Being mixed race is a funny place to be during Black History Month. And I don’t mean funny in the “ha ha” sort of way. I mean funny in the sense that it’s a strange place to be.
My father was Black. His family was and is Black. My mother was white, really, really white. I favour my mother in looks. You’d never know I was anything other than white unless you took a very close look at my hair and my shape. But I am and that proud African blood flows through my veins.
It puts me in a strange place, an awkward place.
As a child, there was no such thing as Black History. My own parents, and I was adopted into a Black home, never taught me anything about it. Well, unless you count forcibly making me watch Roots when I was 6.
Without context, without any explanation, it was traumatizing for me. I had no idea about slavery or anything at 6. It was a short, sharp, harsh introduction into what it meant to be Black. And I suppose that was my mother’s point, to give me the stark reality in the comfort of our home. She was a realist, after all.
I remember crying and being sleepy. Midnight is not a good hour to go to bed when you’re little, but that’s when the show ended and she made me watch it all. I know what she was getting at. Our history was dark and brutal and ugly and I needed to get it and get it early.
She warned me all the time about not “thinking I was white.” But I didn’t really get it, you know, looking kinda white and all.
I got it later. When adults found out, when my Black daddy showed up to get me. Sure, he was accepted into the army. He was a well-respected soldier, but that's not the same as hanging out with or being a boyfriend to the "tainted one." And that's what it was, don't even start, I know.
She, my mom, and my father told me all kinds of stories about their days as kids, having to fight, in a very literal sense, their way to school as white children taunted them. Winnie, my mother told me all sorts of stories about beating up white kids on her way to school just for the privielge of an education in the 1930s.
They told me about their feelings of hunger as their fathers were paid less than half the wages of white men. They told me how they managed to feed a family of 10 to 14 on pig's feet and potatoes.
But that was it. I didn’t learn anything else, not for decades. There was no Black history. There was just history and it wasn’t mine.
Well, it was half mine. I knew that my biological mother’s family both owned slaves and fought against slavery. One branch were Quakers, they weren’t into slavery. The others were wealthy Englishmen, nobility. Fun fact, I'm a direct descendant of the Stuart Dynasty and should totally own Scotland right now. But whatever, not the point.
There was nothing about the other half.
Even when my boys were in school, and the youngest graduated in 2012, so 11 years ago. Black history was nothing but lip service in Canada. He was kicked out of class for correcting a teacher who told the entire room that George Washington was Black and invented peanut butter.
Honey, please, it was George Washington Carver. And my son spoke up because, well, he is my son. A call from the principal ensued and I responded, not so nicely.
The child asked for more books and more information. He came home to me, hungry for knowledge about a part of his heritage, his birthright, that he knew little about aside from rap and television. And I had nothing to offer him. Nothing.
I had no idea. My parents had no idea because their history was erased.
I don’t know if you know the feeling, but let me tell you when your baby looks you in the eyes and asks about his heritage, his ethnicity, his history and you got nothing, it’s a sad, powerless feeling. My people had been powerless long enough. My sons would not feel that.
I knew I had to do better. I wish my parents had done better, but they worked with what they had. I got to work. I got my study on. And I learned.
I learned about where we came from, or where we were stolen from. West Africa mainly, Irovry Coast and Ghana, Cameroon, and Congo, Nigeria, and Benin. I learned about the rich and proud cultures of my ancestors.
I learned about our family's hero, a 15-year-old boy by the name of Paris O’Ree, a kid born a slave on a South Carolina rice plantation owned by Col. Elias Horry. O’Ree is the phonetic spelling of Horry and it stuck.
Paris ran at 15 in 1779 to join the British side in the American Revolution. He served and gained his freedom and a place on a ship to Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada in 1783 (it was still Nova Scotia then).
Think about that for a second. He was 15. He was a child and he made that choice. When I was 15 my biggest problem was do I go to the dance with Tom or Paul? This boy left the only home and family he knew, a mother, father, and 2 sisters to take his chances at the faint hope of something else.
He got himself 200 acres outside Sussex, eventually. It took years for the British to keep their word and he was lucky he was one of the few that received what was due. Many didn’t.
He married and had a son, and that son married and had children. And you know what happened?
I’ll tell you. The world got Willie O’Ree. He’s a cousin of some sort, I don’t know, we’ve never met. Despite hailing from the same neck of the woods, we’re decades apart and well, our family is HUGE! Everyone who was born before 1949 has like 10 or 12 kids. But, if Willie's out there, call me cuz, we got to talk.
