Okay, so I know last week I promised to tell a reunion story…but after the events of the past week I’m going to skip ahead to a compare and contrast between my two high schools. Hopefully one day I’ll get to tell you the reunion story, but I’ll save that for a calmer time (assuming it ever comes.)
A lot of people seem to think of Canada as some kind of utopia compared to the U.S., what with our handsome and well-spoken Prime Minister, universal healthcare, and general reputation for politeness. But, as much as I love my country, we’re not perfect. And I’ve known that since I started at my second high school.
As you know, I changed high schools at the start of tenth grade. The first school was in Scarborough (a suburb of Toronto) in a very multicultural neighbourhood.
My second high school – the one I spent four years at – was in the country, about an hour outside of Toronto. My house was so in the middle of nowhere we couldn’t see any other houses from ours, (but we *could* cut through the woods to the next door neighbours’) and coyotes used to scope me out while I waited for the school bus.
Remember how last week I said I wouldn’t go to a reunion because I didn’t connect with people there?
I admit, some it was my fault. I resented the move. Resented being taken away from all my friends and the city I grew up in.
And there was also some culture shock. My second school was just so white. So white. Both my high schools were about the same size (around 2000 people), and while I couldn’t give you an exact breakdown of demographics, my city school had a diverse population. My second school? I think we had 5 or 6 students of colour. Out of 2000. (Okay, I didn’t know every kid in the school, it could have been as high as 10. I doubt it was 12.)
As a result, there was a lot of casual racism. Like, a lot. Most of these kids had never even *seen* a PoC (of any ethnicity). PoC weren’t people to them, they were more like mystical creatures, like dragons or unicorns – and the only things the kids at my school knew about them was what they’d been told by their parents or religious leaders.
When I tried to speak up, I got asked why I was making such a big deal. It’s not like it affected me. I was branded as overreacting and irrational. Eventually, I stopped listening so hard when they talked. I felt dirty, but what could I do?
Until the guy I was dating dropped a racial slur.
So I dropped him.
He was the first guy I’d ever had real feelings for, and all our friends wanted to know what had happened. At first I told people I just wasn’t into him. Then I told one of them the truth.
She got mad. How could I break his heart over something so petty? It’s not like I was one of *them* so why was I offended?
I tried to explain that I couldn’t date someone who didn’t see all people as people. Who believed in an “us” and a “them.” She didn’t care.
I don’t know what she told our friends, but none of them talked to me again after that.
I’m not telling this story to get a cookie. To be honest, I’m not proud of it. If I could go back in time, with some of the confidence I have today, I would still have broken up with that guy (obviously) only I would have told him why. Tried to get him to change (not for me, just to be a good person).
No, I’m telling this story to explain that racism is here. It’s always been here (in case that isn’t already obvious from the way First Nations communities have been and still are treated).
And being able to forget that, or not realize it in the first place, is a sign of privilege.
And it’s one I’m guilty of.
Because I have a problem.
I’ve set the YA I’m working on in a high school very much like mine (the second one). “A small town, full of small minds,” as my MC puts it. And my MC, despite her privileges (white, cis, het, from an upper middle class family) wants out.
By making her world so white, I also feel like I’m letting readers down by not including enough representation.
Don’t get me wrong, I think my story is important: it deals with body image, and sexual assault, and misogyny – all things I’ve struggled with first hand, and all things that still important in today’s world. And I’ve done my best to make sure the representation I have included is good representation. But is it enough in today’s troubled times?
I just don’t know.
Honestly, for this story, I think it will have to be. But that doesn’t mean I can’t do better for my next story. Just like I’ll do better next time I confront someone’s racist behaviour.
In the meantime, since this book won’t be out for a while (since, you know, it hasn’t even sold to a publisher yet) I’m going to be reading. So, hit me up with recommendations for YA Contemporary books with good representation*. (Bonus points if they’re by a marginalized author).
I’ll start us off with my two most favourite recent reads:
THE HATE U GIVE by: Angie Thomas
WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI by: Sandhya Menon
Add your suggestions in the comments.
*For the sake of this post, lets say representation of any identity a N*zi would hate: PoC, Jewish people, LGBTQIA, disability, mental illness.
PS For those wondering, I found a new group of friends that year, ones who weren’t racist, and they’re the ones I’m still in contact with. In case you were curious. Now, let’s see those book recs!