I’m Here For You

With everything that has been going on lately, I have been reflecting a lot on my life – particularly on events from when I was younger which shaped my coping mechanisms on the road to where I am now.

If you know me, you’ll know that I tend to crack wise fairly often (probably more than I should). I tend to focus on the common denominators in whatever situation I find myself in (hence bad puns and “brown guy jokes”) to break the ice and level the playing field. What’s interesting about this is that it developed from marginalization during my childhood.

There is a certain amount of insecurity that comes with being a visible minority – you get burned so many times you wonder about the motivations behind all peoples’ actions. For instance, when I was a wee lad, my classmates and I would play house; I could never play the father of the imaginary family, nor could I be one of the siblings; instead, I would be told that I had to be the butler, or the cook, or the servant – a role that I would accept almost happily because it was better than not being allowed to play with the group at all (to be clear, this was not a structured play session supervised by the teacher – it was “free time” in class or at recess). Later on, someone would come up under the auspices of friendship, leveraging the moment for help with school work. After the work was done, so was the interaction, and I would be left alone once again.

I can guarantee you that if you asked any of my classmates if they remember these types of events, they would not. It’s because there was such a casual acceptance of the status quo that there would be no reason for it to stand out – so no reason for them to remember.

As I grew older, I experienced more overt bullying. I had pressure to do well in school – so I would do my best, which always netted me great results. Unfortunately, those around me would choose to make life miserable for me rather than apply themselves. There were also times where some of my teachers would pile on, revealing to me that I wasn’t truly “safe” in the classroom environment. Again, these are things many of my classmates won’t remember.

After school, I would go home and bury myself in books or play. On summer holidays I would puzzle in the basement and make huge LEGO constructs. And throughout it all, I would listen to comedy – a cadre of comedians filled my ear with humour, and I would use it to diffuse tense situations and shift the focus from my skin colour to something (anything) else.

As I grew up, I would see racism casually creep into conversations – different standards for different people. Even now, in 2020, it lingers. I see the discomfort of the affected: a nearly imperceptible darting of the eyes towards the closest available exit; a twitching of the fingers; a barely audible intake of breath; the slight shifting of weight from one foot to the other – all of it as plain as day because we speak the same language.

Over the years, I have refined my humour. A sarcastic comment or a play on words serves to inform the attacked that they are not alone.

I’m not sure if this is enough anymore.

I am here if you need to talk. Don’t be a stranger. Let’s be confident together.

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