Due to the bravery of a 15-year-old, the world got Willie, the first Black player in the NHL.
I’d love to sit down and have a chat with him. We are kin, after all.
The world also got Sandy McCarthy, a tidy hockey player himself:
And younger, bright lights in this world, like my 2nd cousin Thanawie McCarthy, a brilliant young writer and poet who’s working hard for change:
CBC Black changemaker - Thandiwe McCarthy
Fredericton poet Thandiwe McCarthy writes about what drives him and where he comes from. He shares one of his poems…
My point is I never was taught anything to be proud of. That’s a crime. There’s so much to celebrate, so much accomplishment and achievement. And without the decision of a 15-year-old boy, none of us would be here.
So today, I honour my 6th great grandfather Paris O’Ree, the son of stolen Africans, a slave who made a choice and left a legacy I’d bet he couldn’t ever have dreamed of!
African history, Black history is human history. We’re here and we’re proud and we have every right to be. Let’s start teaching it all. Yes, it’s ugly, it’s bad, but the truth shall set you free and all that.
I’m a daughter of the slave. I’m the daughter of the master. Both bloods run through me. I’ve come to terms with that. I’m okay with what and who I am.
I just wish there was more for me to be proud of when I was young. You know, aside from we were slaved and suffered much. There’s so much more to the story, kings and queens, brave souls, leaders, intellectuals, and trailblazers. Teach that, please, teach that because we desperately need to know!
Black history is so much more than the plantation. It’s so much more than the Cosby Show and rap music. I was never able to speak out before, because, well, hello, you see how white I look.
This month, dig deeper. Teach something better. Teach young Black children about the kings and queens they came from. Let them have pride in their rich and varied heritage. Teach them about the brutality of the slave trade. Teach them about Selma and Rosa Parks and the Birmingham Riots. Teach them about microaggressions. Teach them.
Black history isn’t a month for a lot of us. It’s not a fad or a trend. It’s not checking a box. It’s our lives, our ancestors, it’s the people and places that made us who we are. You know, the people who are kicking ass and taking names, that are doing great things.
I’m so proud of my heritage and that kid that decided to take a stand. So thank you, Paris O’Ree, your bravery made me possible.
About the Creator
Retired legal eagle, nature love, wife, mother of boys and cats, chef, and trying to learn to play the guitar. I play with paint and words. Living my "middle years" like a teenager and loving every second of it!
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Niche topic & fresh perspectives
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions
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Original narrative & well developed characters
Wonderful article. Bravo!
Excellent article. Congratulations on discovering yourself and on the Top Story!
What a fascinating, thoughful and important piece about your life, about history, about how we all think about the history we embody: and specifically, how Black history has been erased and silenced. Thank you for sharing this on the Vocal platform, Misty.
I relate to this a lot. I love how personal your writing is.
I can relate SO MUCH
Thank You, Misty. Besides not knowing much about family history besides from family photos, pictures, and stories that can be recovered from our grandparents one of the other things about being mixed raced is constantly being called "Not Black Enough." I have a friend in Canada and she told me about her experiences since her dad is of my skin complexion. So she's mixed, but not to the degree that I am, and much like Yourself she looks more White than she does Black. So, she's also had negative experiences about not being "Black Enough," while her father received a lot of negative side-eyes. I do wish more about Black history was taught, but ever since I was a little kid I've always considered Black history just to be part of history. Being raised in a mixed family the first thing I had to learn while reading a book about Harriet Tubman was that people were treated differently by the law due to the color of their skin. The concept seemed foreign to me as a child, but it was one of the many veils that got lifted.
Congrats Misty, what a great story. You right we need to know exactly where we come from. I'm from South Africa and I am a child who was born in the Apartheid Era. I love your story.
I hold no doubt, based on this story, that one day your ancestors will look back and recall what an excellent writer you are and acknowledge the wonderful things that you have done. The past is so much a part of us in the present and so many don't realize the power in it. This is an excellent story! I'm so glad I got to read it!
I was moved by your Top Story! You have quite the fascinating family history! Congrats, it deserves to be read by all. ♥️ Btw, I’m Nova Scotian and my partner is a McCarthy.
❤ it! Congrats on your well-deserved Top Story!
Congratulations on Top Story! This was beautiful, heartfelt, raw and so full of truth, good and bad. What a wonderful and important story to share. Thank you :)
Well done as always. ❤️
Wow wonderful piece 💖 congratulations
Fantastic article, as always. Congrats on the Top Story.
Excellent article and congratulations on your Top Story