On Anger

My mother used to tell me that I had a temper like my father. He was – and in ways still is – prone to being angry, short-fused, impatient…many qualities I seemed to have inherited by being his child.

My mother used to tell me that I had a temper like my father. He was – and in ways still is – prone to being angry, short-fused, impatient…many qualities I seemed to have inherited by being his child.

My anger would get me in trouble a lot with my parents, teachers, and others. It would range from me acting out, yelling, refusing to do any sort of work or chore, to – on my worse days – physical fights or striking things (I think there’s still a few dents in the walls at my parents’ house). Once I got past a certain point, I would lose control…even at times not being able to remember what I did when I was angry. I’ve ruined relationships because of it, hurt people, and it got to the point where I had to make some changes for my own sake and before I went too far.

I asked a few people on Twitter and Instagram if they’ve ever been really angry. Here are a few responses.

Thankfully, I am not as quick to anger as I was then, and I’m not the same person. I’m more patient, less frustrated, and can handle my now extremely rare bouts of wrath much easier than I could as a younger man. After having a conversation with someone recently – both of us describing incidents of violence brought on by rage or finally lashing out – I decided to do some research into why some people are more prone to these sort of reactions, and help others the way I helped myself move past that part of my life. That being said, with the rest of this post I’ll try to answer a few questions about this topic.

What is anger? Why do we get angry?

tweet2In all of my reading, anger is described as a “basic” or natural emotion that everyone will experience. It is also described as, often, a secondary response to either a primary emotion: being in a situation of sadness, feeling threatened, if one of our basic needs like food or sleep are not met, being frightened, or experiencing loneliness. If you’re following so far, that tells me that we’re supposed to feel angry at some points in our lives. I’d also add that we shouldn’t feel upset or ashamed that we do, at points, feel angry. Rather, I’d say how we react to or in anger is probably more important.

Some researchers also think that anger later in life is the result of childhood or past experiences. For example, if you were subject to some situation where you couldn’t adequately express your anger in the past (e.g. bullying, abuse, or trauma)…you may still be coping with it at present. This may mean that current situations where you feel frustrated or ones that may evoke similar emotion can make you react with anger. Also, some people think that if you witnessed a parent or other adult express their own anger aggressively or violently, you may be more prone to do the same – or even be so afraid of becoming that angry that you suppress it. Eventually, that anger may surface in other situations.

So, why are some people more angry than others?

I think we can all agree that everyone is different. The same goes with anger and how an individual may react to it. So, what can make some people seem more easily angered? Reasons can include higher-stress lifestyles, genetics (yes, there is evidence that if your folks are more easily angered, you may be as well), and our own individual ways of assessing situations. With that last point, some articles I’ve read suggest that if you’re more sensitive or are more emotional in general than someone else, you will be more prone to reacting angrily (since anger falls under basic emotional response).

img_4365-1Another reason, as described in the section above, could be socio-cultural or socio-economic. By the former, I mean that anger is often looked at as being very negative in society. Because of this, there may not be very many resources to help an individual learn to express and deal with their anger – thus making them more prone to outbursts. By the latter, I read a study that suggests that Americans with lower social status expressed more anger because a lower social standing was associated with greater frustration – stemming from leading more adverse lives. On the other hand, the same study also concludes that Japanese people with higher social status experienced more anger  because, as being part of an important group or relationship is seen as self-defining and central to what it means to be a person in this culture, expressing anger is frowned-upon due to such expressions having the potential to ruin these relationships.

How can I tell if I have an anger problem?

This list is not comprehensive, but here are a few items that could point to someone having anger issues:

  • Inability to take criticism
  • Feeling that anger needs to be hidden or suppressed
  • Arguing with others constantly
  • Holding grudges
  • Feelings of impatience, irritability, hostility, or resentment that lead to outbursts when angry
  • Becoming physically violent to people or objects when angry, or being short-fused
  • Avoiding situations where one knows one may become angry/angrier
  • Lack of ability to control anger escalating

Some of the symptoms above may even be worsened by alcohol or drug use. While – as mentioned before – anger itself is not a problem, expressing anger during and in ways like the items in the list above could lead to a lot of problems for someone who can’t get their anger under control.

