I was at work on Saturday and I had a client come in to pay rent. For context, I work in residential property management and that means I have frequent contact (social distancing of course) with a diverse resident pool which includes born and bred Canadians, old and new immigrants from different parts of the world.

Back to the story, my client was a young man of African descent and when we spoke, I figured he had probably been here not more than 5 years at the most. I had seen him a couple of times riding on his wheel chair around the large expanse of land that housed the residential property.

I was alone in the office so when I opened the door to him, he told me he had come to pay rent so I asked him to hand me the cheque and I’d take care of it. He had dark shades on so I couldn’t really see his eyes but I felt a bolt of mistrust beam from them. He then asked of my other colleagues (two caucasian women) – while giving an unnecessary and apologetic explanation that he didn’t know me. I told him as politely as possible that they weren’t in.

“What about the white guy?”. He asked, while withdrawing the envelope containing the cheque he brought in.

“You mean John?” I asked, instantly remembering the guy I replaced. He had left two months into the job for another opportunity. “He no longer works here.”

“I see.” He said. He tapped the envelope on the handle of the wheelchair to probably make up for the awkward silence that ensued. I waited patiently for him to tell me what his decision was but none was forthcoming.

To save time, I suggested he could bring in the cheque the following week when everyone was on ground. He tried to explain why he couldn’t leave the cheque the with me but I told him it was ok – I wouldn’t subscribe he did something he was uncomfortable with especially as he could always come back. After struggling with what seemed like a loss for words for a few seconds, he rode away.

In five minutes, he was back and without a word, handed the cheque over.

……………………………………..

“So he told me he was more African than me. Oh Jesus Christ buddy, I was surprised. I ain’t never heard nothing like that in my life before buddy.” Leon said, later that day.

“What did he mean by “more African”? I asked.

“I dunno man. He call me Jamaican because I’m from the Carribean and it’s funny buddy because it kinda reminded me of the discrimination that happens back home among the large countries in the carribean. See, me I’m from Grenada and guys from Jamaica, Cuba or Haiti tend to discriminate against us that come from the smaller islands.”

“Yeah, I totally understand. Size is not really an accurate indication of greatness anyway.” I mused, feeling a sense of the familiar.

“Exactly buddy! Oh Jesus Christ, so I ask him what country is on his passport? He don’t understand at first but I ask him again and he say he got Somali on his passport so I tell him you can’t be more African than me if you got Somali written on your passport. Your only claim to Africa is the colour of your skin – just like me.”

We both burst out into laughter as I say I thought that was an amazing comeback.

“Seriously buddy, think about it. Africa is not a country but a continent. Why would some black folk want to claim some kinda ownership over such a concept against some other black folk? If you ain’t got Africa in your passport, that mean the only thing that identify us as African is the colour of our skin. Nobody can claim the African continent like Australians can because they got it on their passport.”

“It’s weird though, especially now that there’s so much clamor against racism, that we black folk don’t necessarily treat ourselves right either. Charity begins at home.” I said after a moment of thought.

So I went on to tell my friend about my day…