Being Black in Kawartha Lakes
Since the murder of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis, U.S., Black Canadians and their allies have raised their voices and called for an end to systemic racism wherever it is found, as well as for equality for all. Protests have occurred in centres large and small right across Canada, including Kawartha Lakes.
It has taken considerable courage for Black individuals to come forward, particularly in a community like Kawartha Lakes where they are such a tiny and exposed minority, with few places to hide from those who hold racist views.
Yet, particularly the young have taken that risk, and they are calling for change in a peaceful and persistent manner.
Kawartha Lakes Mayor Andy Letham stated in June that “we could all be doing a better job on issues relating to race.”
We have offered up the pages of our magazine so our readers can hear some of the voices of the Black community in Kawartha Lakes firsthand.
I have spoken to many Black residents of the city soliciting their participation for this issue and have been shaken to my core that in 2020 in Ontario individuals still fear for their personal safety from those that hate.
It has been heartbreaking to hear so many Black Kawartha Lakes residents politely and firmly decline to participate, suggesting that the community is not prepared to enter into meaningful discussion about race.
I reconnected with a number of individuals who made it clear that the primary reason for their re-location to urban centres across North America was a search for a community where others looked like them and shared common cultural and life experiences that could only be understood through the lens of growing up Black.
Others spoke of needing a younger generation to pick up the sword in the fight for equality because they “had done their time,” taking the slings and arrows from peers, work mates and random strangers.
I was reminded by these conversations that as a straight, well-educated white male who thinks he knows a little bit about how racial minorities both see and are treated by society that I have much to learn.
We at The Advocate have barely edited the content of what these individuals have to say. You will read of the highs and the lows, the joys and the heartbreaks of being Black in Kawartha Lakes.
Growing up I didn’t see the difference between me and other kids in town. I honestly didn’t start noticing until middle school. As I have gotten older, I learned that my parents and my friends’ parents tried to shelter me from what my parents were going through.
When I was young someone came onto our property and wrote racist slurs on my Dad’s car. I remember my parents trying to hide it and telling us it was nothing.
Now that I am older, I found out what was written, and it was hard to believe that someone in our town would do this. In middle school is when I started hearing comments people would make.
Since I’m good at track they would say “Oh, it’s in your blood” or “You can’t lose; you’re Black.”
Growing up for me was learning why people would expect more or less from me. Why people will treat me differently and most of all why I have to educate my peers on these topics when the school doesn’t.
There was another Black family in town who had kids around my age. People I didn’t even know would ask me if their son was my brother, solely based on the fact that he was Black and was good at track. Questions, comments and jokes like these all showed me the lack of knowledge that our community has on these topics.
Growing up in Kawartha Lakes for me was educating myself on Black history and present problems in society that the Black community still faces. This also creates roadblocks in my life that many others wouldn’t even think about. I can’t get my hair done in Kawartha Lakes. If I want to get any traditional hairstyles I need to go down to Toronto.
When I think about colleges or universities, I might want to attend I have to take the per cent of POCs (people of colour) into consideration. I have lost friends because of racism and ignorance. Many of my peers ask why should they care if it doesn’t affect them? That is the most heartbreaking thing for any person of colour to hear because it affects me. If you as my friend don’t care about societal problems that affect me then are you really my friend? Having to question friendships because of racism or silence has been and still is very conflicting for me.
No teenager should have to be thinking about these problems at such a young age, yet it crosses my mind every day. Then when these problems do get brought up at school it seems they get shoved under a rug.
To be able to get past these issues we need to educate. Too many adults don’t know how to deal with these issues, and too many teenagers don’t understand how their actions are affecting others. This is just a small portion of what my family and I have gone through, but I know to start taking steps toward a better environment for Kawartha Lakes we just need citizens to be open to change and education.
I would say at a younger age I found my life normal even though it wasn’t. I never noticed the stares, or people asking rude questions to my parents and stuff.
The first encounter with racism that I can remember is when I was in Grade 1 or 2. I had gone outside to play, and I saw the n-word written on my Dad’s truck.
At that age I didn’t even know what the n-word was, so I got my dad and didn’t think anything of it. I have lived through problems like that my whole life and I thought it was normal because we don’t really learn about racism in school.