Are there things I can do to help with my anger?

Let’s take a quick look at ways to help control and manage anger.

One of the best ways I found that helped me was to first own that I had a bad temper and that I had a problem. I would realize and accept that I was angry in certain situations, but chose not to let the situation escalate nor get the better of me. I also would continually remind myself that it is very difficult to make smart choices when feeling a powerful emotion like anger, so I chose to let the anger subside before doing anything else.

Another method, as I preach to myself in sports, is the concept of having a “short memory”. If I missed a shot or dropped a ball, I wouldn’t let myself dwell on it nor think about it while setting up another shot or play. In the same way, I didn’t let a past event dictate how I would react to a present event. Also, I did not allow myself to sit and steam about an event that made me angry – it just didn’t make sense to stay angry at the past or something I could no longer change.

img_4366Another very important step in managing anger is recognizing one’s triggers, and figuring out exactly what can make you angry and how to work through them. This may mean avoiding the trigger altogether (for example, I dislike traffic…so I leave for work earlier and either leave the office early or later depending on the day) or attacking it head-on (e.g. if you have disagreements with another person, trying to iron out your differences in a civil manner). This isn’t an easy process, and I think I’m still working on some of my triggers to this day.

Finally, and probably the most helpful for me, I found that improving my thinking, communication, and relaxation skills became an invaluable asset in helping me recover from my anger problems. Instead of rushing to reply or get the last word in, I began to learn how to express my thoughts and feelings (even if they were coming from a place of anger) in a calmer, less aggressive way. When this became too difficult to do in a situation, I’d let myself walk away (or politely excuse myself) to cool down and then re-approached the situation later.  You’d be surprised what taking a good, deep breath before speaking can do for you.

I hope this post has been both insightful and helpful. If you or someone you care about is struggling with issues with anger or other mental health conditions, there is always help. While I did not address (and have never been to) counseling or ever saw a professional for anger, I know these resources exist and would definitely recommend them if someone chose to take that route.

I’d love to hear your stories, comments, and opinions as well. Feel free to reach out to me 🙂

As always, keep fighting the good fight (shout out to my friend Kyle),




On Grief and Loss

Getting “over” any loss – whether it be a death, end of a relationship, or otherwise – takes a huge toll on me, and I’m not sure I’ve fully moved on from some of them. For some, I’m not sure I want to move on.

My maternal grandfather was born and raised in Greece. He grew up in a small village, survived a war, married my grandmother, and moved his family from Europe to Toronto in search of a better quality of life and opportunity.

Before I moved to Canada permanently, I’d stay with my grandparents during every visit. While his English wasn’t perfect and my Greek was basically non-existent, we forged a bond between papou and grandson that was cut way too short about eight years ago.

Papou manning the grill.

I lost my grandfather in the middle of what should have been my final exam period in university, and got the call that he had passed right before walking into an exam room. While I knew that he wasn’t doing well, I don’t think I would have ever really been prepared to lose someone close.

Needless to say, I never took the exam. Still reeling, I was forced to essentially re-live his loss every time I had to talk to a professor, ask for a death certificate, or apply for some sort of extension allowing me more time to get things done academically. In the end, I would spend an extra semester in school making up for classes and exams that I just could not get myself to sit through. I still dream about my grandfather, and there are days when – even though it’s been years – I still feel the loss deeply.

Grief doesn’t always occur with a death. It can happen with a breakup or divorce, loss of a job, death of a pet, or even financial hardship. Sometimes, the loss doesn’t even have to be your own.

