I was born in Toronto and lived there until I was 9. I went to Daycare on Danforth Avenue and was lucky enough to grow up amongst great mutli-cultrual diversity. I had friends who were Black, White, Greek, Italian, Pilipino and so on. I was lucky enough to grow up liking people based on how they treated me as a person and not based on the colour of their skin or what language they spoke. I was also lucky enough to grow up being able to openly ask questions about the differences in our cultures and to experience new things because of it.
That’s not to say I didn’t do wrong. It was the 70’s and I was a kid, a white one. I remember doing the pick who’s turn it is by singing the rhyme “Eeney Meeny Miney Moe. Catch a _______ by the toe. Etc.” One of the wrongs I did was use a completely inappropriate word on that line. That is until one of my friends (Naderia) told me that it was a bad word. And explained why. I must have been 7 or 8 at the time, which would have made it 1978/79 and I never used that word again. From then on I sang the rhyme with the word tiger on that line.
Recently a friend posted an article about what we don’t know about Black History in Canada. How we like to think of ourselves as saviours and above the ugliness of that sort of racism. The article points out that that wasn’t always the case. Here is a link to that article.
Last week I went to a play at Neptune Theatre that is based on this same area but a little bit more on the positive side.
The play is called Oil and Water and is based on the true story of Lanier Phillips an African American man in the US Navy who finds himself overwhelmed by the generosity of the people in St. Lawrence Newfoundland after the sinking of USS Truxton in 1942. Lanier is the first Black man the people of St Lawrence have ever seen and yet they treat him with the same compassion and dignity as the rest of the sailors. This is a kindness that Lanier has never experienced before and it is one he shares with his daughter as she struggles with the newness of attending a white school and the racism that goes with that in 1974.
The story is told in bits and pieces from different characters point of view. It has the underlining story of what the miners in St. Lawrence are struggling with as well but the gist of the story is Lanier’s and his daughter Vonzia. How they have to deal with the everyday ugliness forced on them by people they don’t even know. Not whether or not they should fight back or fight for what is right but how they should fight this battle without violence.
I was moved to tears by both the ugly truths and beautiful realities portrayed in this version of a story I had not heard before. The actors and actresses did such a magnificent job bringing these characters to life that I am still thinking about them 4 days after witnessing their amazing performances.
Bravo to Neptune for bringing this story to us and educating us on this (for me and many others) unknown event in our countries history. It is a nice reminder that for all our mistakes and ongoing atrocities towards our fellow humans there may be hope for us all yet. We can do better. We can change and make those differences when we except each other for who and what we are.