Being Black in Kingston

When I started this blog almost 5 years ago, I planned to keep things light and positive. I would only post about good experiences and encourage the culture of supporting local. I also made the decision to not include myself in any of the photos because I wanted my audience to be able to picture themselves eating at these restaurants and taking part in these fun events. But if I am being honest with myself, I didn’t think people would relate/care about my content if they saw that I am Black. And I’ve never addressed race here because I just didn’t want to go there, really. But recent events and my peers’ reactions have made it clear that I need to address a few things.

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 ten 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 for anyone reading this who knew me back then you know that I had a fun high school experience. But it was fun because I allowed myself to be the butt of the jokes about race. I leaned into being the clown 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 called out every off-side comment about my race I doubt I would have the friend circle I had. It’s the hard truth.

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 that 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 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. 29 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.

Here are a few helpful resources.

43 thoughts on “Being Black in Kingston

  1. Thank you for bravely stepping forward to share your voice right now. I don’t have adequate words to describe the horror and devastation that I feel watching shooting after shooting and killing after killing of black people in the U.S. I’m afraid of the level of helpless outrage that would come out if I let myself feel the depths of the feelings. What would I burn. And I’m a white woman in Canada.
    Your blog connects this broader atrocity to our local community and invites us consider how we think about and see race, how we can be allies instead of bystanders, and how we can create a more just and loving society in our own backyards.

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    1. Dead on Bullseye! Same here in the states, only difference is the 2% of bad police fear black people and inclined to shoot 1st ask questions later. Damn shame a traffic stop or anything else police related could possibly be your last day on earth. Your voice resonates, make it a ever reverbating echo. Those are not easily silenced.

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      1. Hey! There are many resources online where you can learn how to help. You can:
        – Educate yourself on anti racism by reading a book (How to Be Anti-Racist, White Supremacy and Me, White Fragility, etc. Just to name a few.
        – With the new info you have learned from reading or watching docs, etc, you can educate others and have conversations with family/friends who may not be as informed
        – Donate to a cause

        (Also we shouldn’t be asking Black people how we can help right now. They are tired. They have been trying to educate us for years and there are plenty of resources out there for us to look to)

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  2. I didn’t find your name Miss so please forgive me for not calling you by name. This has got to stop. My heart hurts for all those who are victims of racism. I will stand with you. Please enlighten me as to the best way I/we can make a difference.

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    1. Thank you for wanting to help. Please educate yourself on ways you can help – even start with Google – rather than asking Tianna to do the hard emotional labour of telling you what you need to do. That being said, here are some ideas: spend your money at businesses run by BIPOC, write your local politicians about discrimination that you see, call out friends and family when you hear them saying something racist, honestly examine your own biases and work to change them.

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  3. I can’t imagine what you in your life have had to deal with. I myself am raising my mixed son in Kingston and I am truly scared myself in what my son will have to deal with as he grows up and I can only hope that I will be able to help him through it all

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  4. I am from the area, grew up in a white town, married a black man from NYC, have a daughter that is biracial. The colour question has come up many times as she is an intelligent 5 year old. We dont see colour, we see “people” we bleed the same, turn us inside out and we are the same. It is hard right now but need to spread love. ❤ thank you for doing what you do

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    1. Adano, while I understand what you are trying to express, you are missing the point- as Tianna says, we are “done with comments like “I don’t even see race!” For anyone reading this that 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.”

      People are different colours, and that shapes their experiences in this world. Their skin colour is linked to their culture, their self-identity, the way other people perceive and treat them, the expectations that are placed on them.

      If you are a BIPOC, you definitely see colour. The colour of our skin is inescapable, and so dismissing this inescapable truth by white people saying “colour doesn’t exist” is an inadvertent slap in the face to the BIPOC experience. White people don’t think about the colour of their own skin, because it’s not a detriment to them. They never have to think about it.

      I’d encourage you to read this article that expains how this phrasing can be damaging. https://theeverygirl.com/i-dont-see-color/

      This being said, I know your intentions are good and I am sure that your daughter will grow up very loved, and I hope very proud, of her unique cultural background (this coming from a fellow mixed-race person).