Around a year ago, a friend of mine lost their mother. I had met her in person only once, well over a decade ago when I was still new to Canada. It was a cold fall night, and I boarded a GO bus from York University to Streetsville, Mississauga (which might as well have been a flight to China – I didn’t know what direction I was headed in and nothing looked familiar) to visit my friend at her house.

If you’ve followed my posts so far, you’d know that that period of my life was complicated to say the least. While I was still struggling externally with adjusting to a new country, and still battling with an internal need to belong, a woman invited her daughter’s friend into her home with a large smile and open arms. I don’t remember many of the other details of that night minus a grand tour of the house and a hot meal, but what stuck with me was the way I felt there – welcomed. To see and experience that sort of kindness, offered to a complete stranger…that’s something that, for me, would be very hard to forget. I can only imagine how her loss must have affected (and still affects) that family, and they’re in my thoughts and prayers.

Papou and I, early 90’s.

Everything you read in life about grief and loss will probably tell you that losing someone you love is one of life’s biggest and most difficult challenges. Most sources may even tell you what the symptoms of grief are, or that there are several steps involved in the process of grieving, or that there’s professional help for that sort of thing. What you may never read, but definitely may experience at some point in life, is just how long it takes to get to the other side of grief. Sometimes, you may even feel fine for a while – even years – and then that one song plays or someone brings up that thing you used to do together, and you’re back to where you were before.

Getting “over” any loss – whether it be a death, end of a relationship, or otherwise – takes a huge toll on me, and I’m not sure I’ve fully moved on from some of them. For some, I’m not sure I want to move on.

That being said, if you’ve got someone in your life that you love and appreciate…don’t wait until they’re gone to show them that you do.

Until next time,



Continue reading “On Grief and Loss”

On Medication and Mental Health III

Life has a funny way of coming full circle. I suppose I needed some closure, some sort of sign that I made the right decision with my mental health, and life sorted that out for me.

Hey all. Sorry for the delay.

In the last few posts, we looked at medication for mental health – from the various kinds to reasons why some people choose to (or not to) start a treatment plan involving medication. In this post, I’ll get into why I personally decided to give medication a try.

Now for the heavy shit.

Just about a few weeks shy of four years ago, I was driving home from a night out that involved a work Christmas party, as well as a few bars in Hamilton, ON. I had had more than a few drinks at the party, but stopped drinking several hours before a friend and I left to go out to the bars. I barely drank there (maybe a Heineken or two), and after another few hours, left the area to go home after dropping my friend off at his house.

Before we get into the rest of what happened that night, let’s preface it by summarizing my last few months leading up to it.

To start, I had gone through a rough (but amicable) breakup, and while we did talk often enough I was still struggling with the fact that she had moved more than half a world away. I had just begun to really get back on my feet again emotionally, but regardless of the reasons – losing any kind of support system is a bitch.

The romantic part aside, I was having a rough time with my life in the professional sense. Unsure of what I really wanted to do (or even if I wanted to stay where I was working), coming into the office everyday was a struggle. Once I would get there, however, there was enough work to keep the mind busy – at least until the end of the work day. To top things off – I was still adjusting to a move from the city to suburban living, and had to keep adjusting in the middle of the coldest winter I could remember. It was the first year that I really started believing that seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a real thing.

Now back to the night that would change my life, thankfully for the better.

Overnight, the weather had become incredibly colder and even icier. As I’m driving home, my thoughts are racing. What could I have done better in my failed relationship? How do I feel more fulfilled at my job? Do I even like it there, or am I only really actively going because I know it’s a distraction? These and what felt like millions of other thoughts shoot through my mind to the point where I don’t notice that the lane I am in is rapidly ending, and I need to switch over to the left-most lane to get on the highway.

I must have hit a patch of black ice, because my car just won’t slow down. I pump the brakes rapidly, but no luck – my car is sliding sideways towards the ditch between the on-ramp and the highway. A sign on the side of the road (one of those directional arrows that line the ramps) crashes into and through my driver-side window and nearly ends up in my lap after missing my face. My car careens off of the on-ramp, and ends up sideways in the ditch.

