Just a glimpse into my racial story…

 

IMG_7496My name is Natosha. I am also known as Toshie or Tosh. I am a mulatto. I use this derogatory term because to most as soon as you use the term Mulatto, they can recognize that one parent of mine is white and the other is black. I am beyond proud of this and my parents. They saw love beyond colour and were able to rise together during the civil rights movement.

My mother, Marjorie was adopted from Toronto CAS into a wealthy white privileged family who lived in York Mills. She was aware of her white privilege and ran away from this family to live on the streets anyway as an adolescent. She conflicted with her family over her views of race equality.

My father, Ronald a black man who was a foster child within the system. CAS was his guardian. He eventually found a family, The Benjamin’s, who became his permanent black foster family.

My parents met in the ’60s where segregation was still prevalent and interracial relationships were illegal. They had to hide my father when agreeing to rental agreements to live together. They were spat on, pushed, and sometimes severely assaulted because they wanted to hold hands in public and eat at the same table in a restaurant.

Interracial marriages did not become legal worldwide until 1967. My brother was born in 1966. Yes, we have the same parents. I get asked this question often due to the stereotype that many black or mulatto children are from different multiple partners. This stereotype is deeply rooted and is still apparent today. My parents had many beautiful years together. They marched and fought for civil rights together in Canada and the United States. They fought for de-segregation. They fought for antiracism and equal rights. They separated before me and reconciled because of me. I was a pleasant surprise after a night of Motown music, alcohol, and deep reminiscing while my father visited my brother. Their final break up was when I was the age of 2 due to many reasons but mainly due to my father’s deep unresolved demons. He died when I was 13. His demons consumed him, weighing heavily on his soul. His coping skills were self-inflicted harm of alcoholism that eventually killed him.
My mother taught us survival on the streets and in life. My father taught us about the culture of all varieties. My brother Cody and I grew up with strong voices and determination to support all minorities.

We grew up in West-end Toronto in low-income housing, on welfare. We lived primarily with my mother at Jane and Woolner and on weekends at my father’s at Jane and Driftwood. These areas would be considered Toronto’s “projects”. My brother and I would travel on the TTC (bus) together from Jane and Woolner to Jane and Driftwood where my father would be waiting for us. Eventually, I started traveling alone at the age of 7 to spend weekends with my Dad, learning about the West Indian culture.
We had a relatively good childhood. There was a strong diverse community. I have never experienced the same sense of community since I have left it. However, even in poverty racism lives. Even those that share the same financial despair, classifications of race still exist.

I was bullied for my skin colour by whites and blacks. Being mulatto meant that you were not accepted by either community. “Nigger wanna be, half nigger, half honkey, whitewashed, half-breed, and your mother is a nigger lover” is what I heard repeatedly growing up. We would get crank calls where people called all of us these hurtful names time and time again. I was called “butterscotch” from peers at a young age and even though it sounded cute, even I knew at the age of 4 that it was meant to hurt me. I was a docile child until this. I was so severely bullied by my peers, my brother and mother had to teach me how to fight to protect myself. By the time I arrived at grade 4, I was fighting back physically. Beating up girls and boys to not only protect me but also to protect fellow bullied peers. This was my role up until the end of High school.

At one point early on in my latency ages, I even used the terms “half-breed,  and Heinz 57” until someone educated me and asked if I was a horse or a dog. They informed me that these terms are used for animals. I stopped using these terms and used “mixed” for a long time. Then the “bi-racial” term was announced as a politically correct term. I remember thinking “OK – bi racial means two distinctively different races procreating together but I am not the same as someone who is Black and Asian. We are not a clump of people put together. We all have our own histories and our own cultures”. This is when I evolved and started to identify myself as “Mulatto”. I do not identify as bi-racial. I identity as mulatto, a woman of colour. I get asked often and/or hear statements of “well don’t forget you’re white too”. This is a demoralizing and racist comment. I cannot forget that my mother is white. I also cannot look past my straight hair and vibrant green eyes, but I cannot say that I am white. Our Society had taught me that once a drop of colour is in your DNA, you are of colour. I accept this and I am proud. I cannot visually identify as being half-white. My nose, lips, and body have nothing in common with a white woman. I’ve posted a previous blog that talks about me comparing myself to white girls/women – celebrities, friends, and becoming frustrated because I look nothing like them. “But you don’t look black”, this remark has followed me my entire life and does presently.  It doesn’t matter whether I look black or not, I am.

