OPINION: Being black in Wellington County means regularly confronting racism

'I hope this column makes you uncomfortable, because I was uncomfortable for 18 years.'

I hope after reading this you will choose to actively be anti-racist.

I am confident that you would not wish this treatment upon anyone in your family, so why let it happen to mine? You must realize that your silence does not condemn racism. You need to speak up.

My full name is Emma Kyra Nankivell and I started going by my middle name in Grade 10 to “feel more black” among other reasons.

I lived in Centre Wellington until I was 18 and finally escaped to Toronto. I attended Ponsonby and Elora public schools and Centre Wellington District High School (CWDHS).

I now study civil engineering at the University of Toronto. I know, a black person in engineering – crazy.

I want to share my experiences because I’ve been told that it helps people recognize their ignorance and try to understand.

The first time I saw another black person in school was in Grade 9.

I never fully understood my situation until Erick Baptiste (my boyfriend) looked at my CWDHS 2018 yearbook and saw pages and pages of white kids in every grade. He was just in awe.

Obviously I wasn’t an idiot and there was racism, but it became so normal to me. Racism became normal to me … now that is messed up.

‘Your silence does not condemn racism.

You need to speak up.’

– Kyra Nankivell

Here are some of my specific experiences.

1. Getting my hair braided and having almost every teacher ask me if I went on vacation.

2. Going to track and field meets in Guelph and actually seeing black people was the first time I felt normal.

3. People touching my hair 24/7 and people asking why I don’t straighten my hair more because it “looks better.”

4. Countless black jokes that weren’t funny at all. “Hey Emma, what sound does a chainsaw make? Run nikkka-nikkka-nikkka.” There was one guy who repeated this “joke” every morning and others laughed. Going to school and being humiliated because of your skin colour is a terrible way to start the day.

5. Being mistaken for the only other non-white girl in the room – or better yet, people assuming this person is related to me.

6. People comparing their skin to mine after a sunny day/week, “I’m almost as tan as you!” No, no you’re not. I’m black. My skin is naturally darker than yours and guess what, I tan too! Crazy.

7. Playing hockey and only seeing a handful of black people. I experienced racial slurs like “monkey”, “N—-r” and comments such as “Why are you even playing hockey?” “Your parents can pay for this?” “Why don’t you go back to Africa?”

8. In 2017, I worked at McDonald’s in Fergus and a customer refused to let me serve him because I’m black. He wouldn’t even make eye contact with me as he asked for a white person. Seriously? Will my blackness spoil your Big Mac?

9. Girls at my high school asking me to hook them up with my black friends. If your only criterion for guys is skin colour, that’s your first problem.

10. I tried to switch high schools after crying to my parents, saying, “I hate it here, no one understands me.” I told a guidance counsellor my reason for switching was, “There’s not enough diversity at my school.” But we had to spend a couple of weeks trying to “legitimize” my transfer because being bullied under the radar (sometimes on the radar) because of my skin colour  apparently wasn’t enough.

I assure you, I could extend this list indefinitely.

This is not just an “American problem”; this is very, very real in Canada. The fact that people are brushing off racism as just some American issue is disgusting.

Wake up, people.

I know this article will be read by a predominately white audience and it’s hard to admit that you’re part of the problem, but it’s not about you.

If you are getting tired of hearing that “Black Lives Matter,” imagine being black.

Better yet, imagine being black in Wellington County.

I hope this column makes you uncomfortable, because I was uncomfortable for 18 years.

I love everyone; I don’t care if you’re black, white or purple.

But right now we all need to get behind this because I don’t want to raise black children in the society in which we currently live.

#blacklivesmatter #useyourvoice

Kyra Nankivell

There are 4 comments.

  1. Bravo Kyra, for speaking up! I am an Anglican Priest, located in Erin. While the town is predominantly white, with new homes being built, diversity also spreads. I’m not sure how people in the town feel about this. I can only speak to what I’ve seen. The parishioners I know have welcomed people attending a new mosque. Great to see. Yet I’ve heard of people giving a local cashier a hard time, & a coffee shop couple, because of their skin colour. That’s why I say bravo for speaking up! With knowledge comes acceptance. Blessings, Rev’d Joan, All Saints Anglican Church, Erin

  2. This is something l know nothing about. Thanks for bearing your soul Kyra. Hard to believe thos is happening in this day and age. Proud of you. Keep sharing.
    Paul Clark RMT

  3. Thankyou for sharing!! I am a retired school teacher from Mississauga that moved to Fergus 2 years ago. Living in a new subdivision we are blessed with diversity, however I have heard firsthand of children that suffered racism especially in school. Heartbreaking because we ALL know children are not born racist. Your article may wake some people up and change how they respond to non white community members. Keep sharing your story and be the best engineer ever!

  4. Thank you Kyra, for your courage and honesty. I lived in Fergus for thirty years, and I loved it. Although I am not a person of colour, I certainly witnessed racism in Fergus, and yes, spoke out. My daughter transferred to a school in Guelph partly because of the biases at the high school. Yet Fergus could be any other small town in Canada. Racism is so ingrained in our society that people find it difficult to recognize it but that is what we must do, even though it might make us feel ashamed, humiliated, probably even angry and in denial at first. I know that I am working on recognizing racism in myself and re-educate myself.