Tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from my step-daugh­ter at Pride protest

As eas­ily as she put on the rain­bow cape, she took own­er­ship of the su­per­power in the colour of her own skin

NOW Magazine - - CONTENTS - By CAR­LIE HOWELL news@now­toronto.com | @now­toronto

For the last few weeks, as in­di­vid­u­als and a city, we’ve been try­ing to fig­ure out what the Black Lives Mat­ter sit-in at the Pride parade meant.

As some­one who sat on the ground as part of the cir­cle that halted the parade, I formed some opin­ions quickly.

Was it okay to in­ter­rupt a parade that was meant to cel­e­brate the LGBTQ2S com­mu­nity? Ul­ti­mately my an­swer was yes, though in truth, I was ini­tially con­flicted.

When given the chance to be an ally, to put aside my own con­fu­sion and put my own body on the line, did I feel we were be­ing put in dan­ger? No, be­cause I real­ized that the colour of my skin was a shield, most likely pro­tect­ing me from the ag­gres­sion that might have en­sued had it not been such a public set­ting and the pro­test­ers not such a di­verse group of peo­ple.

In the days that fol­lowed, I re­flected on the big-pic­ture mean­ing: is­sues of eq­uity and in­clu­sive­ness at Pride and in our city, po­lice ac­count­abil­ity, priv­i­lege and the op­pres­sive sys­tems that up­hold it, and ac­knowl­edg­ing that it’s time for those who ben­e­fit from those sys­tems to change them. Un­der­neath is the dis­com­fort of the ques­tion “What am I go­ing to do about it?”

When Black Lives Mat­ter ap­peared on the cover of the July 14 is­sue of NOW, the mean­ing of it all hit home.

There, seated in the bot­tom cor­ner look­ing as mad as hell, was my 13-year-old step­daugh­ter, Ali­cia.

To those who know her per­son­ally, Ali­cia is many things: cre­ative, com­pas­sion­ate, trust­wor­thy, thought­ful, play­ful. To those who are look­ing for boxes to check, she iden­ti­fies as an Afro-Brazil­ian-Cana­di­an­cis-gen­dered pan­sex­ual fe­male.

When her mom and I started dat­ing, Ali­cia and I im­me­di­ately found a con­nec­tion in art and mu­sic, and over the years we’ve strength­ened our re­la­tion­ship through shared un­der­stand­ings and ways of be­ing in the world. Still, I’ve re­mained con­scious of the fact that while she and I may eas­ily see our­selves in one an­other, so­ci­ety does not. She will al­ways walk in the world a per­son of colour, and I will never truly know what that feels like.

As she’s con­tin­ued to de­fine and re­de­fine her iden­tity, her in­ter­sec­tion­al­ity causes me to re­think what once ap­peared to me as straight­for­ward so­lu­tions. The chal­lenges she’s pre­sented with as a queer bira­cial teen grow­ing up in Toronto are very dif­fer­ent from those I faced as a straight-iden­ti­fy­ing white teen grow­ing up in Man­i­toba.

So while I can set an ex­am­ple for her by striv­ing to be the best ver­sion of my­self pos­si­ble, I can­not be a Black role model for her.

Hav­ing marched in front of our drum­ming group at the Dyke March the day be­fore, Ali­cia was al­ready pre­pared to parade proudly and con­fi­dently.

Don­ning a rain­bow cape, Ali­cia im­me­di­ately rec­og­nized that there was a prob­lem­atic dis­con­nect be­tween the Black Lives Mat­ter folks up front and the sound of our group be­hind them. It was re­ally chal­leng­ing for us to hear them, and there­fore dif­fi­cult to stay to­gether rhyth­mi­cally.

Ali­cia, re­mem­ber­ing the chants from our par­tic­i­pa­tion at the BLM rally at po­lice head­quar­ters in the spring, took up the role of in­ter­me­di­ary, lis­ten­ing closely to the BLM chanters, then turn­ing to shout the re­sponse back at us, us­ing her body to mark the time.

As we moved through a minute of si­lence for the Or­lando vic­tims into a semi-cir­cle that made a makeshift stage for BLM lead­ers, Ali­cia par­tic­i­pated with an un­wa­ver­ing poise.

Un­like many of our adult group mem­bers, not once did she ex­press an­noy­ance, frus­tra­tion, doubt, con­fu­sion or a de­sire to leave. She ap­plauded for, chanted with and lis­tened to the lead­ers of BLM-TO, and while she re­spect­fully stayed close to her mother as we re­quested, she con­sciously put her­self at the com­mand and ser­vice of th­ese beau­ti­ful, strong, queer Black women who were dressed like the bosses they in­tended to be.

In the mid­dle of Yonge and Carl­ton, Ali­cia looked into the face of some of her own in­ter­sec­tions and was in­spired by what she saw.

A day or two later, while her mom and I were work­ing, Ali­cia filled our house­hold “grat­i­tude wall” with state­ments.

She wrote about the safe space we have and strive to up­hold in our home, the free­dom she has to ex­plore her own iden­tity with­out judg­ment and the value she places in her own well-be­ing be­cause of the value we place in her well-be­ing.

She thanked me per­son­ally and specif­i­cally for the ways in which I play a parental role in her life. She asked me if I’d pre­fer if she called me “Mom,” say­ing that in her heart, my name was syn­ony­mous with the idea of mom, but she won­dered if the ti­tle mat­tered to me.

Grow­ing up in a fam­ily and com­mu­nity of artists, ac­tivists and al­lies, Ali­cia has cer­tainly had many pos­i­tive role mod­els, adults who are not only work­ing to be true to their own selves but also will­ing to in­ter­act with her as a peer and equal to bear wit­ness to the self she is un­cov­er­ing.

But as the slick, pol­ished flow of the Pride parade went up in a cloud of thick rain­bow smoke, Ali­cia saw clearly queer Black women who were ad­vo­cat­ing for them­selves, their fam­i­lies and their com­mu­ni­ties, and for other marginal­ized com­mu­ni­ties whose needs and chal­lenges in­ter­sect with hers.

She saw su­per-hero­ines who are lead­ing a move­ment of change, who are in a po­si­tion of power, who, de­spite the fact that they’re mad as hell, are elo­quent speak­ers, stat­ing clearly the prob­lems and proac­tively de­mand­ing so­lu­tions.

She saw peo­ple whose iden­ti­ties in­ter­sect with her own on many lev­els speak­ing up and act­ing out in thought­ful, non-vi­o­lent and ef­fec­tive ways. And as eas­ily as she put on the rain­bow cape of­fered by our friend Martha, she ef­fort­lessly took own­er­ship of the su­per­power within the colour of her own skin and im­me­di­ately put it into prac­tice in her own life.

So as we move for­ward from this defin­ing event, I will con­tinue to ask whether we have ar­rived at a place where we can all feel safe and proud. I will con­tinue to seek an­swers to the ques­tion, What am I go­ing to do about it? I will con­tinue to put my white body on the line and raise a loud noise for the state­ments and de­mands of Black Lives Mat­ter.

As for the ques­tion, Did it mean some­thing?, I am blessed that I get to share my home with some­one who re­minds me that the an­swer is a re­sound­ing yes. Car­lie Howell is a multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist, com­poser, dig­i­tal cre­ator and artist.

Thir­teen-year-old Ali­cia Reis at Black Lives Mat­ter’s Pride sit-in July 3

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