What it’s like to be Black in Kingston

OPINION: I grew up in Kingston. It’s a beautiful and historic city — but it has problems with racism. And I’m over making everyone feel comfortable by not calling it out
By Tianna Edwards - Published on Jun 01, 2020
Despite its charming exterior, Kingston has a problem with anti-Black racism. (iStock/merrilyanne)

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In case you didn’t know, Kingston has a notorious issue with race. Yes, it is a beautiful city, and people are pleasant. It truly is a Hallmark card. However, for anyone who isn’t white, it can be problematic. I grew up here, and when I was moving back after living in Toronto for 10 years or so, friends would say, “Why are you going back there? Nobody there looks like you.” I would laugh it off and say, “If I am not going to subject myself to some of the inconveniences that come with being Black in a predominantly white town, how can I expect anyone else that looks me want to move there?”

I grew up in Kingston, after all. I went to school here. And anyone reading this who knew me back then knows that I had a fun high-school experience. But it was fun because I allowed myself to be the butt of jokes about race. I leaned into being the clown, and that allowed everyone else to feel comfortable about their intolerance. “It’s ’cause I’m Black! Get it? HAHA!” And that’s what a lot of us do to fit in, to assimilate. If I’d called out every offside comment about my race, I doubt I would have had the friend circle I had. It’s the hard truth.

the author sitting by Lake Ontario
(Courtesy of Tianna Edwards)

Now that I am back in town as an adult, raising a mixed-race daughter, I am over it. I am over making everyone feel comfortable by not calling people out. I am done with comments like “I don’t even see race!” For anyone reading this who is white — that is not a flattering thing to say. It is simply an example of your privilege. It is a dismissal of the minority experience. Also, I am tired of non-minorities telling me what’s racist and what’s not racist. If you don’t experience it on a personal level, you don’t get to dictate my feelings toward it.

I realize now that all of those years in school I spent dismissing offside comments and laughing along, making fun of myself, I was contributing to an intolerant society. I enabled this behaviour. People could now treat other Black people the way they’d treated me and justify it with, “But I had a Black friend in high school, and she never cared when…”

It makes me angry that it took a national viewing of a man being murdered by police for everyone to wake up. Do you know when Rodney King happened? In 1991. Twenty-nine years ago. And here we are having the same conversations.

If you think this is an American problem, you’re wrong. If you think the responsibility doesn’t lie with you to educate yourself on making Kingston a better place for people of colour, you’re wrong.

For those of you doing the work to raise awareness and having the hard conversations, thank you. And, months from now, when the news cycle has passed, I hope you continue to do the work.

A version of this article originally appeared on keepupwithkingston.com.

Ontario Hubs are made possible by the Barry and Laurie Green Family Charitable Trust & Goldie Feldman.

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