      All the best x

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      1. Growing up I was taught that you decide to make friends (or not) with someone by the way they treat you and the qualities they show that are important, such as honesty and kindness and not on the way they look. Is that statement wrong? Or am I missing the point?

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  5. Thank you for writing this. I can’t imagine being a minority in Kingston. My bubble of white liberal friends makes me feel like Kingston should be free of racism, but I know that this is also the town that had police draw guns on two classmates for walking home (2003).

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  6. I am a black man who grew up in Kingston in the 90s. I struggle today with ptsd and anxiety from the racial violence I experienced as a young child and teenager. I’m illustrating a book. That place was a nightmare for us as kids, so I cant express how HAPPY it makes me to see a campaign like this come together in Kingston!! I have two young sisters being raised there, and no child, woman or man should ever have to endure the kinds of experiences we had growing up there. I look forward to connecting with this campaign. Thank you!! THANK YOU!!
    Change is gonna come.
    LOVE

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  7. What that cop did was murder. But you thinking you have anything in common with the blacks in the US is coming from your priviledge. You’ve had a few bad things said to you? Welcome to real life princess. Suck it up and deal with it. Words don’t hurt. In today’s world its not a race thing. It’s a delicate feeling thing. That cop didn’t kill him because he was black. He did it cause he was evil. So shut up and quit making everything about race. Go to a country outside of north America and then tell me how bad you have it.

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    1. You don’t get to decide how she feels about what’s been done to her. You don’t get to do that to anyone. You don’t know what’s actually happened to her, or to anyone. How could you say any of this. Shut up.

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    2. “But you thinking you have anything in common with the blacks in the US is coming from your priviledge” I think the fact that you have just invalidated a Black woman’s experiences in Canada, despite the fact that you yourself have no idea what she has experienced, shows your privilege. You only get to say “words don’t hurt” and to “suck it up” because YOU aren’t the victim of the anti-Black racism that she is discussing You are calling her a princess and saying she should deal with it, when you yourself are clearly feeling very fragile about her saying that she has faced racism in Kingston…why don’t you examine why you have reacted so angrily to this? Is it because you don’t want to have to question your own behavior? That cop was evil. but this was not an isolated incident. It is part of a long history of non-violent Black people facing extreme police violence. It IS a race thing, and I say that as a person with a history degree, who has studied society and race in both the United States and Canada. You need to let go of your ego, humble yourself, and try to learn about the perspective of someone who is different to you rather than get defensive…

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  8. Growing up in a small village 50 min outside Kingston i knew of and possibly seen 3 black people in my life. Views and words spoken around my home were not favourable and at the time i remember thinking when it came out of my fathers mouth that doesnt sound right and it sounds mean and unfair however words spoken to children stick with them. I found myself that its always in the back of your mind. This is not to say as an adult i am for it. In fact the opposite i have raised my kids to know people are people. I dont tolerate any kind of racism and i urge parents to discuss this with their kids and not hand down more bigotry. W need to stand together to fight injustice

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  9. You’re experiencing what any race would in a predominantly single race city. Japan as a country, treats other races differently, China especially treats blacks in particular, quite harshly at times, some cities in the US are not easy to assimilate in, for diffferent reasons. For some, being white in Detroit is difficult, then cities that lie within Texas for instance, treat blacks poorly. This will never change unless populations have equal population levels and all cities have mixed races to the extent that you see in the GTA. It’s great to raise awareness for personal reasons and to receive affirmation that not everyone is harshly judgmental but forcing people to change how they treat anyone else for that matter is almost impossible. Our treatment of others is derived from our upbringings. Every generation will experience a different upbringing and consequently will likely become more tolerant as races intermingle more.

    This is not intended to be anything more than fact so please don’t twist words out of context.

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  10. As a black biracial kid who was born and raised in Kingston thank you for writing about this and please push to show more of yourself in your work. Representation matters, I live in Toronto now but I would have killed to have known and seen people like you making work when I lived in Kingston. I know there has to be so many black and biracial kids who feel the same way. It is such an isolating place and I also relate to being the brunt of so many jokes, being the other. Continue your amazing work and take care.

