The November Issue 2021 Young Black Writers
Welcome to Font!
Font is a source, a wellspring, and a foundation.
We are so excited to unveil this new online literary magazine for Quebec. My team and I are passionate about showcasing new writers. We believe in professional standards and in supporting the authenticity of each writer’s voice. And we want to shine a light on communities and writers reflecting the changing world around them.
Font is a typeface, a platform, and a vessel.
For this launch issue, we commissioned new work from eleven young Black writers. The Black Community Resource Centre had brought them together to produce a forthcoming book on the history of Black Montreal. We engaged poet Deanna Smith to work with the group, giving them an open brief to produce the extraordinary set of reflections on Black identity that you’ll find in these pages.
We’ve been fortunate to work with the House9 design team, headed up by the inimitable Farah Khan. We wanted Font to have a real magazine feel while also taking advantage of the versatility of the digital format to push the boundaries of literary genres. They have far exceeded this brief.
Font will highlight a different group of writers working in English and other minority-languages every month, and we will continue to discover new voices as we explore the richness and diversity of literary activity across Quebec.
We hope you will join us.
Thank you to all the authors; it is an honor to publish your work. I am delighted to be working with a strong, curious and conscientious editorial team in Deanna Radford and Edward He, with Linda Leith Publishing, and LLP associate publisher Leila Marshy—and with Linda Leith, whose brainchild this is.
abandoned by the motherland –
my mother, my land.
Pearl of the Antilles,
rocky beaches and scotch bonnet chillies.
I am ill-fitting, jittering, getting the willies –
Naively homesick, desiring the unknown,
yearning for a dream, a home to call my own,
where I wouldn’t feel so damn alone.
Number 1 Example
“Number 1 Example” by Anne Victoria Jean-François featuring Ckreem
Film, A Reel of Perception: Protesting Through a Cinematic Experience
I know if anyone is like me, there has been a time when they have questioned their identity and where they belong within this world. Questioning my identity stems from a multitude of ideas but ultimately started while I was growing up in the southern United States. I am a Creole individual but I have been prescribed the color of “Black” by White America. This has caused an inner conflict within my consciousness, by being reduced to a colour for my own identification. To be Black in the early 2000s and late 90s, we were supposed to subscribe to social constructions of our identity. For instance, the stereotype is that we only listen to Hip-Hop/Rap music, and Black families lack a normal dynamic. During my youth, there was a lack of the versatility of what being Black could look like in Hollywood films.
Therefore, I questioned myself and the ideology of what Black is, or better yet who I am supposed to be within the United States. Fortunately, there was Spike Lee to introduce a new perspective. What I am attempting to highlight is how film can transform our perception of life and how we value ourselves within society. Film is a form of peaceful protest that can be used to alter how society functions. This form of protest can be seen in the Black community and how directors such as Spike Lee have used film to tackle many underlying issues of classism, racism, and identity. Film has helped maintain the Black perspective in history, amplified the voice of the Black community, and helped redefine how the rest of the world understands our culture.
We have all heard this before and know Hollywood has played a major role in the social constructions of what it means to be a Black male. Presenting an image that attempts to incarcerate our minds and limiting what emotions are allowed to be displayed. Using the same ol’ rhetoric that Black men lack agency and the competence to be positive role models in society.
Well you know what, thank God Spike Lee makes films! Spike Lee has protested numerous times against White supremacy with films highlighting the diversity within Black culture. He manages to stay true to an authentic Black image that is relatable to Black America. Spike Lee is successfully and peacefully protesting against racism in two of my favorite films, Crooklyn and Mo’ Better Blues. Crooklyn shows a highly dynamic family with both parents being involved in their children’s lives, something that is not always seen in popular films, thus redefining the identity of the Black family. Mo’ Better Blues highlights the life of a Jazz musician in New York. This film introduced me to an alternate history about myself and showed me I can create my own path. Jazz is now a major asset to my life and because of this film I have chosen to teach myself the history of Jazz, as well as incorporating the techniques of Jazz into my own music. I salute Spike Lee for giving another perspective of Black music while highlighting the importance of Jazz in the community. Both films aided in the growth of my perspective and I learned that I did not have to deny my love for my family. There were times before where I felt like I was a character in my own life, having a false perception of Black identity. I learned that it is okay to be a versatile and dynamic human being and that you can still find respect within your community.
