Updated: Mar 8, 2022
I was born without a silver spoon in my mouth, as were my parents and my older brothers, but by the time my younger sister was born, that slowly started to change, if not in money (but ya, in money too), definitely in opportunities for my future.
The Come Up
I grew up in what we’d call a lower middle-class neighbourhood, surrounded by bigger homes and tiny mansions 5 minutes in one direction, and projects in the other (essentially). My parents, having moved here from Jamaica in 1973 three years before rights for Black Canadians were written into our Canadian Human Rights Act. Mom, returned to the country over 8 years after leaving, raised in the fields of PEI, then the city of Kingston, Jamaica, landed in huge Toronto. My Dad immigrating to Canada for the first Time. They lived in 2 apartments for 4 years when after hard work and planning, bought the house I was eventually born in.
They’d had a rough start. My father may not have seen it, but he was the subject of racial oppression that almost crushed their dreams when they arrived in Toronto. The Hilton on Queen street agreed to his transfer from Hilton Jamaica, and to arrange his shifts so that he could attend Ryerson U for Engineering. He’d then go back to the Hilton Jamaica and receive the official title and pay for the operations management job he’d already been doing. HIs new manager in Toronto seemed to not like him much, and had other plans for him when he got there. The shift work he was given eventually forced him to leave University to continue to help support the family.
He found work at 1st Canadian Place in Building Operations, and climbed high in the ranks over time. They figured it out and I’d say it all worked out for the best (Jamaica’s economy completely crashed shortly after their arrival). They went on to sponsor many other families from Jamaica, to help them get established here in Canada. They have and continue to sponsor so many children in other continents - South America, Africa and more. For Christmas they’d give us cards that said they’d purchased a cow and two chickens in our names for families in African countries, and it was special to me (we also got gifts). When they moved to New Brunswick, they sponsored families from certain countries in Africa arriving as refugees, and through their church many good works as well. All in all, take this all away, and my parents, like all people were not perfect people, but they were good people. This is important for later on.
My mother later ended up working for an Oil Company mid-town Toronto, and through that, they offered quite the incentive for the children of employees - …. wait for it …. FREE, paid for University, the whole 4 years if I remember correctly. Can you believe it? If that’s not the perks of privilege, I don’t know what is.
What were the stipulations? An 80% or higher final year High School average. That’s it! Did I have that? Oh ya. Did I take advantage of the FREE University education? I did …… not.
“Are you dumb?? Why not?”
Possibly. But why not, you ask? We can go over the regular arguments; hard to find a job after, so many don’t even end up in their field, is it worth it racking up that kind of debt- oh wait, there wouldn’t have been any.
The reason, as good as I can reason it looking back, is that I may still have been sub-consciously obsessed in those days with being “Blacker”, or, my incorrect perceived notion of it, as it can't be defined by stereotypes. I may have subconsciously been concerned with connecting with a culture and heritage I don’t feel I had the opportunity to connect with enough, growing up. So I wanted to be a rapper. I NEEDED to be a rapper. I played with my friends in Scarborough or the projects of North York, had Jamaican nannies for years when both parents started working, but I just needed more. I think I felt like I had something to prove. I tried to live the life of the culturally stereotyped Black people I saw in movies and heard on rap songs. There are some black people that are like what you see in the movies, it’s a small fraction, and I felt I had to be like them. So I became that, and still am that in ways. Still not ready to talk about the extent of that though.
My parents didn’t want me to focus on any particular “culture” as they related to myself. They, like so many other well intentioned parents, especially those of inter-cultural children, did what made the most sense to them at the time. I can speak from experience that making the right choices for children is harder than it looks, you know better than them, but want them to carve their own path. As I’ve said in the past, their choices were not wrong, but a white woman from PEI, and a Black man from Jamaica, they just couldn’t anticipate that Toronto wouldn’t treat me the way they wanted me to treat the world, as just a person - they pushed me to not see colour, they told me God created us all as equal and the only culture they wanted me to be a part of us was the Canadian culture I was being raised in. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t not see colour, or culture, it was EVERYwhere, I SAW it everywhere, and I wanted to understand it and drink it all in. Not only that, I was treated by many (not all) peers, teachers, friends, and friends parents LIKE a “Black” person.