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  11. As a privileged white woman currently living in Kingston I have long lamented the lack of diversity here. I’m seeing a very slow change to the ‘all white’ Kingston, it could be happening faster, but at least it’s happening. Now, with everything that’s going on in the States, I keep reminding all my friends in Canada that things are barely better here and we had better stand up and be heard because it’s happening right before our eyes here too.

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  12. I spent my high school years in Kingston and had a good time because I was fortunate have good friends. I’ve since left but my parents are still there. When I visit I definitely feel noticed for my race in all parts of the city. While there are good job prospects, I am reluctant to entertain the idea of moving back.

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  13. Thank you for sharing. I hope that when people hear these stories they see their own privilege and work towards being a part of the solution.

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  14. Thank you for sharing. Please continue to feature yourself in your posts and stories! I think it makes it (the medium) more personal and relatable and ultimately fosters connections.

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  15. Thank you Tianna. I hadn’t heard of your blog until this was shared by the Memorial Centre Farmers Market group. Thank you so much for sharing your truth. Education is power. We all need to become better educated so that we can all take the power. I am a privileged 67 year old white woman. That makes me old enough, mad enough, and sad enough, to remember the Martin Luther King Jr. marches, the KKK burnings, the race riots of the 60s and all of the tragedies since then. I was naiive to think that racism didn’t happen here. I had black friends in high school and like you, they likely “went along to get along.” That should not have to happen. we are all learning more about racism against Indigenous people, Muslims, and other people of colour, and how wide spread it is. I have, and will continue to call out racism any time I see it. I see race. I understand white privilege. I will use that privilege to help as best I can.

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  16. Hello,

    Thank you for your important work.

    Please check the link at the end of this blog, “Learn more on how you can help”. Apparently, as of June 1st, the link provides a page where it explains that the document has been withdrawn, strangely, due to doing harm to the Black community. I’m sure that is not your intention, hence I am drawing this to your attention.

    In admiration,
    John

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  17. First off kudos to being courageous in sharing what your experience living in Kingston has been.
    Long story short moved here from BC, prior to that lived in Seattle and prior to that Kenya, Africa where both my wife and I hail from. You guessed it right we are both black raising 3 black handsome sons.
    Last year in the spring of 2019 our son was disinvited by a kid in his same school (here in Kingston- area because he looked like “poop”. For the 1st time in my life living as a black immigrant in a foreign country I was forced to wear what has systematically plagued folks in our community for centuries.
    The bomb exploded that day and we were awakened to the above specific overt racist comments. I have to give credit to the teachers who were brave enough to call us and let us know what happened. I am glad that these teachers including the principal decided it was worth carrying the burden to speak out against this and more so put actions into their words. We ultimately transferred our son out of the school and he is now in another locale just based on desire to move to that school anyways.
    In addition to this scenario above I appreciate your braveness on making us aware of your experiences growing up in the Kingston area. You had to accept off –colored jokes just to maintain a sense of belonging- keep a circle of friends present yikes!!!. This scares me as a parent. I wonder how much my sons will have to cope with to make it through school, college and beyond.
    I work in the Napanee area where there aren’t too many folks who look like me. I remember when I first started working here and took a walk to grab some coffee and how many heads turned from their car windows to those walking past me with their heads held down to avoid eye contact etc etc or whatever else was going on in their minds.
    The paranoia that we have to experience while taking a walk, or more so engaging in anything else that is normal out there is what is debilitating, tiring, annoying , unjust, not needed that we as a society need to be talking and getting sensitized to. It’s not just the overt expressions that we have to contend with but the non-verbals- the scared-nasty-not appetizing looks that we have to experience on a daily basis in the grocery stores, when taking a run, walking in the malls, when you pull in to a gas station, this is where we experience this hidden shadow that needs some light to break it. The sense of having to carry the burden of someone else’s invisible fear, assumption of being a threat, distaste, hate, curiosity, alarmingness…… is what is out rightly unfair and inhuman.