These films have provided guidance throughout my life because in the communities where I grew up, I was constantly told that I would not amount to anything and I was expected to be a failure. Spike Lee’s films have protested these ideas through entertainment and film, giving us an alternate truth that may not always be presented in our everyday lives. White supremacy currently dominates our societies and is used indirectly and directly in Hollywood to serve a purpose in creating a singular narrative on the image of minorities.
Independent films can give insight into the courage, struggles and determination of the marginalized because they are not bound to the same rules and limitations as Hollywood. That being said, films have been an instrument that have allowed me to hear the voices of the unheard and to understand my self worth and value. Since our governments are constantly guiding us into the darkness, it is up to us to understand and recognize that we are the light. As Spike Lee shows, entertainment and knowledge can coexist to serve as a voice for the marginalized.
Swimming With Trauma
Swimming with Trauma by GG
Like everyone else,
I was born in a woman’s fluids
That kept me fromdrowning.
Like any good mother,
My mother tried to stop me from drowning.
But how could she –
When she herself couldn’t swim?
Every time I listen to the waves,
I hear the death rattles of my ancestors
Who didn’t make it…
All their hopes and dreams
Rest at the seabed
As their tears flow ashore:
The reason the ocean’s saline.
Mother Nature is a Black woman!
So next time it rains,
Knowshe’s weeping for her lost children
Who didn’t make it…
Every time I look afloat,
I see my past and future traumas
Staring into my soul.
Did you know
That past trauma can change your DNA?
Every time our Black skindrifts with the blue sea,
It remembers that we were once in chains.
Can I blame my mom for being our ancestors’ wildest dreams?
Can I blame my mom for not knowing what she should know?
But how could she know –
When her mother’s mother’s mother didn’t even know?
That the reeds would cause us
Everlasting pain transported through our DNA?
We’re our ancestors’ wildest dreams …
Open your mouth.
I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams
Because I do not just Breathe,
A new generation.
Like everyone else,
They’ll be born in a woman’s fluids
That’ll keep them from drowning.
Like any good mother,
I’ll stop them from drowning
Because I can swim.
When I’m alone
I think of you.
Sometimes I fiddle with my phone,
avoiding what I know is true.
Sometimes I talk into the silence,
believing that my words
will make it through to you.
And sometimes I cry,
anger swelling in my chest
at such a young age,
eternally you rest.
When I look into the mirror
you stare back.
Sadness in your eyes,
gripping my heart.
Flesh of your flesh.
Bone of your bone.
How can we be apart?
How could you leave me here alone?
Created and removed
from your womb
I am forever a part of you.
Balançoire, Accessoire by Cindy Keza
What am I bringing tonight? My trauma or my Prada?
Neatly tucked in the corner with my joint, why doesn’t this boy just get to the point?
I have been trying to be social but there’s this discomfort in my groin.
Is it the three squats I did in the hope of health? Or is it the voice in my head going,
make sure you don’t drink too much or you’ll be victim to the stealth? Again.
So just in case, I put my cup down and remember not to take another sip because I am here alone and I’ve got no numbers in my phone.
Maybe I should have brought a friend instead of these demons that seem to ride around in a Benz.
But it’s fine, right?
In the pit of my stomach, I carry the slice of bread and banana I had before I came out.
What a balanced diet, eating like a newborn baby.
What a simple time, before I was worried about being Fine 99, with a smile to match and a cute tatt.
But it’s fine, you know this eating disorder won’t spin back.
I just want to be at the top of every food chain, never experiencing pain,
Pimping out the shackles our ancestors wore but
To still be called a whore?
Still better than a bore.
But it’s fine, right?
Watching as I succumb to the societal standards of white supremacy.
Have I become an accessory?
To this self-hate we propagate?
Will I even see those heavenly gates?
As I lose all the splendours of my childhood,
I surrender to the fact that I can’t hold my head high and still be surprised when I don’t die.
So where do I go from here?
I walk from one end to the next, sending that drunk text,
Realising I lost a hoop and I am so out of the loop.
Will I eventually catch up to life?
I don’t know but at least I chose Prada and I left those traumas for the next generation,
Just like my mama.
