Colour me complicated

In Arts & Life /

Ryerson alumni Sherien Barsoum’s documentary Colour Me hits home with issues about racism and identity. Susana Gomez-Baez reports

Toronto is considered a mosaic — a city whose diversity captures people and suggests that racism does not exist here.

In her documentary Colour Me, Sherien Barsoum, a Ryerson journalism graduate from 2002, explores the stereotypes of race and colour, as well as their impact on the lives of individuals.

The documentary will be screening throughout the month of February at different locations, including the University of Toronto.

The film narrates the journey of youth worker Anthony McLean as he mentors six adolescents in Brampton, Ont. But as he helps the teenagers deal with the difficulties of being social minorities, McLean struggles with his own.

“I always have a problem when people say ‘I’m colour-blind, I don’t see colour and I don’t see race,’” said Barsoum, 31. “I know that it’s well-intentioned but the truth of the matter is that [racism] is very much alive.”

McLean was the inspiration for the documentary, according to Barsoum. They met at a convention where he was a speaker.

McLean’s struggle began with his lack of contact with people of his own race. African-American television characters were one of McLean’s few links to his heritage.

“He’s now in his 30s with a wife and kids, but his whole life, he’s been grappling with his identity,” Barsoum said. “When he walks into a room and there’s a bunch of people who are an ethnic minority, he doesn’t really know how he should talk. So even as a grown man, he’s still grappling.”

Barsoum said that she saw this behaviour every day when she worked as a social worker with youth at risk in priority neighbourhoods. And before that, when she was at Ryerson, she said she also witnessed racism directed at her friends.

Tamara Jones, a first-year journalism student, said people assume her boyfriend is black, since she herself is mixed race. She added her boyfriend is Caucasian with blue eyes.

“With other races, no one has expectations, but if you’re a minority, they expect you to stay within that minority.”

Rodney Diverlus, vice president equity with the Ryerson Students’ Union, explained that it is this reputation as a diverse campus that makes it hard to notice racism at Ryerson. “I think this [culture of denial] is problematic and scary,” Diverlus said.

Barsoum said, Colour Me is an invitation for people to challenge the way we think about race.

“Take a step back, and before you categorize somebody, just check yourself and allow that person to come alive first and get to know them,” Barsoum said. “We’re all individuals and to have anyone assume something about us is really robbing us of who we are.”

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