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Paving the way for a better life

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By Linda V. Carter

Linda V. Carter, who is Black, poses in a telephone booth alongside another model, who is White. They are looking at each other and having a phone conversation.

My name is Linda V. Carter and my family roots are West Indian. My mother and grandmother were from St. Kitts and my father's family is from Barbados.

As a child I enjoyed the rich, Africa-rooted loves of family, music, great food, and camaraderie to the fullest. My father was one of only a few black lawyers in Toronto, and after 30 years of practice he became the first Canadian born Black judge.

So with that background and my own early life experiences as first an international runway model and then actress and commercial spokesperson, one would think that I might not have had any struggles, based on my race and colour.

But even though my life has been joyous in my ethnicity, I have witnessed first-hand how prejudice has destroyed many of my minority friends.

For starters, as a successful Toronto lawyer, my parents were able to afford a brand new home in Etobicoke in 1958. A petition was circulated to keep them out of the all-white neighborhood, and it was instigated by another Toronto attorney! The petition failed, the instigators moved and we became comfortable neighbours for decades with families in the neighbourhood.

I take enormous pride in my heritage and have done whatever I could to celebrate West Indian and African culture. I have made great friends in the modeling and acting worlds and they accept me wholeheartedly.

However, I have had some unpleasant experiences, like being excluded from a fashion show, for which I was the choreographer at Mississauga Golf and Country Club, at the time it was quietly segregated. I remember the time I shot a dress for a catalogue, when the catalogue came out the dress was there but I had been replaced by a blonde.

It was also the practice at the time for fashion shows to only have one model of African descent in the show, and very few black models were used in catalogue photography. The belief was that outside of the urban areas the clothes would not sell if shown on black models.

Once I went for an audition for a Canadian magazine but I was informed that they couldn't use my photo for the upcoming edition because there was already a picture of a black person, (albeit only their back!) in that issue.

The roles for acting have definitely opened up for more black actors but I remember the days when you could only get a job playing a prostitute or a slave. I have gone to auditions in the past where it was written on the script "VISMIS," which was short for Visible Minority.

When I wrote and produced a documentary on my father's achievements, supported by an Omni Television grant, I delved more deeply into the racial history of our province and country. And when I did, I recognized the hardships of my ancestors even in so-called enlightened times. The upshot of those personal discoveries for me was this: I come from a line of folks of African descent who can be proud of their achievements through years of adversities. They persevered, they had hope, they worked to change things and they continue to succeed.

There's still much to be done regarding education and family support in our community. We need to keep telling younger generations about how we worked so diligently to be accepted for what should be a birthright without such struggles.

One of the things I enjoy doing is showing my documentary in schools and telling younger generations about people who have paved the way for a better life for them.