That one event is just the tip of the iceberg of things that have happened to my family and me.
As I got older, I began to realize that it was a problem in our town. I would get stares and rude questions at least once a week such as “Where are you really from?” or “You look so exotic. What’s your background?”
Many people may not find these questions rude, but I do. I am really from Canada and I do not look exotic; I look like a human. I can’t relate to many other people so talking about these problems is hard.
Now that I am in high school, I hear a lot of ignorant things. I can’t stop and talk to every person about it and tell them why they shouldn’t say the things they do. It’s hard going to school every day and not knowing if you’ll be upset or not by the end of it.
Most people think racism in Lindsay is a weird look or a comment under someone’s breath but it’s so much more than that.
It is jokes people make that are extremely rude, it is people yelling at me from across the street, it’s people crossing the street when they see me, it’s people following me in stores, and some people even get physical. To minimize this happening to me I tend to always go places with other people or show up to public places late so I’m not there waiting alone.
I make sure I always have my phone on me and tell a family member where I am going so if I feel the need to be picked up they can come get me. I run track, and my accomplishments within the sport sometimes get watered down. I get told “Oh, you are only fast because you are Black.” Which makes no sense.
Another roadblock in school is when we do projects on our background. I can join the conversation with my classmates’ history but when it comes to mine no one knows anything. In history class there isn’t much Black history taught.
We learn about slavery and that’s it. Almost everything I know about Black history I have taught myself. Knowing nothing about my mother and our ancestors’ culture is a very weird feeling that is hard to explain.
Derek Bridge Jr. (Kris)
Hello. My name is Derek Bridge Jr. but most people just call me Kris. I lived in the Kawartha Lakes for 15 years after having moved from Oshawa at the age of seven.
My experience growing up in Janetville and Lindsay were very typical in my own opinion. I spent my summers playing road hockey, manhunt, backyard camping and getting in other forms of mischief with the neighbourhood kids.
I played soccer for Manvers, Port Perry and Lindsay throughout my time in Kawartha Lakes. I went to I.E. Weldon S. S. and enjoyed five years of great mentorship and learning.
While at Weldon I played football, basketball and rugby. My first job was at the Kawartha Lakes Boys and Girls which I enjoyed tremendously. I worked there for five years. My father worked at GM in Scarborough when they still had the plant there, commuting four hours every day to ensure we had a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. My mother was a stay-at-home foster parent who was kept very busy by four boys who were always on the move.
Now that you know a little bit about me and my childhood, I would like to tell you about growing up in Kawartha Lakes. I have grown up a lot since my days in Kawartha Lakes and have grown to see how the world had changed and things that I took for granted because of my hometown have disappeared from the present day. The world outside of the old Victoria County is ever-changing, fast-paced and always forcing us to move forward no matter what, but Lindsay seems to have moved forward never forgetting who it is.
I remember always seeing people at the Lindsay Square Mall doing their shopping but never too busy to say hello. Life may have been slower, but it moved at a pace that we all can appreciate. Local businesses have always been at the heart of Lindsay. Neighbours speaking over fences was as normal as riding your bike to the corner store for slushies. You had to know your friend’s home phone number to arrange hangout times.
My friends were always warm and welcoming. I never felt out of place or like I was less of a person while living in Kawartha Lakes. There were a few older people who looked at me funny but never were forward enough to tell me why. I’m thankful for that because I know others who may have had a different experience from mine.
Fast forward now to the present day, and a short walk in downtown Lindsay will show that not a lot has changed. Lindsay is still the home that I remember from my youth. People are still friendly, offering a simple “hello” as you walk by. Neighbours are still chatting over fences and complimenting each other on lawns and gardens. There is a real sense of community in Lindsay and Kawartha Lakes that I think you will have difficulty finding elsewhere.
If I had to rate my time living in Kawartha Lakes, I would give it four out of five. I’m deducting a point because no matter how hard I try this internet connection just won’t get any faster. Growing up as a minority in Lindsay really didn’t make much of a difference and I’m very happy about that.
I have thought long and hard about what I would like to say about growing up, living and trying to work in Kawartha Lakes as a man of colour.
