Black Lives Here: Opening the conversation on being Black in the Beach

Business resident and business owner Mimi Liliefeldt writes the Black Lives Here column. Photo: Submitted.

By MIMI LILIEFELDT

Welcome to Black Lives Here, a space created to get to know our Black community members and business owners.

In light of the very real and important civil rights movement that is happening around the world, it felt timely to take this opportunity to open the conversation right here in our neighbourhood.

I hope you’ll join me on this monthly journey of getting to know who lives here and their experiences so we can become a more diverse and inclusive community by recognizing and supporting our Black neighbours.

To open this series I will start with who I am. My name is Mimi and I’ve lived in the Beach for more than 20 years. I’m a personal trainer and have worked with many people in our neighbourhood.

Living in the Beach was a choice. I loved the idea of being close to the water and the tight-knit community that felt like a small town. But the one thing I had always noticed was that I didn’t often see myself reflected here.

Admittedly, I don’t see myself reflected much anywhere. My dad is Black from South Africa and my mom is Japanese. I have encountered my share of racism, sometimes from strangers, sometimes from well-meaning friends.

One of the problems with racism is that you don’t want to believe it’s happening to you. I’m not talking about the blatant racism, I’m talking about the small liberties people take with you, the inappropriate joke or offside comment.

This is only part of the problem, I am also culpable. I wish I could turn back time and correct these moments. I wish I wasn’t caught off guard, or worried about making the other person uncomfortable. I can forgive my younger self who got called names for not speaking up, but it’s the adult me that I’m disappointed in. I wish I had more courage to stand up.

An incredible amount of awareness has recently been thrust upon us, but if anything good can come of this then it won’t have been in vain.

We don’t always have the strength to do something for ourselves, but we can often find unimaginable strength for others. It is armed with this reality that I am finding the activist within myself to speak up.

As a person of mixed race I have had my own internal struggle, where do I fit in?

I never felt Black enough to have a say, even when my big frizzy hair and darker skin tone were used against me. I didn’t (until later in my adult life) have any Black friends and it seemed scary to speak out or alienate any of my white friends. I never wanted to make them uncomfortable.

Besides, I had it good. I am one of the lucky ones. My parents moved to Canada, made a good living and sent me to the right schools in safe neighbourhoods. What did I have to complain about? This wasn’t my fight… and I’m not THAT Black…

It seemed safer not to rock the boat, but I’ve felt racism from all sides, whites, Blacks, Asians. I never felt like a victim, but I never felt like I belonged to any particular race.

Well-meaning people told me that we’re all the same, race isn’t important and up until recently I believed them. But they’re wrong.

Most people know exactly where they stand. This doesn’t mean you can’t love everyone deeply regardless of colour. I’m married to the most wonderfully woke white man.

But I do know that I need to own the skin that I’m in. I am a person of colour, I’m happy with this term, this is what feels right to me. I am Black, I am Asian and I am white. My family heritage consists of all of these races and more, and in this fight for today and for our future, I AM Black enough.

Mimi Liliefeldt is a Beach resident and business owner. She can be reached at mimi@missfit.ca


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