Recess was almost over and all of the kids were rushing to get into a single file line. I was standing at the back waiting to go inside. Suddenly, I jolted forward as I felt my chain tighten around my neck. I looked up and realized that my teacher was dragging me to the front of the line by my necklace. Scared and confused, I shut my eyes and winced at the pain.
I was in Kindergarten. Five years old in Ottawa, Canada, and that was the first time I felt like I encountered racism.
Over the past several months, so many of us have been involved in conversation regarding Black Lives Matter. Jacob Blake. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. Trayvon Martin. These names have spurred massive protests across the world, including here in Canada. Though many Canadians have denounced what’s been happening in the States, they’ve done just that…denounced blatant racism in the States. There is this tendency to push these problems to the south of the border because “racism doesn’t exist in Canada”. I’ve also heard that “we’re multicultural—we accept racial diversity” and “this is Ottawa—people aren’t racist”. However, the reality for Black individuals, including Canadian Black individuals, is that we carry the weight of systemic racism every single day.
Born to a French-Canadian white mother and Black Haitian father, I often had problems identifying myself as a kid growing up in Ottawa. Am I more white? Black? Am I equal parts white and black? As much as my mom raised me to accept myself and to be proud of my identity, society had already made up its mind. I was Black from the day I was born and would always be identified as such.
In school, I noticed that I was treated a certain way by some of my teachers and peers. Their tone and dialogue were different with me than with others. Still, being a young kid, I couldn’t distinguish these microaggressions and others forms of racism from just feeling like I was bothering someone or doing something wrong. Being cast in a negative light was something that followed me in my days as an athlete on the soccer pitch and to countries I later travelled to for work. I felt like I had to watch my back no matter where I went.
Fast forward to today. I am a thirty-something-year-old real estate agent working for Blue Panda Realty, a boutique brokerage in one of the trendiest parts of town. I am lucky to have a job that I love where I get to interact daily with a diverse clientele and fellow realtors. However, as happy as I am in my role, I am also painfully aware that racism is alive and well in the real estate industry. On a personal level, that feeling of watching my back and potentially misrepresenting myself sticks with me. With my clients, I know that at any time I could be representing someone that loses out on a home transaction because of the colour of their skin. Systematically, it’s the mere fact that housing and house-hunting is not as accessible to Canada’s Black population. This is why it is so important for brokerages to implement diversity training amongst their realtors. Though training sessions won’t combat racism on their own, they could strongly impact the real estate industry as a whole. Covering such issues not only helps us detect racial bias, but it allows us to understand the challenges that our clients may be facing and teaches us to deal with them.
As sad as it is to have to say Black Lives Matter in 2020, they do. Whether in real estate or any other industry or institution, it is our duty to ensure that racism no longer goes unchallenged.
A proud Black Man,