I have to escape out of my mangled vehicle through my passenger door, crawling through snow, ice, blood (from superficial cuts, thankfully), metal, and glass. I make it to the top of the on-ramp, where eventually a police officer shows up and helps me into his car and out of the cold. I admit to having a few drinks earlier, and blow and pass a breathalyzer (I still get a ticket for driving with alcohol in my system – didn’t have a full license at the time). Sitting in the back of a police car, regardless of why you’re there, is a sobering and humbling experience. Given what I had already went through though, I was just happy to be alive and warm.

I still had to get home, though. I ended up having to tow my car back – where overnight a branch from an iced-over tree fell through some power lines and cut power to my side of the neighborhood. No power meant no elevator, so that meant at least eleven flights of stairs just to get to my freezing apartment. I quickly change and jump under a blanket, still a bit shaken and absolutely done with that night.

At this point, I was already seeing a counselor every few weeks or so to try and get help with my mental illness. After these events, though, I decided I needed (scratch that, I owed it to myself) to give myself more of a fighting chance. Cue the medication, which I spoke to my family doctor about and have been on since.

Flash-forward to just over four years later, I’m driving back from Hamilton. Same sort of on-ramp (no booze this time, though – I’m still watching my intake very mindfully), same shitty weather. This time, the thoughts are different. I’m content and hopeful. I am excited to finally fly out and head back to The Bahamas for a few weeks to see my parents and friends I don’t regularly get to see. Same slippery black ice too, unfortunately.

I hit this patch at a much slower speed, but still couldn’t get my car under control enough to slow down and avoid a collision. This time, however, I don’t end up in a ditch. I hit a guard rail, break a fender and bend a rim just enough to where driving it home wouldn’t be safe. Not so bad, all things considered.

I end up having to tow my car off of the highway and back home again, but this time it’s to a house I own. There’s no power outage this time. I sort out the payment details with the tow-truck driver, step into my warm townhouse, take off my shoes, walk up one flight of stairs to my master bedroom, and fall into my comfortable bed.

Life has a funny way of coming full circle. I suppose I needed some closure, some sort of sign that I made the right decision with my mental health, and life sorted that out for me.

I hope if you’re reading this and are struggling, that you’ll make my advice and try and take care of your mental health. It’s always worth it.

10 Things I (Sometimes) Hate About Me

I couldn’t stick to just ten, so here’s a bunch of random things about me. Maybe you can relate.

I initially had a longer and more emotional post lined up for this week, but I’ve been having a rougher-than-usual last few days (even by my standards). That being said, I decided to post something with a bit of a lighter mood.

I couldn’t stick to just ten, so here’s a bunch of random things about me. Maybe you can relate. I may make a “Part 2” sometime. Maybe.