And that’s fine, right?
Neoliberalism: A Black Dystopia
Johannesburg was not how she had imagined; racially segregated with the nearest Black neighbourhood a thirty-minute drive away. Aisha’s dream of finally living in a country and neighbourhood where she did not have to fold and shrink herself was crumbling right in front of her eyes. She had been dreaming of living her diaspora return fantasy ever since she saw the first episode of An African City, a YouTube series that follows the journey of five young African women returning to the continent. Aisha had longed for a life in a city and country where her Blackness would never raise suspicious looks and curious stares from strangers. When an opportunity to work abroad through a Canadian youth program arose, she grabbed it.
Aisha knew something was wrong with the neighbourhood she had chosen to live in the moment her Uber driver dropped her off in front of what was supposed to be her new home. A middle-aged Black woman, dressed in a maid uniform reminiscent of a scene from The Help, walked three White children home from school and carried their backpacks. A few blocks away, a young Black boy whose appearance starkly differed from his surroundings tossed contents of a trash can on the road and quickly went through them picking up what could be salvaged and putting it in a plastic container lightly tossed over his left shoulder.
A middle-aged White woman accompanied by her American husband and four large barking dogs opened the gate for Aisha, and introduced herself as her landlord for the next six months. My landlord is not African?! Aisha quietly exclaimed to herself while slowly picking up her heavy suitcases and reluctantly following the couple to her new apartment. She looked around as they gave her instructions on how to stay safe in her new neighbourhood.
Make sure your gate is always closed, try to not go outside after six, and please do not feed the homeless Black family living outside your gate. They will keep on coming back if you do that. We have called the police and social services, and no one wants to seem to want to deal with this issue. The family is from the Soweto and Alexandria townships, but they come to the Northern suburbs looking for food.
Aisha nodded hesitantly, and her new landlords assured her that they would do everything they could to deal with this issue.
The landlords offered Aisha a safe ride to the bank to withdraw the apartment’s deposit. As they drove by a group of four Black boys, the landlords slowly closed their car windows without saying a word. Maybe it was Aisha’s clear discomfort that made her female landlord start telling the stories of her life as an anti-apartheid activist in 1980s, of her many Black African ex-boyfriends and of the sweet memories of long braids just like Aisha’s done by her African neighbours. Aisha listened to the older woman’s stories without saying a word. Upon arriving home, she let out a sigh, told the landlord she was extremely tired and needed a shower and headed for the bathroom. As warm water slowly hit Aisha’s face, she could not help but think about how she was going to have to deal with the discomfort she had fled, and in an African city too.
Those Who Deny My Humanity Will Not Define Me
Demasking as a Pathway to Black Healing
At the climax of his anguish there remains only one solution for the miserable Negro: furnish proofs of his whiteness to others and above all to himself.Frantz Fanon
This excerpt from Fanon’s seminal Black Skin, White Masks will forever be engraved in my memory, but it will no longer condition my soul. My first engagement with Fanon’s work was at a time when racism had yet to transform my sense of self fundamentally. Nonetheless, I empathized and recognized that pain. Amid this discomfort, I managed to convince myself that I was solely captivated by Fanon’s work for intellectual rather than personal reasons.
Over the years, I often referred back to this quote, inscribing it verbatim on a post-it and sticking it above my desk where it was posted besides other so-called inspo quotes. Directly across was: Allah does not burden a soul beyond that it can bear. When these two quotes are juxtaposed, it might appear that the Fanon passage did not belong there; it reeked of desperation and agony. I had not reached that point but never pondered whether or not my soul had. Still, I never asked myself what it meant to me, what I sought when referring back to it, or even bothered to reflect on the significance of this passage in my life.
I lay in my bed feeling numb, debilitated by mental anguish, yet unable to pinpoint the source of my physical ailments. All I could do was think about my two devastatingly and incomprehensibly violent years of law school at McGill. Days went by, as I painfully replayed a spate of racist encounters and denigrating comments, many of which I had tried to forget to no avail. I had previously dealt with growing pain and found strength in knowing that it would pass. I had always preached that my melanin would not make me a victim. Yet, while, I understood white supremacy, its dexterity broke me. Neither anything nor anyone seemed capable of assuaging this existential pain. Until, at the climax of numbness, it all suddenly made sense to me.
