with me and bolster me, I never saw a need to turn to substances again. People were counting on me to share my voice. I finally had my Black side of the family looking at me with pride, kids from back home I was mentoring, and partnerships to continue to foster. While I will never get back the years I was uncomfortable in my skin, I have made it a mission to help kids in New Brunswick who feel this way today know that they are not alone, and that the whiteness of New Brunswick is not their burden. They should be proud to exist in the skin they are in.