I think I thought I had to be a ball player (don’t get me wrong I love ball). I wanted to be a rapper and producer in the non-existant “urban” music industry of Canada. Again, don’t get me wrong, I do LOVE RAP MUSIC (but also some Simon and Garfunkel)! And I think I thought it was my job to ball, rap, hustle, smoke weed, break laws, and "mack chicks". Sure I did okay for myself. I made money selling mixtapes, shows across the country, and I did that for years (on a smaller scale), but I sometimes wonder what else I could’ve done. Why did I feel I had to take that route when there were 100 other directions for me.
100% my fault?
I also ask, was it me? My parents? Or University itself? At the time, I did consider University. I did the research. I grew up an entrepreneurial artist. I always wanted both. I was accepted into a prestigious arts High School far from my neighbourhood where I studied Visual Arts, Music, Drama and even Dance while choosing business for my electives (there was about 2-3 Black kids per grade level in the program, I hope I deserved to be there). Years ago, the 5th year of high school in Ontario counted for first year University credits in the rest of the country, so I had that under my belt. I wanted to study audio engineering/music production and artist management, but no Universities in Canada offered anything like that at the time, and the Oil company would only pay for University. I wasn’t going to go to University to study Classical Music History. So maybe it was the University's fault. Maybe they just were so far from having the courses a young man like me needed.
I ended up going to the Harris Institute for the Arts, and my parents supported my choices, in spirit as well as financially, (although I often wonder if a young, dumb me would’ve benefited from a more forceful hand in my choices, rebellious as I was). My first daughter was born in the middle of all that, the Rasta I’d been living with had scammed us out of our money, I was secretly homeless for months, there were other things going on, and I was living the tough life I thought I was meant to live. I continued music, opened a small studio and worked out of another one, I was the co-star of Canada’s first Urban Musical, challenged rappers on stage in legendary Toronto rap battles, and went on to do many other interesting things, learning self management skills every step of the way.
I'll never know if I needed University, it's not really the point. I’ve done fine. I don’t play the what-ifs. I’m a relatively successful entrepreneur. I’m loved. I don’t want for much. I love those around me and am proudly waiting for my oldest to finish her own fourth year of University.
Then what’s my point?
So my point, and I know it’s not always a direct path, is privilege. Opportunity. The opportunities afforded some, and denied others. Having the chance at a free 4 years of University was an opportunity and privilege not many people with my skin tone are afforded in Canada, and I passed on it, possibly out of some belief that my own “Blackness” required I take a different path in life. One that mostly worked out for me, but easily may not have, there were too many close calls, and of course my life’s not done. But many Canadians in society like to refute the obvious inherent privilege bestowed among so many of us, thinking everybody was given a fair playing hand, and if they’re not excelling in life, it's their own fault.
It’s not the case. Many living in Canada and the world have never had even one of the many opportunities many of us luckier Canadians have wasted most of our lives. There are many privileged out there that wasted their privilege, like me, that are now struggling, and are bitter about it, so fight against any effort to make true “opportunity” equal for all, and they say their privilege doesn’t exist. There are privileges bestowed upon those in higher and lower economic circles never afforded to others, not always, but mostly based on skin tone. I often joke that this is the true future I want to see for people of all skin tones and cultures, the actual giving of fair and equal opportunity for all, so that all Canadian kids can have a chance at reaching the stars, and so that it would truly be fair to all when “Black” numb-nuts like myself mess those chances up.
Clinton is a entrepreneur with interests in retail, beauty, music, real estate, blockchain, farming, and more. He is also a founder of BlackLantic.
"I migrated to NB in 2009, to my surprise, well ahead of the 2020/21 crowd 😉."
With a strong belief that POC need to support, work together, and collaborate, Clinton has spent years driven by a need to make the world a better place for his kids, and people of all cultures/lifestyles to grow up in.