Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the Guardian newspaper. It appears with the writer’s permission.
Every time I sit on a crowded street car, bus or subway train in Toronto, I know I will have an empty seat next to me. It’s like a broken record. Sometimes I don’t mind having the extra space, but other times I feel awkward, uncomfortable and annoyed.
I know I have good hygiene, I dress appropriately and I mind my own business. However, recently, I finally became cognizant of why people might fear being around me or in close proximity to me: I am a black male. Although Canadian society presents the facade of multiculturalism, the truth is Canada has a serious problem with the issue of race.
I didn’t realize it until my sister said to me:
Orville, people are afraid of you. You are a 6-foot-tall black man with broad shoulders.
My sister is right, people don’t sit next to me on the street car, the subway or on the bus because they are afraid.
The issue of black self-hatred is something I am supposed to pretend does not exist. However, the great French psychiatrist Frantz Fanon wrote about this issue in his groundbreaking book Black Skin, White Masks in a chapter called “The Lived Experience of the Black Man.” According to Fanon, the black man is viewed in the third person, and he isn’t seen as a three-dimensional human being. The black man internalizes the perspectives of white society and its negative thoughts about blackness affect his psyche. In the chapter, Fanon discusses a white child calling him the n-word and how he becomes cognizant of how he is different and viewed as someone people should fear.
There is also a fear by some black people that discussing the issue of self-hatred is a sign of weakness. There is a discourse that black people engender: that black is beautiful. But the truth is, the image of blackness is ugly—at least it’s perceived that way. There is nothing special or wonderful about being a black male—it is a life of misery and shame.
The issue of black self-hatred is usually depicted from a female point of view. There are documentaries such as Dark Girls, which aired on Oprah’s OWN network earlier this year, in which black women discuss their feelings of self-hatred for having dark skin. There are numerous books, articles, documentaries and essays published by black female writers describing black self-hated. Black women are not afraid to speak out about their self-loathing, yet for some reason, black men are silent about our own contempt for what we are.