  • Sometimes I’m uncomfortable with small talk. Like…do you actually want to know about my day? Because I accidentally spread a mask on my toothbrush this morning instead of toothpaste…Clarins tastes like shit.
  • Are we still talking or can I, you know, just walk away now. No? OK cool I’ll just stand here. Wait, was I supposed to say “You too!” or just “Thank you.”? Fuck!
  • I really love dogs and every one I ever dog-sit becomes my child. Sorry my son peed on your hydrangeas Kathy.giphy[1]
  • Being a neat freak and caring for animals is an interesting mix. I love dog sitting but do not love cleaning enough hair out of my vacuum to stuff a decorative pillow. Wait, do people do that? *Googles ‘can I stuff a pillow with my dog’s hair’*
  • I used to be a morning person. Then I became a night person. Some days it’s debatable if I’m even a person at all and I need a coffee IV to function like a human being.
  • One of my fears in life is not having a future or making a terrible decision and ending up alone and homeless and never being able to make beautiful, emotionally-and-financially-supported mixed babies.
  • Sometimes the most anxious moment of my week doesn’t have anything to do with my future, but ma’am you are ringing in that guy’s groceries way too fast and I can’t pack mine fast enough aaaahhhhh…
  • Ma’am I really do have two dimes just give me a second *shuffles in pocket* – NO it’s not OK I have it I really do just give a second *awkwardly places condoms on counter* – What? Yes I have an optimum card.
  • I’m usually very good at eating healthy, but sometimes I have a setback emotionally, can’t be bothered, binge eat, and immediately hate myself. #OxfordComma
  • I quit drinking for 4 months earlier this year. I lost a bunch of weight and it really helped the pockets. Since then, I don’t drink heavily or regularly…but will have a beer or a rum here and there.
  • After an eight-month layoff due to various personal ills, I finally made it back to the gym last week. Now I just have to make it back.
  • As of late, most of my depressive days have been manageable. Some days though, I just want to go home and hop into bed for an eternity. Sometimes, instead of bed, I make a blanket fort in my kitchen by draping a duvet over the bar and hiding under it.
  • Managing my medication and activity have been pretty good as well. Some days though, I forget and I’m just a mess the next day…which is a struggle. The recently-increased dosage isn’t helping the cause either, I’m sure.
  • Sometimes I leave my mom’s voicemail messages on my phone longer than usual…just in case I ever need someone to tell me I’m handsome.
  • Sometimes I use my sister’s Instagram account to check up on people I no longer am in contact with. Not because I’m stuck in the past or am holding onto something I shouldn’t…sometimes I care more than I probably should and am always back and forth on how I feel about that.
  • Most of my closer friends are a significant distance (e.g. a plane ride) away and sometimes it sucks (Hi Hanna). 
  • I think it’s cool that more and more people are opening up about mental illness, especially men. I hope this trend continues.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into my life, and the blog as a whole so far if you’ve been following.

Until next time,

xoxo (my love is very special),



Why I Took a Break from Social Media (Or Blocked You, Or Whatever…Sorry)

I’m not suggesting everyone should boycott social media. I am, however, suggesting that everyone could benefit from some time away. I know I did.

On or around March 30, 2017 I took an extended break from Facebook and various other social media outlets. After a short-winded post about me needing a leave of absence, I deleted my Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter apps, and stopped posting to Snapchat. I had always toyed with the idea of taking a break, going offline for a while, and reconnecting with people, places, and activities that were important to me and my goals…but the circumstances I found myself in leading up to that day forced me over the edge (no pun intended).

Let’s be frank. I wasn’t in a good place. I was anxious and moody on good days, broken on the not-so-good days…and on the worse days, forgetting my medication (or taking too much) and drinking way more than I should have been. If depression, anxiety, and other darker things were all wrapped up in some sort of explosive package…the bomb had dropped, and I was at ground zero. It was my deepest, darkest depressive episode yet (I’ll save more on this for another time), and social media wasn’t helping.

My Facebook post.

You see the thing about social media that hits home the most, especially for someone that’s struggling, is that no one ever really posts the bad stuff. The poster’s world – from someone looking in – is perfect, happy, and free from whatever might be ailing the other person in front of the screen. This “grass is greener” concept is especially harmful for users already experiencing depression and other forms of mental illness, and I was no different. I became tired of the happy couples posting engagement photos (congrats, though), expectant mothers posting pregnancy announcements (congrats again), and posts from friends and others at events I either wasn’t invited to or couldn’t gather enough energy and motivation to attend.  I ended up stuck in a debilitating cycle of comparing myself to others, beating myself down for not being in places I wanted to be, and struggling with a near-constant fear of missing out (FOMO). These things, combined with the daily battle with depression, were just too much for me to handle…and I opted outº.

Bye social media!