    Again kudos to your courage, will keep following your blog and staying present with your advocacy. I appreciated the poignant take you made on cbc radio today-6/3/20 that awakened me to your blog as a fellow Kingstonian.
    I have one ask:
    Let ethno-based topics be made part of our kids education curriculum in our schools. That may slowly ignite change. It should not just be a casual topic of discussion in college, a documentary, or another wave or protest- like the ones that we are currently under. Yes all these tools are helpful but we need change stemming from the grassroots

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  18. Hello,

    The link at the end of your blog leads to this:

    ==============================================
    June 1, 2020 10:45am EST

    PLEASE READ: We recognize that this document, “Resources for non-Black folks to support the Black community in Canada,” has been shared widely, highlighting the need for access to resources on supporting Black communities in Canada. However, the very origin of this document generated real harm to members of the Black community because of our failure to properly credit individuals for their knowledge and sharing many of the listed resources. We have determined to stop the circulation of this document.

    This absence of proper citation is an example of unconscious and deeply ingrained anti-Black racism. Properly citing Black womxn’s work is imperative to dismantling anti-blackness. We regret that this is a moment where even more labour from Black womxn was necessary to bring attention to this harm.

    In the creation of this document, we did not uphold the values of being accomplices, where “accomplices’ actions are informed by, directed and often coordinated with leaders who are Black, Brown First Nations/Indigenous Peoples, and/or People of Color.” (definition source)

    As non-Black folks on this continual process of working to dismantle anti-Black racism and it is our responsibility to do our best to learn and do better as accomplices.

    If you clicked on the link that led you to reading this statement, we fiercely encourage you to continue your own research and resource collection without putting more labour on Black communities as folks are grieving and healing. Ultimately, ensure that your actions are informed by, directed and coordinated with Black communities.

    Pay Black womxn fairly.
    Credit Black womxn accordingly and often.
    Listen to Black womxn with the utmost care and respect.

    ===================================================

    I strongly suspect you would like to update your link.

    John

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  19. Hi Tianna.

    I’m glad you wrote about this. I know, especially when we are marginalized, we do not want to be the one “always” harping on the issues. You did well. We all need to create a more humane world, for all. I’m of the idea that racism does not only hurt the racialized, but also those who swim below its radar. Although non-black people don’t experience the extent of consequences as do black folk, racism hurts every human. We are not separate. An insult to one is an insult to all. (I’m a fan of Albert Memmi, and his great book The Colonizer and The Colonized.)

    I just want to trouble the use of the word white. It is used as an umbrella term for a variety of people. As such, privilege is not always the best adjective for a white person. Consider white people who suffer childhood abuse and neglect, poverty, stigma because of mental illness, oppression (sexism, homophobia, transphobia), and partner abuse. I have met (and been) people who are white, and you would never use the word privileged for them. It’s complicated, right? No human is perfectly privileged, or oppressed.

    I pray that you easily and effortlessly shine your innate dignity on the world. I pray for the suffering of all black people based on race to stop. I pray that the world opens up to the idea of an intelligent, glorious black civilization. We are only shooting ourselves in the foot by denying its presence. Right here.

    Julian

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  20. Thank you for sharing and opening up about your experiences. Racism is very much a problem in Canada and Kingston as well. This conversation needs to continue on all platforms on a daily basis until we can make real change on the issues.

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  21. After reading all of these valid comments and experiences, I have to plead ignorance to knowing that so much racism was present in Kingston. I was born and grew up in Kingston, I guess a privileged white person according to the definition here. I just never saw many black people around then, and I really never thought about it. The black people I did see seemed to stay apart and keep to themselves. I had one black friend in secondary school, but lost track of her as I did of many friends when we went on to different highschools. I can only say that I didn’t treat her any differently than my other friends, as far as I can remember. Racism devastates me, and I will look up about learning to recognize it and will speak up when I see it happening. Thank you for sharing and allowing others to share their mixed experiences from growing up here as a person of colour. It saddens me that I never saw it happening…

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  22. Kingston and Queen’s tries to sell itself on that Hallmark postcard to be diverse, inclusive, and ethical. However, from the institution to the hospitals and other aspects of society, this may be far from the truth (outside of a marketing tactic). When I was at Queen’s, my department was even told to “try to find something to show diversity” for the annual reports. Every. Year. Of course, many would flock to be a face on a mag that may get them a job in tight markets.

    Things need to change. It may have taken grave sacrifices, but I truly hope this is the catalyst that upholds integrity for a better Kingston, and a better world.

    Like

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