First, I would like to state that there have been many kind and supportive individuals in my life who have generally been very colour-blind: teachers, coaches, peers and parents of friends. I have always appreciated their kindness and this recollection is not about them.
I have lived most of my life in Lindsay since moving here from Oshawa when I was in elementary school. I was the only Black child in my elementary school and kids can be very mean. I am not sure what is worse: the constant chatter behind your back accompanied by finger-pointing, or when someone has the self-confidence to actually say what they are thinking. I experienced both of these kinds of kids. I heard the n-word all the time, especially from the hockey boys. MC Hammer was huge on the radio when I was in elementary school. Kids wanted to know “where my Hammer pants were,” and asked me time and time again “to bust a move” because of course all Black people can dance.
I loved sports in school but being Black was challenging. Other students held grudges when I made teams and they did not. I was told to my face in high school that “I had an unfair advantage because I was Black.” I am not sure where they got that idea from, but the reasoning was extremely hurtful.
Dating in high school was something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Between angry white boys who felt I was competition for the attention of the girls they were interested in, and girls who were unsure of what to do with me, the teen years were hard. One girl who I really liked told me to my face “We could see each other at school but her parents would ground her for life if they knew I was dating a Black guy.”
These were the early 90s people, not the 1950s!
I have spent the last 25-plus years working in the construction trade. My grandfather was a labourer, as was my dad. I have always preferred to work with my hands.
The building trades in Ontario are very mixed: Italians, Portuguese, Dutch and a number of guys from the Caribbean. The white guys I worked with always wanted to know “where I was from.” I told them Lindsay. They wouldn’t take that for an answer and wanted to know “before Lindsay.” My family has lived in Ontario since before Confederation, and before that we lived in the United States. A Black man like myself apparently is not supposed to identify as Canadian and that is so wrong.
I am told by supervisors that I am pretty good at what I do at work. I have spent almost three decades in the trades and have tried to improve my skills, and get additional qualifications. I have found it frustrating and infuriating when much younger white guys get sent away for upgrading and skills training and I don’t. There are always lots of excuses and promises made when I ask awkward questions but I have come to believe it is all about race.
“I don’t want to be her friend because she’s brown.”
Those were the exact words that a 12-year-old white boy said to my Grade 6 teacher, not more than a month after I had moved to Canada from a very culturally different environment, Bermuda. He was asked to apologize to me and the teacher continued to say, “He was joking.”
And of course what do you do when a joke is made? You laugh! And I have continued to laugh about that incident whenever it is brought up due to the fact of how uncomfortable that phrase made me feel to be in my own skin at such a young age.
My inability to confront the situation led to my teenage years being rigged with constant worry of people’s perception, of who I am and what I am capable of — something that was altered just based on my race. It is a lonely feeling that I know to be a burden on many others.
Not until recently, when I finished my high school education, could I begin to diminish those worries by heavily educating myself on the importance of understanding and further teaching others from all generations about the significance and impact BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) and 2SLGBTQIA+ communities have on historical and current events.
I had struggles as a result of racism throughout my education in Lindsay, whether as an employee at local businesses, or simply by being a person of colour in a predominantly white area. Yet my utmost issue was a mental struggle to overcome my fears and a false reality stemmed from the idea that I will not be acknowledged because of my race in addition to just who I am as a person. It may not have been as apparent to me when I was younger; but, for a person to deem someone else’s worth based upon their complexion is degrading beyond words.
However, aside from the underlying worries mentioned previously, I’ve been given the luxury of getting to know members of my community and bond with schoolmates who accept my family and myself as we come, without judgment.
In its entirety, my family and mine’s time in Lindsay has had a plethora of ups and downs. For the individuals that made and continue to make it an ongoing struggle for myself and other BIPOCs to feel safe in a community we are supposed to know as our home, I genuinely hope they come to realize that their mindset needs to be wiped of its toxicity so that future generations are able to live with respect for each others’ unique qualities.
Your skin is not a crime. The BIPOC and 2SLGBTQIA+ communities will not continue to be silenced. Now is the time to take charge and fight endlessly towards the abolishment of systemic racism. Change is a frightening ordeal but don’t be scared because you don’t know what the outcome will be; that’s the part you need to be excited about.