Am I invisible? A story about inclusion and diversity in my city.

September 24, 2019

Hey, It’s me REANNA. I was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in fact, I’ve lived here so long, the hospital I was born at doesn’t even have a maternity ward anymore. I have spent the majority of my life in Winnipeg, but people still don’t see me. That’s right I said it, I am invisible in this beautiful city that claims to be rich in multiculturalism.

Feeding a deer in the middle of winter

Let’s pull it all the way back just a minute. When I was 5 and started at Robert Browning Elementary school, I was 1 of 2 persons of colour among 3 classes of kindergarteners. Lucky for me, I was oblivious to the fact I was different. My classmates stayed with me right up until I graduated high school and not one of them ever made me feel like I was an outsider. I was never teased at school about the golden hues in my brown skin or the blackness of my hair. As I said, I was lucky. I always assumed this is because I had teachers who never fostered segregation in the classroom, and my classmates had parents that did not allow them to see colour.

In my early adult life, I started to realize the rules were a bit different for me. The security at the club would look at my ID a lot longer than my friends, and the police would tend to ask me random questions that I know my white counterparts would never dare to be asked. But was it racism? Probably not.

I did a stint in Toronto, followed by a few years in my “homeland” of Trinidad and Tobago. But ultimately I ended up back in Winnipeg, well for now.

Getting back to our story, three short years ago, I moved back with my husband, and a year later, Leo was born. It was a tough reintroduction to Canada. For the first time in my life, I started to really understand what racism was.

I took my husband to see the sights of Winnipeg, ok ok we all know that means I took him to the Forks. We sat down beside a family on the newly sanded “beach” area by the lake. They watched us with a disgusted look, gathered their children and got up and moved to the adjacent bench. I brushed it off and told my husband don’t let it bother you that is not my Winnipeg.

Two weeks after I moved back, my girlfriends and I started to brunch again. It was fantastic to be in their company, and we had so much to catch up on, babies, engagements, new houses and more. One of my friends had just bought a house in one of Winnipeg’s most desirable neighbourhoods, and she gushed about how happy she was. I was so happy for her. In the midst of her story, she made a comment that to this day, I do not fully understand. She said her neighbours loved the fact that a young, WHITE, couple had moved into the community. I hid my embarrassment deep down inside and realized she didn’t even notice that I wasn’t white. She didn’t know the impact her words had on me, and to be honest, neither did I, until days later. Was our friendship strained because there was no more room in her life for her oldest “friend” or was it because I didn’t fit in her narrative as a non-white family? Do people actually congratulate you on being a young white successful family? That can’t be my Winnipeg?

A few months later, I went down to the exchange on a chilly Sunday morning for an exciting class at the Kinship Studio. The class was filled with so many amazing nuggets of information and even more impressive entrepreneurs. I felt invigorated to get my writing career going, as I left the studio at 2 pm, I noticed a shadow behind me. I was not scared. I mean it was 2 pm. The man started to mumble and then I began to feel my heartbeat through my jacket. I didn’t want to turn around, so I started walking faster. Then I heard ” YOU FUCKING TERRORIST GET OUT OF MY CITY.” I couldn’t feel my feet, and I think I floated to my car. This is not my Winnipeg.

My husband started confiding in me the horrible things he faced working as a tradesperson in and around our city. He began to recount stories of people not serving him in restaurants, police pulling him over, the typical bullshit. But then there were 2 reoccurring stories I couldn’t get out of my head. His crew would generally work 12-14 hour days in the blazing sun or the harsh winters. Often homeowners would invite his crew in for a cold glass of lemonade/hot coffee and some lunch. HIS CREW. Not him. His crew would feel so bad they would often bring half a sandwich out for him, but he generally refused it. How could this possibly be my Winnipeg?

The second story is even worse; it’s the reason I call him 5 times a day. It’s the reason I can’t bear to think about what has happened when I don’t hear from him. Like any other day, he loads up his truck and heads out to his customer’s property to get some work done. Both incidents happened in the pit of winter when the world is still and silent. My husband describes it as so quiet; it’s almost deafening. A sudden noise echoed through the air, and a pellet rickoshays off some metal. Yep someone was using my husbands as target practice with a pellet gun (we assume it was a pellet gun). How can this be MY FREAKENING WINNIPEG, Manitoba?

The stories get worse, but over time it has become our reality. Racism, or whatever -ism you want to call it is alive and well in Manitoba. It’s a sad truth that the city has built a great marketing brand off multiculturalism, but the longer I live here I am forced to realize we aren’t an inclusive, diverse city where people get to enjoy equal opportunity or even a level of respect amongst each other.

I started to realize the stores I shopped in, the places I drank coffee, and the brands I loved didn’t love me back. The lack of diversity and inclusion in the cities top brands/stores and establishments started shouting at me everywhere I went. I couldn’t believe it when the foggy cloud I had in front of me my whole life was lifted, people of colour were invisible. When I called out stores asking why they didn’t include people of colour in their marketing they simply said “we can’t find any” Umm what?

The final blow came last month. On August 16, 2019 I realized this was not the Winnipeg I once knew as a beautiful, inclusive place , when I read the article “Using their influence” in the Winnipeg Free Press. One simple line ” I think when people imagine influencer they definitely unfortunately imagine like, a thin, pretty blonde girl that’s like travelling all over the world or something, which is not ideal.” The “reporter”, a white woman, asked another white woman her thoughts on “diversity in the industry”. Well damn. I guess people really don’t want to see a brown, curvy, black-haired women travelling the world.

This is why I started my blog, and this is why I am so passionate about changing mainstream medias perception on who is actually writing travel articles, who is behind the lens capturing those beautiful pictures and most of all who is buying their products. Hello, my name is Reanna, I am brown, short, and curvy and I shop at all the same places you do. I drink the same coffee you do, and I eat in the same restaurants you do. I went to the same schools you did, and I pay the same damn taxes you do. So forgive me if I want you to see me. Understand I am not a woman scorned, I am not nagging you. I simply want you to realize that we Indian, Asian, Black, Indigenous, Spanish, Latin women all exist in this space. We are not minorities. In fact, we are probably the majority when it comes to spending money in your establishment.

Part 2 coming soon, if you don’t want to miss it, subscribe to my newsletter.

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  • Reply Sonia Sharma September 24, 2019 at 9:47 pm

    Very well written! Very well articulated! Being an east Indian, short curvy woman entrepreneur, can totally relate with this. Let’s meet for a coffee?

    Sonia Sharma

  • Reply John Lyttle September 26, 2019 at 5:26 pm

    Thank you for writing about the ugly, racist side of Winnipeg. We need to do better.

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