Jully Black was 12 years old, and on her way to middle school with some friends, when, she said, an older white woman wasn’t happy with “the noise.”
“She looked right at me and said, ‘Shut up, n—-r b—h’ and it hit me hard. It took my breath away,” Black said.
To this day, Black said, the memory of the incident stays with her.
“Those words pretty much silenced me for a good part of my childhood. I felt embarrassed about the coil of my hair, especially when it came down to the n-word,” she said.
“Like, what is being a n—-r? What is that? Is that my skin? Is it my hair? Is it my curves?”
Global News anchor Farah Nasser spoke with Black about this experience as well as other times she was faced with discrimination as part of #FirstTimeIwasCalled — a series of interviews with high-profile Canadians about the first time they experienced racism or discrimination and how that experience affected them.
Black was born in Toronto and was the youngest of nine children. When the verbal attack happened to her, she said she immediately thought of her mother.
“I thought about my mom. Someone can call someone’s child that and to me, if she is calling me that, she is calling my mom, my sisters and my grandmother,” Black said.
WATCH: Jully Black speaks about #FirstTimeIWasCalled
The words lingered for several years after the incident happened, Black explained, adding it almost suppressed her as an artist.
“There were times where I would feel like I was too loud and it impacted my confidence,” she said.
“It took me a while to get out of that space and I would go into writing.”
WATCH: Juno Award-winning singer Jully Black opens up to ET Canada about how her mother inspired her to move on from personal struggles and reuniting long-lost family.
Black is a renowned Canadian artist who has won multiple Juno awards. She has collaborated with international artists like Sean Paul, Kardinal Offishall and Destiny’s Child, and while there were times of doubt, she said she learned to embrace her ethnicity and hopes to inspire younger generations to do the same.
“There are kids I know in the black community who are shying away from their blackness,” she said.
“We are able to — through our experiences — save someone else from that landmine and to be able to drop that baggage. … You are not what they said and you are beautiful as you are.”
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