Leaving social media – albeit difficult to do – was almost immediately relieving. With every press of those little X’s as I deleted apps, I felt more and more pressure lifted off of me. I didn’t have to check in anywhere, keep up-to-date on any news feeds, or browse any timelines. Better yet, I wasn’t bombarded by images of friends that never ever seemed to have problems, wasn’t tempted to lurk around other people’s pages (especially exes or mutual friends of exes), and was free to continue to focus on issues that were present in my actual, offline life. Not only that, but as time went on (I spent just over two months away), I began to experience other benefits that helped me deal with these issues. My sleep was better (probably because I wasn’t up at odd hours scrolling through my phone). My relationships with friends and family got better, as I had more time to spend working on communication and spent less time on the phone or tablet glued to an app. I had effectively put all my “online-only”, half-assed, and superficial relationships on hold and invested more time and energy into real, meaningful ones. I became way more productive at work. Better still, I put myself on a path for having a better quality of life by giving myself time to spend working on myself.

Eventually, I returned to social media – but with a different mindset. Now I try to remember that not everyone is perfect, and while the images and content people post may suggest otherwise, everyone has their ups and downs. While I still struggle with issues I’ve already mentioned, it’s getting easier and easier to pull back and focus on myself. I know I may have to leave again or make some other changes (sorry for blocking or unfollowing you), and I hope this post helps myself and others understand why it’s needed.

Now, I’m not suggesting everyone should boycott social media and go on a deleting spree. I am, however, suggesting that everyone could benefit from some time away. I know I did.


º Side note. Just wanted to shout out everyone that took the time to reach out back then and now. I hope everyone could take the time out to check on people they care about, especially your friends that seem like they have everything going for them. More often than not, your “strong” friend is the one hurting the most.

Until next time,

Phil xo

A Letter to Myself

Remember in those hard times, though, no matter how far you fall or how bad it gets, you’ll always have this letter to remind yourself just how far you’ve come, and how great you are.

Dear future you,

I’ve tried not to make this letter too boastful or bombastic (your head is big enough as it is), but I wanted to shoot you a letter for you to read in times where your future self (or maybe others) may need it. I truly hope time has treated you well, and I pray the rest of your days are better than today – regardless of how today is going. This is going to sometimes be an awkward, embarrassing, and painful read…but sometimes – most times, I hope – it will give you that little push you may need to get yourself going.

First, I hope you never stop cherishing experiences – especially the first ones. Remember that time you went on your first road trip in Canada and instead of the weather being warm, it snowed? You spent your first snowfall sprinting around the cottage, outside, in a wife-beater.  You wouldn’t have known then that what followed would be a harsh, cold, and unrelenting winter…but I’m glad you took it in stride.

Engineering Group, 2006
You wrote all of your midterms that semester either sick with the cold or a stomach flu, and instead of giving up, you excelled. Even when the material seemed too complicated, too detailed, or too overwhelming to understand, you put your mind to it and got it done. Despite going through a huge family loss before your finals, you pulled it together and finished university with the engineering degree you told yourself you would get. Then, you interviewed for and got the job you wanted on your first try. That’s something to be proud of, and I hope you continue to take this approach in anything you endeavor to accomplish – never give up, no matter how daunting it may seem initially.

Next, I hope you continue to only see the good in others and bad situations. Sometimes, you haven’t been treated the way you deserved to be. On more than a few occasions, you weren’t shown the respect you gave to others without question. Sometimes, it will be you that offends or otherwise hurts someone. I hope that it is always unintentional, and I hope you are always the first to apologize, whether they accept it or not.

Remember that sometimes people won’t behave the way you may expect them to. They will be selfish, rude, or ignorant. I hope this never turns you off from loving, but instead pushes you to continue to be the kind, caring, and compassionate person you are…the world probably needs it.

