Manitoba·Opinion

'I live racism. Others witness it': Winnipeg hip-hop artist confronts heartache after growing up in CFS care

Winnipegger Tyrel Genaille says he was called an outsider and treated differently than the other foster kids he lived with. Watch his story, part of a series on the personal toll racism takes.

Winnipegger Tyrel Genaille is on a quest to create a compassionate community

Winnipeg hip hop artist confronts heartache, isolation growing up in CFS. Video: Erica Daniels 2:46

Speaking My Truth is a three-part series that explores the personal toll of racism. CBC's Creator Network commissioned three Winnipeg activists to write a personal essay, poem, or story about an experience with racism. Filmmaker Erica Daniels then collaborated with the writers to film short videos. 

Watch Tyrel Genaille's story in the above video or read a transcript of his personal story below.

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War by Tyrel Genaille

I never really understood why I got treated differently than the other foster kids I lived with. 

In our temporary families we fought each other in a war for affection, attention, love and respect. 

Why did the foster kids with the white skin get nicer clothes, more food and better opportunities?

Why did they get to play sports and go to weekend camps and I didn't?

I never thought it was because of my heritage. I grew up in homes where the family ties were already tight by the time I moved in. 

They called me an outsider, a newcomer, and the one who always left and never returned. This always made me feel like something was wrong with me like maybe I am broken and nobody wanted to fix me. 

When you're a child in the CFS system you become a permanent ward which means you're taken care of people employed by the government. So I never called any of these people who I lived with "mom" or "dad."

And I moved around a lot because my workers weren't great at finding me permanent places. 

For some time I went to elementary school in a small, rural town. I was the only coloured kid there. My teacher sat me in the back of the class and told me not to converse with my classmates. I was 12. 

One day in the playground a group of boys and girls said they didn't like me because I didn't look like them. They vowed to never talk or play with me. They all kept their word. 

Even though I was just a kid I tried to understand why these things were happening to me. As I grew up and continued to see this behaviour, I began putting the pieces together.  

Once I escaped my teenage years I started to hang around my own people. 

And the worst part? They called me 'white boy' even though my skin was brown. 

I wouldn't go out and fight with them when they had beefs in the neighbourhood. I wouldn't sell the drugs they were giving me, and I didn't treat the girls like garbage. So I wasn't one of the guys. 

When you grow up the way I did you come across other Indigenous and you kind of expect them to treat you better. 

I don't want to point fingers or put anyone in the crosshairs but this is my truth, my story. 

I live racism. Others witness it. So I speak, I educate, I share my story and I pray for my people. And I pray that this is not a never ending war but one that will fade the more we stand up together and combat it.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Tyrel Genaille is a Winnipeg-based writer, activist and aspiring hip-hop artist.