This column is an opinion written by Rogan Power. For more information about our commentary section, please read our FAQ.
I am a Black Islander.
Well, actually, a half-Black Islander.
Or perhaps a mixed-race Caper?
[P.E.I.] taught me what safety and acceptance feels like.— Rogan Power
Truthfully, I don’t really know how I would identify myself if asked and since we’re being truthful, I really don’t care.
I am just happy to be me, living my life here on P.E.I.!
But don’t get it twisted, this is not a story solely based on identity or race. This is a story about growing up on P.E.I. while being Black.
‘Where are you from’
I was born in Sydney, Cape Breton in 1991. My mother is white and my father is Black, making me mixed-race.
However, as I have learned over the years, I am viewed as Black by the majority of others.
I am often asked with a very friendly and inquisitive undertone, “Where are you from?”
To which I usually reply, “Here on P.E.I.!” with a big smile on my face — knowing full well that the response they are seeking is that I am “from” the West Indies.
I always found it funny that I was never asked the question, “who’s your fadder?” I suppose it is because people assume they wouldn’t know my “fadder.”
A strong sense of community and acceptance
At the age of three my mother and I came to P.E.I. for what I believe was a trip to visit one of her friends.
26 years later, we are still here!
The Gentle Island’s beauty and small town steeze, along with its strong sense of community — not to mention the love we found in my stepfather, a born and bred Islander — played a strong role in our desire to make a home here on P.E.I.
The majority of my childhood was spent in the incredible community of Wellington.
For those who don’t know, Wellington is an Acadian community, and the majority of the people who live there are French-speaking.
None of my family can speak French, but again, a strong sense of community and acceptance captivated us.
I spent a lot of my time playing all types of sports, exploring the woods and fields/farmland around my community, hitting the trails on my dirtbike or snowmobile, and tormenting my younger sister.
We had a typical older brother, younger sister relationship. It will never get old, the astonished look on people’s faces, when they find out that we are actually brother and sister.
The Island is home
After completing grade school, I left P.E.I. to pursue further education, attending Memorial University of Newfoundland and the University of New Brunswick where I graduated with a degree in the science of kinesiology.
I then moved to Halifax to attend Dalhousie University, where I graduated with a master’s degree in the science of occupational therapy.
During my time in Halifax, I met my now wife, whom I couldn’t wait to bring back to P.E.I. to start the next chapter of our life.
We got married on the beaches of P.E.I. and then bought a house on the Island and made it our home.
P.E.I. made me proud of who I am
I believe growing up on P.E.I. made me fall in love with small town living.
It made me fall in love with the beach and an outdoor lifestyle.
It taught me what safety and acceptance feels like. It taught me what the true meaning of community really is. It showed me how to love and respect.
It made me proud of who I am and to be Black.
There are countless times throughout my upbringing where I felt privileged or envied, and even celebrated to be Black. If I only had a nickel for every time I heard how lucky I am to have my dark complexion.
Having said that, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. I’ve had all sorts of negative experiences too. Some that would be considered “typical” or “standard” negative experiences as a child growing up amongst their peers; and some that are unique to the colour of my skin.
Respected by my peers
I was often and still am at times the butt of the joke or subject of the common Black stereotypes.
This is something that never really bothered me; right or wrong, I viewed it as people’s way of connecting through humour or a sign that they feel comfortable enough around me to poke fun at the obvious distinction.
To me, it aided in my feelings of being accepted and in an unusual way, respected by my peers.
I’ve always been able to tell when someone is intending to be funny and when someone is intending to be hurtful or derogatory with their remarks.
I certainly don’t view my negative experiences pertaining to my skin colour as hatred or deep-rooted racism.
I can gratefully say that I have never been subjected to extreme violence or detest, whether related to my skin colour or not.
I think this speaks to the culture we have here on the Island and how far we have come as a society with regard to accepting and respecting other cultures. This is just one more reason I love P.E.I. as much as I do.
Improving ourselves and the way we view others
With that being said, for Black History Month, I would like to challenge my fellow Islanders to reflect on their past experiences meeting visible minorities here on P.E.I.
Did you treat them as you do the majority?
Did you place stereotypes or presumptions on them based on their visible distinctions?
Did you give them an identity that you felt was accurate based on the way they looked, as opposed to who they are and what they stand for?
Let’s continue to try to improve ourselves and the way we view others.
Together, we will continue to make positive steps toward a less biased, more inclusive society for all people living on our wonderful island.
Proud to be a Black Islander
All in all, I feel privileged to have come on that trip to P.E.I. with my mother 26 years ago. The positive impact that growing up on this Island has had on my life is priceless. I wouldn’t trade my friends, family, memories and experiences for anything.
The best part is, the fact that I am Black never played a major role in my upbringing. I am so proud to be Black and so honoured to be accepted as an Islander.
They say home is where the heart is and my heart is here on P.E.I. If I am asked to identify myself, one thing I know for sure, the words Black and Islander will be a part of it.
Are you part of the Black community on P.E.I.? Do you want to share your story with us? Send us a short video at email@example.com or CBC Prince Edward Island on Facebook, or tag @cbcP.E.I. on Twitter or Instagram.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.