Friends gather after the Toronto Caribbean Carnival Parade, also known as Caribana, photo by Cherryl Bird

Life is a Parade

What do you do when you’re alone, without communication devices, in an unfamiliar city in the middle of a festival with a million revellers from seven continents?  Well, a New Yorker would go back to the car and wait patiently until her friends came to the same conclusion.

Ebony, after the Toronto Caribbean Carnival Parade, also known as Caribana photo by Cherryl Bird
Ebony, after the Toronto Caribbean Carnival Parade, also known as Caribana
photo by Cherryl Bird

Ebony was off the parade route and dressed in mas costume, looking pretty much like Caribbean Showgirl Barbie.  Remember when Bridget Jones didn’t get the memo that said it wasn’t a costume party after all and showed up to a semi-formal garden affair wearing a Playboy Bunny suit?

Needless to say, Ebony attracted lots of attention, with sun-kissed, glittering, cocoa skin, a jewelled bikini top and bottom, a feathered headdress, and golden, faux work-boots for a long day of dancing in the streets.

When I walked by her sitting on an iron bench between two giant planters filled with flowers, I had to go back to tell her how cute she looked, albeit a little sad, for someone who was just at a parade.  I asked her permission to take pictures, so it was no surprise to hear that others wanted to do the same thing.

Ebony cordially obliged the kids who wanted to talk to her and try on her hat, even the adults.”People came and sat beside me, passed by and took pictures.” It was fine until “some people commented on my skin, were touching me and touching my hair .”

She was in one of the most burgeoning neighbourhoods in the city.   Add some condo towers to Soho or Williamsburg and you have Liberty Village (LV).  Educated, worldly people live in LV, just a short distance from the Exhibition Place and Lakeshore Boulevard parade headquarters, downtown.

The comments were not necessarily negative, in fact they were the opposite.  But she was offended that perfect strangers felt that they had the right to take pictures of her, touch her, comment on her skin, feel her hair without permission, like they were petting a puppy.  It’s a problem!  What’s the definition of assault again?

I found myself apologizing to Ebony for the behaviour of my neighbours.  Living in one of the most multicultural cities in the world, it seems that some people are still not used to interacting with those who are different from themselves.

Upon meeting someone for the first time, would you expect them to reach out and feel your hair and touch your skin?

Kids may not have a filter or full awareness of the impact of their actions, but adults do – or they should, unless they have some cognitive challenges.

Oh no, what? I’m sorry, I said,  as I didn’t believe that they intentionally made her feel uncomfortable, objectified. I don’t believe they had negative intentions, I told her; however, they did cross the line.  You don’t touch a person’s hair and skin – especially a stranger’s, and especially not when they are alone, scantily dressed and feeling vulnerable.  A person with less fortitude would feel victimized.

It should not have been necessary for her to conjure up extra strength to deal with a pretty benign situation.

The story has a happy ending as she was reunited with her group of friends about two-and-a-half hours later.  And, because she has nerves of steel to match her social etiquette. If only people would think before they act – if only Torontonians were as cosmopolitan as they pretend to be.

I can only hope that they weren’t from Toronto, that they were out-of-towners, because Torontonians tend to treat people with respect, especially when they are guests.

by Cherryl Bird
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Add your comments about this story in the space below:

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.