Reflections of a Barbadian Canadian

My name is Suzanne Trotman, a Registered Psychotherapist at Family Counselling Centre of Cambridge and North Dumfries and a clinician in the agency’s Children’s Wellness Hub, a partnership with the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank.

I was born on the lovely island of Barbados in the Caribbean, and, no, I do not know Rihanna, the musician. LOL  My late husband and I moved to Canada with our 8 month old baby boy in 1996 to pursue studies in Toronto. 

It was a new chapter for us having lived in a predominantly monoethnic country, where capitalism still had and has a large influence.  We learned quite quickly as we transitioned to Toronto that in order to integrate and thrive there had to be trading of sociological mores.  We moved from a sunny warm climate to a country where at 4:30pm the sun started to set in the fall season.  We moved from  a predominantly black country to the all white neighbourhood (at the time) of Thornhill.  It took a year for me to settle in.

As we adjusted, we learnt when someone asked how you were, it was just a polite cliché, not an invitation to share how you were really doing. Or when you arrived at the bus shelter, you didn’t say hi nor greeted every one you passed on the street.  Where,  in Barbados if you didn’t greet people as you passed them on the street, you were deemed as rude.   All big cultural differences we had to adjust to.

Needless to say, we settled in and lived, studied and worked in Toronto for 8 years before moving to Cambridge.

When we arrived in Cambridge in 2005, it was a breath of fresh air in comparison to Toronto,  as the small town feel reminded us of Barbados.  We settled into the Preston neighborhood.  What stood out at the time was the small representation of minority groups in the city. However, we put down roots and settled in.   As I reflected on our time in Toronto and Cambridge as a Black family, our experiences were positive with sprinkles of a few incidences of covert racism which we respectfully advocated against and carried on.   My late husband and I have instilled in our three sons to always excel at what you do, be respectful and treat others kindly.  I believe these are core bedrocks for all of humanity. 

I always said “I don’t see color, I see people.”  Until I was in class at Wilfred Laurier in 2017 and a Black female student stated, “I want to be seen as Black because that is who I am, it is a part of my identity.  If you don’t acknowledge my ethnicity, you are not acknowledging who I am in totality”.  That was a game changer for me. I saw the wisdom of her words.

2020 ushered in the Black Lives Matters movement which is a fight that dates back to the days of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, among others.  In 2020 this fight went viral and worldwide as all colors and cultures stood with Blacks for the simple right to be treated fairly.  My understanding of the history I studied while in grade and high school took on a different meaning as I watched and understood, at a visceral level, the collective grief of the descendants of the African diaspora.  This diaspora houses layers of richness, collective ancestry but also systemic anchors which were embedded centuries ago as my ancestors learned survival during the slave trade; some good, others quite damaging.

The BLM movement has been instrumental in raising awareness and continuing the fight of simply wanting equality.  The right to not be treated as ‘the other’, not to be judged by skin color but to be appreciated for individual worth and skill sets.

As we celebrate Black History month, I am glad to see a paradigm shift where Blacks are reaching out for therapeutic help and not being stoic in the belief that we need not feel, we need to be strong, just to get the job done.  Where Blacks are embracing their own hair, skin, charting new territories for hair care and skin care lines where there are gaps. Embracing  fashion, culture and celebrating who they are at a core level. Where Blacks are celebrated in positive roles that are world leaders and game changers.

My hope is that we reach a place where not only Blacks but ALL minorities are treated equally and we can experience synchronicity of equality.