This First Person column is by Hillary LeBlanc, a 27-year-old communications professional and content creator, originally from Moncton, N.B. LeBlanc is advising a committee proposing changes to the New Brunswick school curriculum.
When I was two years old I was called an “N-word baby” while getting my first pair of panties for potty training, at a mall in Moncton, N.B. This was the first time I was made to feel othered.
That feeling would continue through 23 years in New Brunswick schools.
For years I did not associate with my Blackness and often felt I did not know who I really was. I eventually took the time to bond with my Black family members and look into my history on my own, which led me to participate in the Black in the Maritimes podcast, an avenue that has opened many doors for me.
Through the podcast, I was asked to be on a committee that would inform New Brunswick school curricula on Black histories and encourage more Black representation.
While this experience has been a complete honour, some of the responses I’ve received in conjunction with the work have shown just how resistant some people are to race-related education. They believe educating people about race will somehow turn into racism, when it is the contrary.
The unfortunate reality that Black and other people of colour face is that they are racialized from birth.
White people often question why things like education and politics become race-related. But when you are fighting from the moment you are born for your existence to be validated, every moment you live is racialized.
People seem to believe that this work is pointless, but my existence is the point.
Some people question when it is age-appropriate to bring these “difficult topics” into the conversation. But the answer is simple: if a child is young enough to be racially profiled, then they are young enough to start to learn about equality.
Growing up as a mixed-race (Black presenting) person in Moncton, I felt I was different from a very early age.
I never saw myself in my teachers, on TV or in books. In school I had no teachers of colour, and I was one of (at most) five other Black students.
Kids often reminded me I was different by making Black jokes, saying I had N-word lips, asking why the palms of my hands were white.
I was recently met with the unfortunate reality that the racism present in New Brunswick and in its schools had not changed.
I had the pleasure of meeting a Black student who is from the same area where I grew up. He is having the same identity crisis I experienced, the same racism being put upon him in school, and he too feels alone and “othered” the same way I did nine years prior.
The minute we are born, we are put into this category of other. And because we cannot change our race to conform to the ideals of society, or to become more palatable, we have had to constantly fight to prove why we deserve what we have earned, why our voices should be heard and why our opinions matter.
In hindsight, and with hope for the future generations, I see now where I was constantly defending my Blackness and my existence and where I believe schools could have been better allies in helping me solidify my self-esteem and confidence as a young Black woman.
It is also important to note that teaching children about equality and racial history does not have to be about slavery, lynchings or hatred.
Children can be taught very early on what Black joy looks like, what Black success is, who some Black heroes are, that everyone is capable and worthy of the same opportunities and rights. These lessons transcend colour, gender, ability.