I was broke, in my twenties and had just moved to NYC when a friend told me that I could earn some extra cash by being a part of a focus group. When I called the ad agency, I was told I’d be asked a series of questions to determine if I was a suitable match for the group. First question: “Are you African American?” I paused.
I am first generation Canadian of Trinidadian descent who grew up in Montreal. At the time, nothing about me felt American (I was still un-documemted) and to tease out the African part of my heritage felt hypocritical. Yes, I have African blood, but as a Trinidadian, I am also equally Indian, European and Native American. Yet I knew the question was aimed at categorizing the color of my skin– which for my entire life, has been considered black.
I answered, “Well, I don’t identify as African American. I was born in Canada of Trinidadian descent.” Then I joked, “I’m Caribbean- Canadian!”
The interviewer said, “I’m sorry, this focus group is for Black people,” and hung up on me.
I grew up Black in Montreal. As a child I was teased about my hair, my skin color and my parents’ funny accents. I had a friends whose parents refused to let them play at my house because I was Black. And I’ve been called the n-word. So, when I was told I wasn’t Black, it stung– and I felt very alone.
(By the way, the focus group was for a brand of liquor aimed at African-Americans.)