Karel, 17, Ontario

I am a proud neurodivergent black man, and I think I’m lucky to have grown up the way I have. I’ve seen and heard from so many people and perspectives, and was born and raised in Canada, which prides itself on its multiculturalism. I’ve lived my life through my own lens, but I still understand that so many others see life through their own lenses, tinted in whatever shade that may be. 

When I was little, this multiculturalism wasn’t something I noticed. When I came home and told my parents that I didn’t have any black classmates, it wasn’t something second grade me cared about. Like I said before, I think it’s a part of what made me who I am today. 

My parents had lived different lives though. My mother’s side of the family came from Barbados and Trinidad, while my father came from Jamaica to Toronto when he was just 9 years old. My parents both experienced their share of racism when they were younger, and tried to spare me from that. I had lots of black family friends and cousins, and so even though I might’ve been alone at school, I never felt like I was the only person who looked like me.

Even now that I’m older, that kind of world hasn’t changed. People who look like me still don’t make up a large portion of the media I watch, or the friends I hang out with. I’ve been the victim of racist comments before, whether joking or otherwise. I think the worst encounter I’ve had though is also one of the tamest. When I was in maybe 6th grade, I was visiting my cousins in Toronto, and we had gone to a hockey game. My brother and I went looking for food partway through the game, and went to order fries from a stand. In the food area, we met 2 kids. They were very young, maybe 7–8 years old. They looked up at us and said, completely unprompted I might add, “You don’t want to mess with us. You guys look gross, your skin looks like poo.”

At the time it was funny. These tiny kids had come up to us and used the word poo, why wouldn’t that be funny to a 6th grader? Now I wish I’d said something. Maybe not to those kids, but I wish I’d found their parents, and told them. I’m worried that if they saw me as gross at such a young age, how easy it would be for real hatred to take root.

I don’t know if that experience really made a difference to my perception of myself. I worry that maybe I surround myself with people who don’t look like me to feel safer. I say I’m a proud black man, but I have a lot of work I need to do to be truthful about that. But I am proud of my brother. I’m proud of my parents for putting in the work to let me grow up in a slightly more accepting world. I’m proud of all of my friends for helping me continue to create that world. I’m proud of the world that I am in, and I can’t wait to keep making it better.