This is a true story by Peta-Gaye Nash, told in the voice of her cousin. When I read it I felt tears, for it truly shows what it’s like for people of colour living in Canada … and by extension, of course, living in the US, Europe and many other places. There is so much discrimination and abuse. I hope that the more these situations are reported, either in blogs and other social media, magazines, radio and so on, the more the population in general will become aware.
My grandchild? Oh my grandchild is perfectly fine. I waited in that hospital, wasn’t leaving until the birth, until I saw for myself. Oh yes. My daughter married a French man so I waited to see that my grandchild’s skin was a shade of white. When they brought that boy-baby out to me, I gave thanks to the Lord. Hazel eyes, hands white, feet white, no hair, just like a typical white baby. Oh glorious day. I rejoiced. No one will suspect that negro hides in the strands of DNA. Some might say ‘southern Italian’ or something else. In the old days, they would say he can pass.
Well I know this is not the old days. You don’t have to tell me that. I know it is past the era when it should matter. But it matters. I am a Negress. Don’t look shocked. I don’t mind being called that. Call a spade a spade. People-imposed-political-correctness means nothing to me. My back is broad and I’ve been called everything under the sun in this country. Been turned down for apartment after apartment back in the seventies when I first arrived in Toronto. I like the word Negress, the way it rolls off my tongue, sounding Strong. Beautiful. Like Tigress. But I digress.
Why do I want a white grandpickney? I know I don’t have to explain it. My grandson will have an easier life. Simple as that. No police cruiser will pick him up, throw him in jail and mistake him for some criminal. If I ever told you about my life, you would understand. Things changing? Maybe, but it takes a long time for all that hurt to come out of my system. Let me refresh your lemonade and tell you what happened to me in 2002.
It was after my divorce when I moved to Alberta. My son went for a jog. One hour passed, then two, then three. I drove around the neighbourhood and beyond, searching. Called his friends. Then the hospitals. By nine, it was pitch black outside. Called the police, panicking, but they told me a 17-year-old boy out for a few hours hardly qualifies as missing. I tried to tell them this is not like him. We always know where the other is. They dismissed me like me and my son weren’t important.
When the doorbell rang at 3 am and I looked out and saw the police cruiser, those awful thoughts came into my head. I thought my son was dead. Took the stairs two at a time and opened the door. There he stood, looking haggard and dishevelled, between two officers. ‘What happened?’ I asked. The officers said goodbye and walked away. My son came inside and said, ‘Not now, mom. Can’t talk about it now.’
I stood at the kitchen counter in the darkness, frozen, unable to move. I heard the shower running for a long time. Wanted to comfort the little boy he used to be, the way he’d come running to me if he got a cut and was hurt. Never imagined I’d be standing outside his bedroom door, rapping at it, begging to be let in. Tossed and turned that whole night.
Next morning at breakfast, watched tears stream down his face. Anger and hurt replaced fatigue. He got picked up by the police, thrown into the car, no explanation, then tossed into jail. He looked like someone they were searching for. Tell me if a white boy is ever just picked up and thrown into jail because he looks like someone else. Tell me. Cause I don’t know anyone that’s happened to. And believe me, it would make the news and there would be some kind of lawsuit.
File a lawsuit? Oh please. Me, a single mother, barely making enough to cover the rent? And even if I did, I wouldn’t win. Know why? Being black in this country means being second class. I know it’s not South Africa under apartheid. It’s not as blatant or as segregated as the U.S. But when it happens to your son, that kinda hurt changes you. It covers your body like a shield that you can’t take off. It slips inside your blood stream like a virus that you can’t shake. My son lost his innocence overnight. He lost his loyalty, his love for this country.
I am well aware this happens to a lot of black men. You don’t have to tell me that. But this was my son. And every time he passed a cop car after that, his jaw tightened. He is not the same.
Oh, I suppose he’s alright now, last I heard. He moved to Korea a couple years ago. Teaching English over there. Where he says he is a foreigner and everybody knows he’s a foreigner and treats him with respect. He said he’s not living in the country of his birth to be treated like an outsider, like a second class citizen.
Do I miss him? Of course. But do you blame him? Do you?
Peta-Gaye Nash was born in Kingston, Jamaica and lives in Mississauga, Ontario. She writes poetry, children’s literature and short fiction. She has published seven children’s books and a short story collectionI Too Hear the Drums. She recently won the Mississauga Arts Council Marty Awards for Established Literary Fiction 2022. Find her at