Black Hair and Climbing Part V

Part V: Perspective

   In order to more fully understand what sort of environment Evangelina Briggs and their family has been steeped in, let’s take a look at where they are from.

   The Briggs family lives near a small town called Milton, Canada around the vicinity of the larger city of Toronto. Milton’s racial demographics are as follows: “The biggest minority group is South Asians, which make up 14% of the population. Other minority groups include Filipinos, Chinese, Latin American, Arab, Southeast Asian and Korean – to name a few. Almost 70% of the population is White.”29 There is no significant mention of Black demographics: albeit “Latin American” can also arguably have Afro Latinos/as/x. In contrast, the larger nearby city of Toronto is made up of 50.2% white and 8.5% Black30, with the rest made up of a similar demographic as Milton. There are 2.7 million people currently in Toronto, which would mean roughly one out of twelve people identify as Black, which is a very small number. “The vast majority of Canada’s Black population lives in large urban areas. In 2016, 94.3% of Black people lived in a census metropolitan area (CMA) [such as Toronto], compared with 71.2% of the country’s total population.”31 Milton is a suburb of Toronto where Black people are more concentrated. So, why are these Black people residing in large urban areas and not Milton? We have to look at policy to find the answer just like the United States: redlining. “Simply put, redlining is when banks outright deny mortgages to people based on group characteristics, like race, for instance, or the geographical neighbourhood they live in.”32

   When it comes to redlining in Canada, it is less well documented as the US. Unfortunately, they have not decided to tackle the problem head on as there are no government entities dedicated to the study and eradication of these past practices. But the practices which have kept Black and Hispanic populations in Canada from homeownership and rentals in more government funded neighborhoods (which translates to more desirable) have kept these specific populations pigeonholed in specific areas of the larger metropolitan areas.33 Per usual, policy rules everything around us. And this translates to segregation of cultures leaving harmful stereotypes to live and breath in the imaginations of those not familiar with Black culture, even in Canada.

   Canada is not impervious to racial and hair bias. In fact, there are still lawsuits going on identifying hair discrimination in workplaces in Canada. People are so unfamiliar with afro hair due to the lack of Black people in many spaces. “Afro hair and darker-skinned Black women are still marginalized and/or erased from Canadian media,” says Cheryl Thompson, an assistant professor at Toronto’s Ryerson University. ‘And if a Black woman with dark skin and Afro-textured hair does appear on TV, she’s likely represented as aggressive and unattractive—in other words, she is the trope of the Mammy/Sapphire. It is very disheartening to see this imagery.”34 This makes plain the same problem the US has: white people are still using their power to discriminate against Black hair and hairstyles on Black people. And yet, some white people still choose to wear African based hairstyles insensitively.

   How did a young white girl attending a private Christian school from Milton end up with an African based hairstyle? The identified centers for where the most Black people reside are Scarborough and Etobicoke, which are at least a 30 minute car ride away. Not to say this family could not make it out there to get their hair done, however, it is not typical white suburban residents make it to neighborhoods deemed “undesirable” to sit for a few hours to get cornrows. We do not know the origin story of this hairstyle for Evangelina, nor are we certain they are not of African heritage. What we have to take into consideration is what the perception of this hairstyle does in relation to Black presenting people on the stage of society as well as competitive climbing.

   I have written extensively about cultural appropriation in the past concerning the use of Hip Hop in climbing which I encourage you to read as well. And my stance has not changed: white people should not be taking any Black cultural activities and hair is a very sacred part of the Black experience which still experiences discrimination. Then how is this tied into climbing?

   First, let us explore the minimal Black climbers there are in the indoor competitive realm in general: Megan Martin, Kai Lightner, Molly Thompson-Smith, Bassa Mawem, Mickaël Mawem, Kareemah Batts, Adeline Wright, Guy McNamee, Kindar McNamee to name a few (and not all on the national or even international stage). There are not many, and the vast majority over the years have been able bodied cis gender men. Considering competitive climbing has been going strong since 1985 with it’s start in Russia35, this is a meager list. We know climbing is a white led sport. When we take into consideration competition, there is an entirely different set of financial barriers like constant access to nutrition, coaching costs, competition entry fees, gear acquisition, travel, etc. Not to mention being the only Black person in the space sometimes.

   Let’s talk to one of those climbers next.

Works Cited

29.  World Population Review. “Milton Population 2022” 03 Dec 2022

30. Canada Population. “Toronto Population 2021/2022” 09 Dec 2022

31. Statistics Canada. “More than half of Canada’s Black population calls Ontario home” 03 Dec 2022

32. Mcintosh, Daniel. “Redlining in Canada” 03 Dec 2022

33. Mcintosh, Daniel. “Redlining in Canada” 03 Dec 2022

34. Jackson, Jada. “Race-Based Hair Discrimination” 27 Dec 2022

35. Gripped. “A History of Climbing Competitions Since 1985 09 Dec 2022

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