Fiona Raye Clarke
Country of Origin:
Black History/African Heritage, Racism/Discrimination, Human Rights & Social Justice, Identity & Heritage, Multiculturalism & Diversity
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Fiona Raye Clarke is a law graduate with a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from the University of Southampton and an Honours B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Toronto, who will be pursuing a Master of Laws (LL.M) at Osgoode Hall Law School from York University in 2015. She has worked and volunteered in Canada, Trinidad, England, and Nicaragua in the areas of civil service, oil and gas, the non-profit sector, and criminal law. She is a passionate writer and researcher of the Black experience, writing both fiction and non-fiction that features the perspective of people of colour. Fiona is the editor of a collection of youth writing called Basodee: An Anthology Dedicated to Black Youth published with the support of the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth by General Store Publishing House in 2012. She has delivered Black History Month presentations in schools around the GTA and Ontario through her involvement with the Ontario Black History Society, produced Afrocentric research materials, and has written over a dozen profiles of Black excellence on Who’s Who in Black Canada. Fiona is a facilitator at the community writing group for youth, Toronto Wordsmiths. She is also Chief Editor of Afro Excel.
You can find Fiona on Twitter @fionarclarke or on her website www.fionarayeclarke.com
I am a third generation Canadian, the first generation born in Canada. Though, the colour of my skin stops this assumption from forming and instead the question “where are you from?” escapes the tongue. The story of my Blackness spans countries, continents, states and provinces, and though born in Calgary, starts in Trinidad, where I received the gift of a water-baby one fateful Christmas at three-years-old. Unknowingly searching for what the world really thought of me, I marveled at this water-baby: she was a red shade of brown with dark brown eyes just like me that blinked when you held her in your arms to sleep. Her hair was straight and jet-black and she wore a carnation pink onesie. She was a gift from my family that told me instead of ugly, I was beautiful: worthy of such a likeness in a dolly.
At nine, on the playground at a Scarborough elementary, a boy who never before said a mean word to me, called me a "n----- lollipop" in front of everyone. The insinuation was ridiculous, but the look in his blue eyes told me he meant to conjure up a history that went far beyond me. My first instinct was not to cry, but rather frozen disbelief. Instead of internalizing, I chose to fight. Fight him and what those words mean.
Moving to Texas that same year, I discovered the joys of being Black in America: stories. I read books of all kinds about children who looked like me, and learned about something called Black history. I also heard on the news about a Black man being dragged behind a pick-up truck till there wasn't much left of a body. So I also learned that being Black could be a danger to me.
I returned to Canada for high school, and this is where things got hairy. I started to feel uncomfortable, conscious of the feeling that I was "the little Black girl" who hung out with white people. "Not seeing my colour" at the time was a compliment to me. This progressed to university, though I still read about Civil Rights and Black history, not equating those ideas with a right to be proud of being me.
It wasn't until recently, when I made a trip to the California African American Museum, received a private tour of the Trans-Atlantic slavery exhibit and saw a woman spend ten years tracing her family tree back to Africa her history strewn out over an entire wall above me, crept into the life-sized replicas of the bowels of a slave ship, felt the softness of raw cotton tufts, learned that sharks created new patterns to feed eating bodies thrown off the boats, and how slavery affected us women most of all because we lost our names, our religion and rights over our bodies, I knew our Blackness, my Blackness had been hard-won. That our story deserved to go down in the annals of history: how we had fought off near-extinction and won.