Richard

Growing up, I quickly learned that being the blackest in the room sometimes meant feeling like more of a museum attraction than a human being.

At home, Black culture was core to who I was. It was core to my mother and to my father. It was ironic then, that I seemed to gain a deeper understanding of my culture and identity when I was thrown into spaces that didn’t completely understand it. As I was forced to go out of my comfort zone, I was able to gain a stronger sense of self and a deeper love for my melanin.

In my freshman year of high school, I entered a world unlike any other that I’d experienced. Navigating spaces that weren’t predominantly Black was a new challenge for me. It wasn’t a question of feeling unwelcome, rather, there was a sort of quiet curiosity that followed my presence in the school. It was clear that some of the students had never met anyone like me before.

Code-switching was an art I soon learned I needed to perfect.

I couldn’t just be who I was in those predominantly Black spaces that I used to occupy. I needed to adapt. I was young and internalized the belief that code-switching and fitting in required me to compromise pieces of myself as well as the culture that I valued so much. At the time, it seemed to be the only way I could thrive in places where “blackness” wasn’t understood. 

At the same time, while I tried to shift and change, so many others sought to restrict that same “blackness.” They tried to lay claim over what traits I embodied that could be defined as such. And what other traits could be defined as something else…

“Whiteness.” An idea that followed anything I did that didn’t fit in the two-by-four matrix of what a Black man is supposed to be. I guess we have movies and TV shows to thank for that. “Blackness” has never been so simple. So bland and uninteresting. But so many people believe it to be.

I rock with people for who they are, and the energy they share with the world. I had to learn to exude that confidence in who I was, while remaining aware of the energy of the audience and the perspectives of those around me.

Instead of solely asking who my audience needed me to be, I asked instead, what are the values that represent me? What morals, beliefs, and creed(s) do I want to reflect? By asking questions about myself at a greater level, the weight of day-to-day code-switching seemed to slip away.

I know who I am. And occupying diverse spaces has only served to deepen my understanding of myself. Beyond that, I’ve also learned the need for understanding others for who they are, as opposed to what I may initially perceive them to be.

Dana

I was 10 years old when I first became aware of what my skin meant to the rest of the world.

Being the child of a Black mother, who immigrated to Canada from Jamaica, and a white father, who spent much of his early life in Montreal, I was always two things; at the cross-section between two worlds, but blissfully unaware of that fact. 

But with time and age came the comments, the looks, those subtle glances that you only begin noticing after you get a little more jaded about the way the world sees your skin.

I’d receive compliments that were always half-baked. They’d tell me how fortunate I was that I was so light. That my curls were so loose. That I wasn’t too black. But they didn’t realize that my definition of beauty was not the same as theirs. My mother’s dark skin, my grandmother’s broad nose, my family – the people they were complimenting me for not looking like – were in my blood, in my culture, and in my definition of beautiful.

Those compliments always felt more like a knife than a hug. I’d smile and thank them and wonder why it was good to not look like half of who I was.

I have a birthmark on my stomach. It’s large and broad, and about three shades darker than the rest of my skin. “It looks like poorly mixed paint,” they’d say, “you should really get that checked out” and “the black genes are finally coming through.” I’d crouch, and hide, and shy away from any instance where I had to show that part of my skin. 

I was thirteen when I was first asked if I was adopted. My skin was lighter than those of my brothers and my features resembled my white fathers’. Adopted…that was a common thread throughout my adolescence. Adopted. Because of a matter of a few shades.

Small moments like these made up a larger picture of how my community viewed difference. I came from a largely white school, largely white sports teams, largely white neighbourhoods. It illustrated to me the challenges that my mother, my cousins, my uncles, and my aunts faced every day. 

I learned that humour was a great defence mechanism and often said the things people used to say before they’d have a chance. It didn’t hurt as much when it came from my mouth. 

I don’t do that anymore. 

These days, more than anything, I’ve learned to love the half of me that I was praised for not looking like. I learned to vocalize how much beauty I see in my heritage, in my culture, and in my people. I learned that these moments are opportunities for education and that I should never internalize their fear of difference. 

Mostly, I learned that I didn’t need to claim one part of me, more than the other. I am half white, but I am also half Black. And I am proud of that fact. I’ve found comfort in being “half-enough.”