You don’t have to work in public relations to see we are living through a pivotal moment in modern history. The recent international protests around race and race relations have made us collectively stop and think about our own experiences with racism and discrimination. Here at PR Associates, we wanted to share our own stories.
Coloured by Society
“It’s because you’re African”; I still remember those words eleven years later. Those were the words of my childhood bully, as he looked at me with contempt and disgust. What makes it even worse was that we were in grade two and he also belonged to a minority group. That was my first encounter with racism.
“You have to shave your beard, or we’ll get stopped at the airport again”; I still remember those words three years later. Those were the words my mum spoke to my brother before we left for the airport, getting ready to go to Montreal. What makes it even worse is that my brother did shave his beard, but we still got stopped at the airport for a “random search.”
I am fortunate enough for those to be the main stories about my experience with racism. While I barely ever had to face racism head on, I learned when I got older that the underlying tones of it always existed. For instance, I grew up going to an elementary school surrounded by kids that had nothing in common with me. On one hand, it was amazing because my two closest friends from elementary school came from different cultures and that really taught me the beauty of diversity and learning from other cultural experiences. On the other hand, most of my grade, or the “popular group” as some would call it, were white, rich kids who all wore the same clothes, drank Starbucks and listened to “cool music.”
Being exposed to this environment every day, I never felt “normal” or “cool,” and I always thought that it was because I was weird. But I now believe that I was simply a part of a “West Vancouver suburb mindset.” In fact, the first time I stepped out of West Vancouver, I was genuinely afraid …like, who’s afraid to go to North Van?!
Flash forward to my first year of university. I moved to Toronto, the epicenter of diversity in Canada! I went from being surrounded by old, Caucasian women who yelled at waiters to clean their shoes (I kid you not, that happened once when I was at a restaurant) to being surrounded by people of all ages, colours, cultures, religions and sexualities. And I absolutely loved it! I even made a few friends from within my own community and learned to embrace my culture much more.
I’m a mixed kid, with my dad being from Morocco and my mum being a jumble of Kenyan and Indian blood. Sadly, I’ve never known much about our Indian heritage, but I’ve always felt at home surrounded by my fellow Moroccans and Kenyans. For instance, this year at school, my friend who is Moroccan offered to teach me how to make a tagine, which is a traditional Moroccan dish. That night, we cooked and danced to music with our friends who came from a rainbow of backgrounds, listening to French, Spanish, Arabic, Korean, Indian and African American music. Then, when we were done cooking, we sat around a table and each dug in, “Moroccan-style,” to enjoy this meal that had been made through love and teamwork. And that was the beauty of it. I didn’t know half of the people we were eating with, but they were introduced to our culture and embraced it through food. If only we could all learn to carry that mentality in our everyday lives, rather than accusing others of being “gang members,” “terrorists,” and “carriers of COVID.” If only people could embrace others, not with hatred and fear, but with love and teamwork. Imagine how our world would look then.