I've Been Meaning to Tell You

David Chariandy reflects on race, the sins of the past, and the dream of a better future in this memoir addressed to his daughter.

David Chariandy

When a moment of quietly ignored bigotry prompted his three-year-old daughter to ask "What happened?" David Chariandy began wondering how to discuss with his children the politics of race. Today, in a newly heated era of both struggle and divisions, he has completed a letter to his now 13-year-old daughter.

David is the son of black and South Asian migrants from Trinidad, and he draws upon his personal and ancestral past, including the legacies of slavery, indenture and immigration, as well as the experiences of growing up a "visible minority" within the land of one's birth. He ponders the painful truths behind the modern science of ancestry and he reflects upon the disenfranchised today. Whether in distant ancestral homelands, caught helplessly between countries as refugees, or else right here, upon often unacknowledged Indigenous lands.

In sharing with his daughter his own story of "race," he hopes to help cultivate within her, as a child of black, brown and white ancestry, a sense of identity and responsibility that balances the painful truths of the past and present with hopeful possibilities for a more equitable and just future. With intimacy, sensitivity and care, Chariandy shares the questions he is addressing to his daughter — questions of immense importance and resonance for us all. (From McClelland & Stewart)

Why David Chariandy wrote I've Been Meaning to Tell You This

"This entire book was written with the assumption her life, as a girl of colour, is profoundly different from my life. I couldn't assume I could tell her how to navigate this world. What I can do, and maybe what I'm obligated to do, is to tell her a particular story of ancestry. But even then, there were moments when I had to determine how much of the past I can share with her, particularly if it is a difficult past.

I am telling a limited story about a greater story that is out there. Yet, this is what I can offer — to tell and share my story with my loved one.

"I have lived and fought through the politics of race and belonging in a particular body, a man's body. I tried to be particularly conscious about any biases, prejudices and blind spots that I myself might have, as a cisgender male author. I'm someone from a particular generation and someone who identifies as black, but who has a particular racial mix. I am telling a limited story about a greater story that is out there. Yet, this is what I can offer — to tell and share my story with my loved one."

Read more in David Chariandy's interview with CBC Books.

From the book

Once, when you were three, we made a trip out for lunch. We bussed west in our city, to one of those grocery-store buffets serving the type of food my own parents would scorn. Those overpriced organics laid out thinly in brushed-steel trays, the glass sneeze guard just high enough for you, dearest daughter, to dip your head beneath it in assessing, suspiciously, the "browned rice" and "free-range carrots." And in that moment, I could imagine myself a father long beyond the grip of history, and now caring for his loved one through kale and quinoa anda soda boasting "real cane sugar." 

But we're both dessert people, a soda won't cut it, and so we shared a big piece of chocolate cake. "It's good for you," you giggled. "Chocolate cake is very, very good for you." You squirmed away as I tried to wipe your mouth, laughing at all of my best efforts. It was an ordinary moment. And an ordinary thirst was brought on by the thick sweet of the cake, and so I stood and moved towards the nearby tap to get us both a glass of water, encountering a woman on her way to do the same thing. She was nicely dressed, a light summer cream suit, little makeup, tasteful. We reached the tap at roughly the same time. I hesitated out of a politeness, and this very gesture seemed only to irritate her. She shouldered herself in front of me, and when filling her glass of water, she half turned to explain, "I was born here. I belong here."

From I've Been Meaning to Tell You This by David Chariandy ©2018. Published by McClelland & Stewart.

Interviews with David Chariandy

David Chariandy talks to Shelagh Rogers about his book I've Been Meaning To Tell You. Recorded on stage at the Writers at Woody Point festival in Newfoundland, Canada.
Award-winning novelist David Chariandy says he's never felt divided when it comes to his own identity, but that talking to his daughter about racism and belonging — both in his family history and today — was another matter. He speaks with Piya about what he opted to tell... and how to tell it.

Other books by David Chariandy