Hadiya is a writer, journalist and professional speaker. Her work focuses on topics such as diversity, inclusion, contemporary black culture and more. She lives and works in Toronto. She is also a fan of a good jumpsuit.
What does ‘audacity’ mean to you?
It’s doing something that’s unexpected or bold, or something that you’re not supposed to do. How dare you do that? I also think about the caucacity of things. The audacity of caucacity—when someone does some white nonsense.
I can’t sass a police officer. I can’t walk into a store and demand to see the manager and be taken seriously. Just some small things that I don’t think people realize. We are told people get to do things but really only certain people get to do certain things.
Do you have a story about the last time you felt audacious?
I’ve been audacious since I was a young child. When I was four, I had an advanced reading level—a grade 9 reading level. I was in the subway holding The Star and I was reading it and this woman sat across from us and she jokingly asked me to read the paper to her. I looked at her and I was like, “I can read it” and proceeded to read out loud (I think something about Reagan because this was in 1984). Her body language changed very quickly and she kind of shut down. When me and dad left the train, I asked my dad why that lady hated me because I could tell that she did not like that I could read. And my dad was like “Because you’re black and people don’t like it when you are smart and black”.
How dare I be a four-year old black child who could read?
Let’s talk about your article “Black Joy”.
I got asked to help Flare Magazine shape their Black History Month content and to write the lead article which was where I made the case for 'black joy’. I feel like in a lot of mainstream media, a lot of film and television and art we see black pain portrayed. So you see things like Django Unchained, or you see black men’s shootings becoming viral videos. And we never get to see those moments of regular joy. Like my sisters and I playing dress up or choreographing an entire dance routine for my parents. We don’t get to see black kids just being kids, and I think that contributes to them being seen as adults. Especially when they are young, black boys. A 13-year-old black boy is seen as a grown man when really he’s just a child.
Do you ever get pigeonholed as the black writer?
I feel like right now I’m Toronto’s poster child for diversity in terms of writing about diversity in the workplace. But at the same time, I think I’m very learned and knowledgeable about these issues so I should be the one talking about these things. But I think there’s lots of people who are also learned and knowledgeable about these subjects and so organizations should be taking care to find as many different voices speaking on these topics. Not just mine.
What do you do now? What do you want to do in the future?
I’m doing my PhD in Management at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. I’m in my last year. I used to be a Bay St. lawyer for a number of years. I still get called to the bar but I don’t practice. I am a writer. Right now I’m working on my first novel, my first screenplay, my first TV pilot. I am also a journalist. I write for publications such as Elle, Flare, The National Post, Globe and Mail, Globe on Business, Canadian Lawyers, THIS Magazine and etc.
I am part of a black women’s writers group so that has been a really great place to vent and ask questions and get support. I’m also in a black women’s book club which has been awesome because we talk about life, being a black women and we read work only by black women. It’s just nice to have a place where you don’t have to police yourself or you don’t have to explain certain things. When you say something that happens and people understand how shitty that was, they instantly understand and they instantly empathize. I didn’t realize how much that was missing from my life.
I’m taking up some coaching again. So going back into doing some ultimate frisbee. I also teach. I used to be an LSAT tutor but I’ve stopped that now. I’m a consultant and professional speaker. I give speeches on diversity, diverse talent and inclusion. I’ve pegged 2027 as when I would run to be an MP and 2035, Prime Minister of Canada—long term goals.
Did you have anybody to look up to when you were a kid? A mentor? An idol?
I didn’t have anyone to look up to, but I had a pretty well-developed sense of self, sense of ambition and, sense of self-efficacy. I had family that told me I could do anything that I wanted to do and told me I was smart enough to do that. It would be harder for me, but I was that much smarter that I would be fine.
I think I give off an intimidating aura. I think people aren’t used to black women being very sure of themselves. They expect you to be broken, or downtrodden or they get surprised. People expect women, especially, to downplay their achievements and I think sometimes that rubs people the wrong way. It shouldn’t be on me to change. I refuse to be lesser than to make other people feel better.
I’ve never been able to look up at someone who looks like me doing the things that I’ve wanted to do. Someone has to be the person to whom good things happen to. Why not me? Why can’t I be the person who excels at the job? Why can’t you?
When you were growing up, did you feel Canadian? Did you go through any identity struggles?
Yes. I didn’t feel very Caribbean. We were mostly just Canadian kids doing Canadian things. I had dance, swimming, track and school.
There are still people who don’t see me as Canadian even though I was born here. And it’s kind of silly that I’m considered less Canadian than someone whose parents or grandparents were born here when we were both born in the same place and we both grew up with similar experiences. Why does having more ancestors here make you more Canadian? It doesn’t. But people-of-colour are not naturally seen as Canadian first. They are seen as Black-Canadian, Chinese-Canadian or X-Canadian. Not just Canadian. I’m a Canadian whose parents are from Grenada. I don’t feel Grenadian, all of my formative experiences have been here.
When we think Canadian, we think white-skin colour. I’m just as Canadian as anybody else. And what does it even mean to be Canadian?
Find Hadiya on the internet at: @deejayzed