How Black youth in Canada negotiate their identity

February 3, 2020 | Society
My introduction to the N-word came In Grade 6. I was waiting to go outside during lunch recess when a group of my friends came over and one said, “Hey, you use the N-word, right?” (but he used the actual word). I was silent.

Then he said, “Why wouldn’t you use it? You’re Black. You say the N-word.” There was something wrong with the way he said it. That word didn’t sound casual or even powerful. It was abrasive and uncomfortable. And the friends who were telling me I should use it weren’t Black. But by the end of that conversation, I found myself saying that word too. I hated it.

It was a few years later that the N-word was directed at me for the first time. I was in junior high, and someone yelled it out at me in the hall. I remember feeling this weird sense of surprise and discomfort. I wasn’t angry, I was confused. I spent the whole day trying to understand why that happened to me. The next time I heard the racial slur, it hurt. But by the third time, I was used to it. But each of those small moments was a reminder that I was Black in a place where almost everyone else wasn’t.

Those moments represent times when I had to confront my Blackness, or where it was imposed upon me. Those memories are also part of my sociology honours research project, which looks at how Black youth in Canada negotiate their identity and how they transition during the formative period between adolescence and adulthood.

I’m using a research method called autoethnography and applying sociological concepts and theories to unpack those memories and feelings. I’m looking at my own experiences and how they were connected to language. How words, my social spheres and the way I interact with the people around me has impacted my identity. It’s one person’s story, but I hope it makes people stop and think. To understand a bit about one person’s experience.

I hope people do the same during Black History Month, that they take a little piece of what they experience away with them and share it with the people in their lives.

– James, Bachelor of Arts, Sociology Honours student and member of the MacEwan University Black History Month organizing committee


February is Black History Month

Take part in workshops, performances and activities that illustrate how Black Canadians have influenced our country’s culture and legacy.

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