Representation is crucial for feeling comfortable in your own skin, especially at predominantly white institutions

On my first day on campus, I put on my headphones and turned on Google Maps. It took a few minutes to get out of my neighborhood and find the streets leading to campus. With my music on and Google guiding me, I found a sea of students who looked nothing like me, all going in the same direction.

I’m not one who likes to stand out—I’m happiest when I wear what’s comfortable and when I blend in wherever I go.

In Toronto, my plaid flannels and brown skin made me one of the hundreds who dressed a similar way. I could find a dozen black girls who were nearly bald and wore the same shirt. On Queen’s campus, I felt exposed—a lone deer caught in car headlights, with nowhere to hide.

Before moving to Kingston, I’d been warned many times—it’s a predominantly white city, and Queen’s is a predominantly white institution. It’s not like Toronto, filled to the brim with people from around the world. It’s not like home, where I can rely on my family to provide safety and security.

I have no regrets about moving to Kingston, but I really should’ve paid more attention to what people were telling me.

It’s a little scary being the only black person to be seen for miles. At that moment, you, as the obvious and clearly visible ‘Other,’ must reconcile with a single fact: you aren’t safe.

I didn’t just assume I’d be surrounded by white supremacists. Obviously, my fear is more nuanced than that, yet realistic horror stories popped into my mind as I walked to school.

I knew I’d most likely be the first person questioned if some crime happened nearby. I knew if there were police nearby, I could be carded. I knew I was out of place, and the fact made me uncomfortable in my own skin.

I was too big, too Black, too bald, too casual, too foreign, in a sea of white, well-dressed, born-and-bred Canadians. 

This fear and this drastic atmospheric shift turned into insecurity—the type of insecurity I haven’t felt since I was a young kid—uneducated on the toxic messages the media was teaching me. The way the lack of media representation made me feel was manifesting again through a lack of representation in real life.

I have no solution to this environment—there’s no magical lesson here on how others can become anti-racist. My issue is based on demographics I can’t control, a complex web of issues disincentivizing people of colour to come to a town like Kingston, and there’s no one way to address it.

But moving here for the first time made me realize how much I took the other places I lived in for granted.

I understand the impact of representation better than before. Seeing people who look like you around you is important to feel comfortable in any environment—and Queen’s is no exception.

Clanny is a third-year English student and The Journal’s Editorials Illustrator.

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