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Being Black
by Althea Prince

Being Black
  • Cost: $15.95
  • Length: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Insomniac Group, 2001

Reviewed by Katherine Kipp

Understanding Differences

Born in a part of the Caribbean known as Antigua in 1945, Althea Prince moved to Canada shortly after and resides there today. She has written many short stories and novels such as Ladies of the Night and Other Stories, as well as the children's books How the Star Fish Got the Sea and How the East Pond Got Its Flowers. Her latest book, Being Black, is a collection of essays exploring the social prejudice felt by blacks in Canada.

As a Black Canadian, Prince describes her own experiences and those of her friends and colleagues. Throughout the book, Prince attempts to give readers a better understanding of what being black in Canada really means. Prince organizes her essays into four distinct parts, giving readers a succinct view of the maltreatment shown towards blacks living in Canada. These essays introduce readers to a group that does not receive much recognition on a global scale.

The first part of the book centers around biographical essays. Prince writes in the first person for many of the essays, allowing readers to connect to the stories on a personal level. In one of her essays entitled "Racism Revisited," Prince describes first-hand the racism she experienced while viewing an apartment. After showing Prince the apartment, the landlady explained that Prince would be unable to rent the apartment because she would be forced to share a bedroom with a white tenant. Prince did not mind this, but as she spoke further with the landlady, she realized that her level of comfort was not the issue in question. Prince recalls, "It finally penetrated my conscious that I was being told that my skin color made me an undesirable person"(29). With this essay, Prince delivers a strong message as she learns that her skin color matters more to others than it does to herself.

Racism within institutions is the topic of Prince's second set of essays as she discusses the kinds of social prejudices within universities and cultural groups. Prince pays special attention to the prejudice occurring in Canadian schools, as many children do not even understand the idea of Black History month. In her essay, "Black History Month," Prince recalls an experience she had while speaking at a local school. Prince explains, "One bright little girl raised her hand and asked, 'What is Black pride?' At no point did I speak of this nebulous thing called 'Black pride. ' These things need to be taught, not as isolated incidents in Black Heritage classes and Black History Months, they need to be taught as parts of a whole, parts of history"(75). Again, Prince recounts her experiences and analyzes her story in order to create a sense of deeper understanding for those not aware of racism.

In the third part of her book, Prince discusses the importance of Black Canadian writers. She also stresses the need for Black Canadian writers to assemble. The essay "Writing Thru Race" focuses on a conference dedicated to the Black writers of Canada and the backlash they received from some white participants. Prince presents readers with her view of the conference as well as opposing sides, allowing readers to make their own decisions regarding the issue of Black Canadian writers.

Prince offers readers a collection of her own creative essays in the final part of her book. The essays present the struggles of Black Canadians in a creative way as Prince explains, "In Toronto, it does feel like nobody care whether you living right or wrong -- not even if you living at all! Which bring me to talk 'bout how that is"(126). One of her essays entitled, "Sweet Talk/Fairy Tales/Damsels in Distress/Princesses/Princes/Frogs" explains the ridiculous messages fairy tales give to children. "'Morning Peter! -- Cabbage Ma'am!'" describes the importance of a strong family network as Prince gives some indication of her family life growing up. The essays in Part Four help readers understand Prince's political opinions via creative expression.

Althea Prince's essays show her strong dedication to Black Canadians like herself as she helps people understand the prejudice many Black Canadians face due to their racial identity. Prince's innovative essays provide first-hand knowledge of racism, and she shows the effects of racism to people of other cultures who may not share the same experiences. The connection Prince creates with her readers ultimately forces people to critique their own experiences of life. A start to ending racism is knowing what it's like to live in another person's shoes and Prince offers some interesting sizes to try on.