I’ve also been asked ” do you wish you were lighter? ” No, I don’t.  I wish I were darker cause then there would no question of my race, period.

Reminding me that I am also white is reminding me that my blackness is less important. In my teens, my goal was to get out of the projects and off welfare. I succeeded but I failed at the same time. In my teens, I ran with many white privileged teens who were wealthy. I wanted the same materialistic privileges so I worked hard. I attended College and University by working 5 jobs, paying rent for my room because my mother had subsidy housing. I made too much money so I was informed by the government that I would need to pay for my room ($400 a month) or my mother would lose her subsidy. I was 18 years old. I was declined OSAP and fought hard with the government for assistance. At one point I was told, “if you were to get pregnant while living with your mom, you would be approved for Welfare and your education would be paid for in full”.
Yes, this is true, but I would also be another statistic and a part of the systematic cycle I was trying to remove myself from. So that didn’t work for me. After I fought hard, I was granted some OSAP assistance, which took me 15 years to pay off. I did not qualify for loan forgiveness.

I mentioned that I failed because during my teen years I was advocating for my black community as well as myself. I was educating my white friend’s parents on why they should allow their child to be friends with me. See, too many people think I don’t even look black. I can’t pass for white but many don’t see my black features. So when people found out, I was either cast aside or I had to defend myself against all the stereotypes and prove that I was worthy of these friends.  At the age of 17, I am on the phone with my friend’s German mother educating her on black issues and trying to prove that I was a “good” mixed kid.  This happened often. Many times, it did not matter. My blackness was an issue and therefore I lost friends. Even in College, peers could not guess my race and when I announced it, I would lose those friendships.

Throughout history, it has been engrained that Blacks are evil, rude, uneducated, murders, rapists, and criminals. You are not safe around Blacks. You are in danger. Then all media plays off of those stereotypes on repeat. Human trafficking is a systemic issue everywhere right now, and media only shows us the Black participants but we all know white men and women are significant leaders in the issue as well. We are being taught to hate black people through media, social media, advertising, marketing and this is still happening today!

At one point in my early 30’s, I stopped talking, educating, and fighting for my black community. I had enough. I just existed and this is where my guilt is. This is my failure. Unless an incident was affecting me personally and/or professionally or was happening to someone else right in front of my eyes, I stayed silent. Why? Because it is easier. Because I am tired of talking to deaf ears. Because I have been fighting my entire life. I have experienced racism in every relationship I have ever had with any man and his family, regardless of their race. Even in my husband’s family, have I experienced racism in some form. It does not matter if its in ignorance and/or a lack of education. It does not matter whether the act is subtle or straight up visible. It is ALL the same. Racism hurts, it’s disappointing, it’s demoralizing, it’s sickening.  It is learnt behaviour.  AND… I am tired of having to prove my worth.

My race worth, my gender worth, my size worth… and my chronic illness worth. I am damn tired and I am sorry.  I am truly sorry to my own family and my black community for my decade and years of silence.  I will do better.

The current movement that is happening all over the world is telling me I need to re-start my voice, continue to listen to others, and to continue to use my own experiences to educate. It is not a time to be silent because it is easier. It is time to rise, take a stand, and recognize my own work in all of this.
I will be silent no more. So if you thought I was big, loud, boisterous and opinionated before… PFT you have no idea… If you cannot stand with this movement and beside me, then get out of my way. It is time to have real conversations about how we ALL contribute to the systemic issues of racism. It is time for healing and permanent change.

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