Fanon’s quest for whiteness was one of last resort. It only occurred when he reached the climax of his anguish. My path was the antithesis. For too long, I had (un)consciously been on a quest for Whiteness, what I hoped to be a shield against ever reaching that climax of anguish. And so, for the first time, amid the despair and the constant need to prove that I was worthy, I realized that the proximity to whiteness I had always longed for would not protect me. I guess it was time to be…myself? To be clear, this was not some sort of liberatory or emancipatory realization (at least not at that moment). After all, reaching the climax of anguish was the lowest of lows. This was not just was about society, my own complacency had failed me. Because, by the time I realized the White Mask on my Black Skin was not a shield but a mere contrast, I sought to hastily remove it. But when a Mask has been on your skin for so long that the Mask has blended into your skin, setting apart let alone dissociating the skin from the Mask seemed impossible. But the the daunting journey of removing the Mask and confronting the havoc it had left on my soul outweighed the fear of not being able to distinguish my skin from the Mask which would leave me feeling repulsed by both.
Coincidentally, my own reckoning was at a time, when the world wanted to talk about Black lives. I heard the word Anti-Black racism uttered from left to right by the left and the right. Was it a time of change or counterchange? The rush to remind Black folks that our lives mattered through statements, communiqués, action plans, committees, task forces, and the rest of the EDI machinery simply showed us that Black lives lent themselves well to this spectacle of performativity. In my own surroundings, I heard, We will give funding to Black Student Associations and develop an Anti-Black Racism Action Plan. Administrators invited Black students and staff to townhalls, we recounted our pain, and felt their disdain. So, there I was, trying to reconcile learning about human rights while processing the fact that those teaching about the universality and indivisibility of rights did not think I was worthy of these rights. If an institution home to world renowned human rights experts could be so violent and vile through its actions and indifference towards Black lives, then I wondered what else was awaiting me? I could move past the acts of violence, but the pain of that violence was incommensurably unbearable, and despite my best and tiresome efforts, I did not know how to put it behind me.
The only way forward was: to remove the Mask.
This removal was an exercise of unpacking and unlearning the multiple layers of whiteness I had internalized. To do so, I had to (re)engage with my Blackness. It was going to be a long but worthwhile process, because, as I now know, my ebony skin was meant to glow, reflecting the radiance of my soul, which was not conditioned for sorrow.
When You’re Black
The air is filled with sweet aroma,
illumination fills the room as the sun shines through.
The sound of a cartoon plays in the distance.
Looking through the window,
you reflect on your existence.
You never had it all
but you always had enough
but then you wake up
and a part of you dies.
That’s when you realize
There is no forgiveness
when you’re Black.
Armed cops shoot Black children
and say they were under attack.
There is no innocence
when you’re Black.
No reminiscence of ever feeling secure
From those in place to keep others safe.
They don’t see colour
when you’re Black.
You have to pull yourself up
by the bootstraps.
They tell you to love this land
but this land swallows you whole.
You’re climbing over this mountain
its peak can never be reached,
You look down and you can see
his eyes wide and mouth gaping,
people everywhere agaze.
The scene is injected into your brain
and your brain never sleeps.
because how could it?
People all over, with the same skin as you
killed, beaten, and punished.
What’s it going to take
for them to leave us alone?
What’s got to break
for them to recognize the stakes?
Black bodies and more Black bodies.
These are the stories
that one day
you’ll recount to your kids
you did it and that’s that
because there is no compassion
when you’re Black.
Why Can’t You See Me
Why can’t You see me?
Is my complexion too dark for you to see?
Are my luscious lips preventing you from hearing my pleas?
Why can’t You see me?
Is my hair blocking your field of vision?
Is it a premonition,
that my life rests upon your decisions?
Why can’t You see me?
Is my nose too ethnic?
Does it make you skeptic
or does it showcase that to You, I am pathetic?
Why can’t You see me?
Do I not measure up with the standards you inflict upon my race?
Are we seen as a disgrace,
is that why you spray our faces with Mace?
Are my hands reaching out to the sky a weapon, as they beg the sun to light up my skin to make my gestures more visible?
More visible for You.
You, the one who is trying to kill my Brothers and Sisters.