Mid-Reno, 2016

You’ve gone through your fair share of heartbreaks, but you continue to push forward. Remember when you were weeks out from signing a new lease, dejected from a recent breakup, and said “Next year, this time, I’ll be sitting on the front porch of a house I own”? What happened? You stuck to your budget and financial plan, got a realtor, and a year later wrote a check (for a shit ton of money, might I add) for your first deposit. Fresh-faced and twenty-six, you became a home owner. Now, two years later (with the help of a little sweat and YouTube videos), you’ve renovated it all on your own…and it feels like home.

Continue to remember that money isn’t everything. Remember that time you thought money would make you happy? You set another goal, started tutoring and opened your dog-sitting business, worked way too many on-call shifts, and grossed over $100,000 the year after.

Twenty-seven years old. One hundred thousand dollars.

You deserved to celebrate reaching your target, because – as you said – making “a hunnid thou'” wasn’t easy. However, even though the money was great and your bills were paid, you were exhausted, burnt-out, and hurting. That’s when you decided that you were happier seeing new places, doing new things, making new friends, and spending time with your family.

Amsterdam, 2014

That being said, I hope you continue to travel – both alone and with people you care about. Continue to make friends in different places, and continue to keep in touch with them. You’ve been to fourteen countries and counting, and I hope in the years to come you can add to that number immensely. Travel far, eat well, and take care of your physical self along the way.

Finally, and most importantly, I pray you continue to have the strength to walk away when you’ve exhausted all other options, especially if you deserve better. Even though you regularly experience bouts of depression, anxiety, and pain, do not let what you suffer from become all that you are. Always take each setback as an opportunity to bounce back even better than before. Sometimes it’ll hurt more than you think you can bear, but more often than not, the end result will be more joyous than you can imagine.

Remember in those hard times, though, no matter how far you fall or how bad it gets, you’ll always have this letter to remind yourself just how far you’ve come, and how great you are.




P.S. Call your grandmother.




My Experiences with Race, ‘Blackness’, and Self-Identification

While I am also Canadian, this is one thing I’ll never say sorry for.

A few weeks ago I was sitting at a table at a restaurant for a friend’s birthday. I was among the first to arrive, so I sat within a small group of open chairs and waited for the others. Eventually the chair to my right was the only spot open, and a tall, black male with dreadlocks walked in and was invited to it. Someone in the group made a comment along the lines of “Alright, let’s keep all the black people together!” to a few chuckles. The comment was lighthearted in nature and intent, but the experience got me thinking. Was I OK with the comment? Was I offended? I honestly wasn’t sure.

I first learned about race (and racism) at a very young age. My parents, a black Bahamian father and white Canadian (of Greek descent) mother, had and raised my sister and I in The Bahamas – a predominantly black, Christian nation. Here, I would first learn that I was “mulatto”, a term used to describe a person of mixed white and black ancestry. I knew I was different in that sense but, in my eyes, I didn’t really look or feel different. I was “black”, or so I thought.

Fam-jam, circa 1998.

Things would change one day while I was sitting at my desk in grade 2 or 3, flipping through my composition notebook. I had accidentally left it behind the day before, and was surprised at what I found. Many of the pages had been defaced in black ink, with terms like “Phillip is a bitch”, “sissy ass”, and “white boy Hatcher”º scribbled all over them.  I remember being more concerned at the time that I was running out of pages (I was a studious kid), rather than feeling upset or offended over the slurs. The event did, however, leave me with a lot of unanswered questions. Was this genuine hate? Or was it just some child taking the piss because he/she had to stay behind after school? Was it because I was mixed and lighter-skinned than them? Or was it simply a rebellious act with no hate or evil intent behind it? I couldn’t be sure, but the events would lead me to question my identity for some time.

