My friends and I attended a Jill Scott concert in Toronto a few years back. We were very excited. Her music was like an oasis of craft in a desert landscape of mediocrity. As Jill belted out those notes, we sang along and swayed. She led into her wicked tune “It’s Love” by inviting the audience to think about “lovin’, like, we do that good, down-home soul food, you know, candied yams, collard greens, biscuits and gravy, smothered … “
The audience went silent. I remember thinking, “Gravy goes on bread? Really? Candied yams, you say? You mean licorice and a chocolate bar belong on a vegetable? Wow. Oh, I get it — she’s just setting up her experience in the song. But, well, not really, because she’s asking us to reminisce with her, which means we’re supposed to know about these strange food combinations, too.”
One of my friends jokingly turned to the rest of us with, “I don’t think they know there are others on the planet with them. Maybe she thinks the ‘c’ in ‘Canada’ really stands for ‘Carolinas.’ ” We laughed. I chimed in with, “After the concert, let’s go to Romania and talk love over curry and roti.” We howled with laughter and went on enjoying the concert.
In truth, however, our comments were made not from humor but from disappointment, which we all felt but chose to ignore. After all, we were here to celebrate Jill’s uniqueness and relevance. Her assumption that her cultural experiences should mirror ours, here, in a completely different country, suggested that she didn’t value our uniqueness and relevance.
Ignorance (or dismissal) of black Canadians as a community was not uncommon to us, but what made this time a little more difficult to swallow was the source. Ordinarily, the source was Caucasians, not people of color, and certainly not black folks.