Mixed-race students fed up with classmates' racist 'jokes'

Clara Chase and Emma Bronson, students of mixed race, attend different private schools in Montreal, but both say they hear racist 'jokes' too often.

Girls of mixed race, Clara Chase and Emma Bronson, keen to move to schools where they'll feel more comfortable

Clara Chase, left, and Emma Bronson, right, school can be a frustrating place because of how they stand out. (CBC)

Real Talk on Race is CBC Montreal's special series exploring personal conversations and experiences around race in the city.

Clara Chase, 11, goes to a Greek school in Montreal. 

Emma Bronson, 16, attends a French-language school.

They're from different cultural backgrounds, but they share the same frustrating experience — school is a place where they stand out because of the colour of their skin.

Both girls are of mixed race and attend private schools where the majority of students are white.

They each sat down with Daybreak's Shari Okeke, to share their perspectives on their personal experiences.

Daybreak's Shari Okeke speaks with Clara Chase, 11, and Emma Bronson, 16, who both stand out in school because it's a place where they stand out because of the colour of their skin.

'Everybody is white, and I'm mixed'

Clara Chase beams with pride when she says she is fourth-generation Greek and ninth-generation black Canadian.

She says it feels special to be of mixed race, and she's happy her parents chose a Greek-language elementary school where she has become fluent in Greek.

But many school days have been difficult because she gets teased about the colour of her skin.

"Some days I feel kind of miserable because sometimes in my head I [think] this is not my place, I don't want to be here," Clara said.

When talking to a friend about Star Wars, Clara said she likes the dark side more than the light side. 

Another student interrupted.

"I heard someone say that 'Well, yeah, because you're black,' and that offended me," Clara said.

'Racism isn't just a joke'

"I would like people to know that racism isn't just a joke ...This is mean. This is considered bullying, and I hate it," she said.

Clara says she does not confront people at school, instead she takes comfort in discussing it with her parents.

"My dad always says, 'Be happy about who you are' ... I follow his words, I am happy [about] who I am," Clara said, adding that her dad, who is a black Canadian, went through worse experiences during his childhood.

'I felt at home'

A life-changing moment came when Clara's family moved to Paris for most of 2014.

Suddenly her skin colour was not an issue at school.
Clara loved her family's extended stay in Paris in 2014 because many classmates there shared Clara's skin colour. 'Nobody was bullying,' she said. (Submitted by Clara Chase)

"I really liked it, because there were people that were even darker than me and nobody was bullying ... I felt at home," she said.

This year, when her mother asked about choosing a high school, "I said, 'I want people to be my skin colour,'" Clara said.

She says she's chosen a school where she will fit in next September.

"[There are] people that are mixed, people that are black, people that are Chinese, people that are Asian, people [from] all over the world," Clara said.

'It's exasperating': Emma Bronson

Emma Bronson, 16, says her mother Diana Bronson is always supportive of her embracing of all aspects of her identity as a person of mixed race. (Emma Bronson)

Sixteen-year-old Emma Bronson's dad is from the African island of Mauritius. He's of Indian descent, and she says her mother is white – an English-speaking Canadian. 

Emma, who was born in Canada, describes herself as "a person of colour, mixed, biracial, brown." 

She says it's exasperating to constantly face questions about where she is from and comments about her skin colour.

"I would have panic attacks at school, it felt like I was in jail," she said.

When other students have made "tandoori chicken jokes" about her and also picked on her friend, who is black, the two girls turn to each other for comfort.

"We just go to the bathroom and bawl ... and then go back to class," Emma said.

Connection to her culture

Emma says she has felt more confident since reconnecting with her Indian heritage about a year and a half ago.

At that time, she got a nose piercing in honour of her great-grandmother and other ancestors she's never met.

Here is Emma Bronson in the arms of her father, Jooneed Jeeroburkhan, when she was about one year old. (Submitted by Emma Bronson)

Emma says she was trying to show pride in her Indo-Mauritian roots – but says that created conflict at school.

The administration wanted her to remove it because piercings were not allowed.

"It was really upsetting, and it made me feel like they were trying to take something really important away from me," Emma said.

After discussions with Emma and her parents, the school agreed to allow the nose piercing.

Emma says that experience made her stronger and made her realize how important it is to "stand up for my brownness."

'I am really proud of where I am with my politics' 

Now Emma spends more time with older friends – women of colour – outside of school, and she's eager to start CEGEP next fall.

She describes herself as a feminist and enjoys frank discussions about race.

"I am really proud of where I am with my politics and really proud of where I am in my activism," she said.

That's coming into play as she contemplates which CEGEP to attend next fall.

Emma says she needs a school with a more diverse student population.

"I just want to make sure I don't find myself super-isolated like I do here," she said.


Shari Okeke is writer/broadcaster for Daybreak on CBC Radio, and creator of Mic Drop, an award-winning CBC original podcast.


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