High school would come and go, and it wasn’t until I moved to Canada in 2006 that I had my first real tastes of the racism and stereotypes that I had previously only seen in the media or read about in books. I enrolled in an Engineering program, studying Computer Engineering at York University from 2006-2011, and was frequently the only student of black descent in my courses (in fact, I was one of two black Caribbean-born students graduating from the program in my year – shout out to Leonard Lewis). It was also around this time of my life that I learned that a black man could be turned away from professional and academic opportunities, not for lack of qualifications, but simply for being black. This is something I still struggle to wrap my head around today. It is extremely difficult for me to accept that, not in 1817 or 1917, but in 2017 this fact remains true.

High school grad., 2005

Being the only black face in an academic or professional setting can be daunting, and makes for some pretty interesting experiences. I remember walking into the first day of a third year Calculus class early and having the professor ask me if I was sure I was in the right room. As a joke (and partly to avoid awkwardness), I said “Oh wait, this isn’t Contemporary Black and Urban Music for Non-Majors?” (not sure if that course actually exists, it should though). I followed that up with “Nah, Vector Calc’ right? I’m good.” I am sure the professor was just trying to be helpful – we actually got along very well after that and I did fairly well in the course – but the incident would leave a sour taste in my mouth for a while.

A few months after I graduated, I started my current job. The following day or so after a department wing night, one of my coworkers said in a huddle, “Did you know Phil talks white at work?” – in reference to my tendency to speak more naturally (I have a Bahamian accent, especially after a few drinks) outside of a professional setting. I wasn’t offended by this comment (in fact, I think the term ‘talking white’ is hilarious because I don’t really know why “white” means “professional”), I just thought it was an interesting way to phrase that I was being articulate and well-spoken in the office.

Me, 2016.

My experiences with racism and stereotypes didn’t stop at university, unfortunately, and were not just limited to corporate meeting rooms. Once, I joined a soccer team in my neighborhood in an effort to get back into sports. I ran track, swam, and played several other sports in school, and had always enjoyed being active. One game after a breakaway in which I scored, someone on the other team made a comment along the lines of “Wow, that guy’s fast.” A teammate of his then said “Come on, he’s black…he’s supposed to be.” I wasn’t sure how to react, so I didn’t. Yes, it’s true, black people tend to be more predisposed to being athletic. To me, though, I wasn’t fast just because I was black. I was fast because I spent hours on the track and in the gym, and that comment seriously undermined the work I put in to get there.

One time after that, I was having a discussion with a friend about a topic I can’t remember, and it got a bit heated. I ended up raising my voice and moving my hands in efforts to hammer my points home, and was met with “Alright, now you’re getting all black on me.”

“That’s interesting, so the minute I get passionate and expressive about something I believe in…I’m too black for you.”, I responded. I was tired of not being able to react, to be emotional, to be outspoken without it being attributed solely to my being black. Their response was “I’m sorry, I’m just not used to it. You understand.”

No, I don’t.

On another unfortunate occasion, I was texting back and forth with a friend in a Whatsapp group, and he mentioned a female friend of his “liked black guys”. Already taken aback (I’m usually very wary when someone says this), but keeping the mood light – I responded with “Sure lol, send her a pic I guess.” Her response both angered and surprised me.

“Oh no. I like classy black, like Michael Ealy or Jessie Williams black.”

Oh, alright. So you “like black guys”, but only if they’re lighter-skinned, lighter-eyed, soft-spoken, non-threatening heartthrobs. Sounds a lot like American media, right? Noted. I don’t remember what her background was, but she wasn’t that attractive, anyway *Kanye shrug*.

If you’ve been following me so far, that means I’ve been black, too-black, not-black-enough, and also not “classy black” – which I’m pretty sure isn’t even a thing.  If it was, I’d be classy black as fuck…just ask my coworkers 🙂

You can also add one more thing to that list, and that’s being unapologetically black. While I have struggled with my sense of self-identity in the past, I love being black and of black descent, and that won’t change anytime soon. While I am also Canadian, being black is one thing I’ll never say sorry for. You understand.


Continue reading “My Experiences with Race, ‘Blackness’, and Self-Identification”