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indexPart 2 of “When You’re Strange” is up on the Media Diversified site now. Stuart Hall’s death in February sent me reeling and I found myself writing about him in my essay:

The recent death of Stuart Hall led me to revisit his work and reconsider its impact on my thinking about migration; I now see even more parallels between Hall’s journey and my own. I didn’t know it at the time, but in my senior year of high school I went through a serious depressive episode and have lived with depression ever since. In a 1992 interview with Kuan-Hsing Chen, Hall reflects on his years in Jamaica and admits:

“When I look at the snapshots of myself in childhood and early adolescence, I see a picture of a depressed person. I don’t want to be who they [his parents] want me to be, but I don’t know how to be somebody else. And I am depressed by that. All of that is the background to explain why I eventually migrated.”

When I was a teen, I hid from the camera; I believed messages I got from my family that said I was hideous, and so embraced the invisibility imposed upon me by Canadian society. I spent hours alone at home, curled up with a book (usually Dickens); I slept up to twelve hours a day, hoping to make time pass more quickly. My father had already moved to the US by then and my mother was mired in her own depression. My older sister—the only Black female role model I had at the time—dropped out of university to follow her boyfriend across the country. The disintegration of my family seemed complete and I clung to the hope that a scholarship to university would transform my sad reality.

Stuart Hall also sought escape from a dysfunctional (if intact) family. He, too, found “a huge gap” between the life he wanted for himself and his parents’ expectations of him. The “strange aspirations and identifications” of his upwardly mobile, color-conscious, and pro-colonial parents ultimately destroyed Hall’s sister Patricia. Her nervous breakdown and subsequent electroconvulsive therapy rendered her unable to leave home while propelling Hall out into the world. This traumatic experience, Hall explains,

“crystallized my feelings about the space I was called into by my family. I was not going to stay there. I was not going to be destroyed by it. I had to get out. I felt that I must never put myself back into it, because I would be destroyed. My decision to emigrate was to save myself.”

I left Canada with the same sense of desperation, and I now draw upon my migrant experience as I attempt to develop a mythology of displacement for Black teen readers.

All are welcome to join our Twitter chat later today at 4pm ET (8pm GMT).

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hogan-s-alley-black-history-month-stampAt the start of this year my friend and fellow blogger Edith Campbell told me about a CFP she saw on Twitter from Media Diversified, a site dedicated to writers of color. I’d been wanting to write something about Orville Douglas, the Black Canadian man who wrote an op-ed in The Guardian last fall to tell the world how much he hates being a Black man. I wrote a short essay and submitted it to the editor; she asked me to extend it but I had to switch gears and work on my Canada Seminar essay. In the end, the shorter piece became the foundation for my talk at Harvard and the editor allowed me to write a two-part essay for Media Diversified. Part 1 of “When You’re Strange” is up now. Here’s a taste:

Of course, I never truly left Toronto behind. Most of my family members still reside there and so I return once or twice a year. Last semester I was displeased but not surprised when a student raised her hand at the end of class and asked how I felt about my hometown’s crack-smoking mayor. Rob Ford is ridiculous enough to be quickly dismissed, but another controversy emerged from Toronto last fall that was deeply disturbing and much harder to ignore. When I first read Orville Douglas’ controversialonline op-ed, “Why I hate being a Black man” in The Guardian last November, I was immediately embarrassed and enraged. “Of course, he’s from Toronto,” I fumed. “Only Toronto could produce a freak like that.”

I immediately shared the article on Facebook; two Black Canadian women responded and agreed that Douglas was an anomaly who in no way represented Black male Torontonians. A few days later I shared the article with my community college students; we had spent the semester dissecting the stereotypes that surround Black men, and my working-class students of color were amazed that any Black man in 2013 would see his race as “a prison” and publicly ask, “Who would want to have this dark skin, broad nose, large thick lips, and wake up in the morning being despised by the rest of the world?” I asked my Black male students to describe the ways they practice self-love. They struggled with that question but had no problem listing the ways they showed love for other Black men. We concluded that Douglas’ “condition” likely stemmed not only from a lack of self-love, but a lack of community.

Orville Douglas’ public admission of self-loathing earned him a great deal of international attention—a mixture of condemnation and pity. When a friend directed me to his earlier articles inNOW Magazine, I wasn’t surprised to learn that Douglas had once hoped to migrate to the U.S. declaring, “America is a land of opportunity, while Canada is a nobody’s land.” It seemed logical to me that a Black man who felt unwanted, invisible, and unloved in Canada would believe he could build a better life in the U.S. since that’s exactly how I felt back in 1994. Despite (or perhaps because of) my initial reaction to Douglas’ op-ed, I’ve since had to consider the possibility that this troubled Black Canadian man isn’t “a freak like that” but rather “a freak like me.”

Part 2 will be published on Friday and the site always has thought-provoking pieces, so check them out!

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gec_photoThis morning I received an invitation from George Elliott Clarke , Toronto’s Poet Laureate, to participate in the Canada Seminar at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. George, who is the E.J. Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature at the University of Toronto, will be William Lyon Mackenzie King Visiting Professor of Canadian Studies and Canada Seminar Chair for the coming academic year.

The Canada Seminar examines Canadian social, economic, cultural, and political issues in their domestic and international dimensions. Presentations are made by public figures, scholars, artists, and experts in various fields to provide Harvard faculty and students, and the broader community, a look at Canadian scholarly and public life. It seeks to enhance the understanding of one of the United States’ closest allies and largest trading partners, and to provide a forum for the lively exchange of ideas on a wide range of issues. Because Canada and the United States must respond to similar economic and social challenges with distinctly different frameworks and historical legacies, the study of Canadian issues offers rich opportunities for scholars engaged in comparative studies. The seminar has presented numerous distinguished speakers including Canadian Supreme Court Justice Madame Rosalie Abella; political philosophers, Charles Taylor and Will Kymlicka; Matthew Teitelbaum, director and CEO of the Art Gallery of Ontario; and interim leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, the Honorable Bob Rae.

Needless to say, the lineup will look very different while George is at Harvard! My talk, “The (Revolving) Door of No Return: Memory, Migration, & Magical Thinking,” will take place on February 24, 2014.

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