You, the one who does not believe that My Life Matters.
Does me being Black make You want to shoot me?
Do I deserve to be shot at?
Am I an object that should be disposed of?
Do I really matter?
You don’t have the right to take the lives away from my Brothers and Sisters.
We have rights, We are educated, We matter.
You may take our Awards, You may take our Ideas, You may take our Rights and our Dreams
but You only make Us work ten times harder
because We are Visionaries
Authors, Poets, Doctors, Musicians…
Scientists, Politicians, Diplomats, Officers…
We can be anything we dream of.
We should have the same opportunities as you.
Yet still, Why can’t You see me?
If I Only Live To Die
If I Only Live To Die by No one
Everything wanna be loved. Us sing, and dance, and holla, just trying to be loved.Shug Avery, The Color Purple
I’m rooting for everybody Black.Issa Rae
Nearly everyone I know has ridden the pendulum between these two statements. Not that they are mutually exclusive, but in many situations, our holding onto both is frown upon. In many situations, we are frowned upon. What makes this worse is the ever-present and unfathomable depth of our province’s denial of this fact. What do you do when people choose to act as though you are invisible one moment and pose an imminent threat the next? What do you do when you are villainized AND erased? You write.
If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.Toni Morrison
The nation states of Canada and the U.S. have been formed in a very particular way that was to ensure our subjugation and disenfranchisement as Black people.Angela Marie MacDougall
Writing what’s real and rewriting what’s been wrong is crucial to our survival, not just ours, but that of the next generations. They will also be born into this experiment, knowing, as we have always known, that nothing about racism makes sense, but here it is. They will, as we did, remember discovering that they were “different”, probably because of an insult, slight, or despicable act. They will, as we did, remember the first time the N-bomb was dropped on them. Some of them will get angry, justifiably so. Some of them will react and be punished for it. Some will internalize it all and many will suffer as a result. Writing ourselves whole is urgent.
As Montreal-based, Indigenous social and cultural entrepreneur, Nadine St. Louis has said, If you’re not in the document, you won’t be in the monument. While her statement was made with regards to the abhorrent treatment of Indigenous people in Canada, our exclusion from this nation and province’s history occurred at the same hands and with the same will. It is a statement that we can feel, deeply. Our representation has also been distorted to fit a self-affirming colonial narrative. It is unsustainable and the hypocrisy that hopes to maintain this crumbling façade needs to end. How do we contribute to its end? We write. Taking the time and summoning the courage to document the truth about our individual and collective journeys can and will interrupt the status quo and its often polite, maple-flavoured oppression. Then, the monuments will be correct.
It is more than simply documenting. It is about addressing ignorance of the contributions that Black people have made to this province. It is time to be seen and heard. This will require listening by people in power and dedication to uncovering long-buried stories. It will also require a change in vision. It is commonly said that we cannot fix what we will not face. Whether or not our government ultimately acknowledges systemic racism, we must continue to strive for better representation of ourselves, our history, and the fullness of our humanity.
These texts do just that. They demonstrate a commitment to going beyond the surface, a commitment to being vulnerable and to doing the work that is necessary for healing and growth. They reflect the desire to have the breadth of our experience recognized. This does not only mean the hardest and most painful parts of our lives, but our joy, our ambitions, and our hope also. Our writing is a way to be fully human under conditions that are designed and adjusted to exclude Black Canadians from complete freedom.
Reading about our grief, our searching, our heroes, and our triumphs is a small step towards supporting our mental health, which Black Mental Health Connections and other organizations understand is at risk, not because of our Blackness, but because of how Blackness is treated. In 2011, while in Montreal for Black Theatre Workshop’s Mama Done Got Off the Couch playwrights’ conference, the late Amiri Baraka asked a small group of us, Where the Black people at? I have no doubt that he meant emotionally as well as physically. We need to know where we’re at and write about how we got there. Working with these young writers who are brave enough to go there and shine light on these issues in a creative way has been a pleasure. During our two virtual workshop sessions through BCRC, we experienced many emotions, some of which we often feel hesitant to acknowledge. I witnessed the participants come to the point of giving themselves permission to step beyond the limitations of gentle conversation. I saw them take ownership of their words, without apology. I look forward to seeing their work contribute to the well-being of our communities.