When Brady Chaisson was in fourth grade, as the only black student at Georgetown Elementary School, he approached his teacher with a question.
“She took me aside to explain it,” said Brady, who is now 18- years-old.
This is how he learned what it meant when some students had called him the n-word.
“I didn’t really understand at first,” he said. “But as I got older I started to realize, that’s not okay as I couldn’t really stand up for myself because I was the only black kid in that school.”
“I was a small child and they were a couple grades ahead of me,” Brady said, referring to the students who teased him.
“I couldn’t really take them on, and the people who were calling me the n-word seemed like the kind who don’t really care about that certain stuff.”
Brady wishes now those students had realized the impact of their actions.
“They never experienced being called the n-word. Maybe if they went to an all-black school they would understand.”
In many cases Brady expects if he explained why the slurs were wrong, he would have been laughed off or not taken seriously by some of his peers.
Instead of getting into fights or arguments however, Brady said he learned not to take it personally, especially if the slur wasn’t intended to be hostile.
He said, ironically he sees some of the students who didn’t seem to be joking back then now posting ‘Black Lives Matter’ on social media.
“I find it hard to take them seriously because of how they treated me,” he said.
The racial slurs and jokes based on skin colour that Brady experienced were far from the last he’s had to deal with growing up in predominantly white communities in eastern PEI.
“People would say I couldn’t swim; they’d say ‘go eat chicken.’”
“They always told me to go to the field and pick cotton, which I didn’t get at first. As I got older, I learned not to take it personally.”
Brady found emotions revolving around this type of experience hard to discuss even with his own family.
“As a guy, you can’t really express yourself that much and I thought if I did that, I’d be weak.”
Racial taunting has taken a toll on Brady.
He said he was uncomfortable in his own skin for a number of years and he only recently found a new sense of pride and confidence.
“Back then I wasn’t proud but now I see black people who live in the town,” Brady said, referencing some international university students who work with him at the fish plant in Georgetown.
“I only talked with them a couple of times but I really connect with them; what they’re going through and what they’re feeling.”
Growing up, Brady was the only person of colour in his immediate family.
His mom, Nora Chaisson and his sister are white as was his late stepfather, Jeremy Stevens.
Brady said peers would often pressure him to play into or represent stereotypes.
“A comment they would say to me is that I’m the whitest black person.”
Sometimes, it seemed to Brady, the comments were intended to be accepting but other times jeering. Offering an example, he said, if he didn’t act more stereotypically ‘black’ he must be lame or a fraud.
Brady agrees that either way, he could interpret it as offensive but he takes less issue with instances from friends.
“I remember once there were a couple guys and they were like ‘why don’t you come over here and smoke; why don’t you be a real black man?’ So I took a few hits and one of the guys said ‘hey, you’re finally black, Brady’. It was really awkward.”
Brady feels he couldn’t just be himself and say no.
“Some people think black people are supposed to be tough, show no remorse, I’m the complete opposite of that.”
The young man wonders, in terms of racism, if living on PEI has been beneficial.
Brady was born in Ontario and moved to the Island when he was just 2-weeks-old.
“I’m glad I live here now - if I stayed in Ontario I might have run into way more racism,” Brady said, referencing what he has seen about racial profiling by police and in schools in the news.
“I would love to ask the person I was talking to (at work) if he has experienced racism like I have or if he has experienced worse racism.”
For now Brady said he hasn’t considered leaving PEI because in large part he has a supportive group of close friends here.
“The people I’m surrounded by keep me up. I talk to them almost on a daily basis and I always have a good time with them. If I didn’t have that I probably would want to leave.”
The takeaway for Brady in telling his story is: “People see something and make a judgment, but there’s usually a bigger picture behind that and they might not have all the facts.”