A Toronto journalist, activist and author is in Winnipeg Tuesday to talk about his new book and why it’s important to talk about racism in Canada – no matter how uncomfortable the topic might be.
Desmond Cole, author of The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power, told 680 CJOB his book is a look at one year – 2017 – in the struggle against racism in this country, as well as a historical deep dive and a month-by-month look at Cole’s own experiences with racism as a Black man.
Cole – who has written for publications ranging from the Toronto Star to BuzzFeed to The Walrus – said writing the book was a very different experience from his comfort zone as a journalist.
“(With) newspapers, which I’ve written a lot for over the years, and magazines… space is a factor, and timing is a very big factor in the news as well. We want things that are relevant to what’s happening in the day, happening in the week, previewing something that’s coming up. You can take a step back in a book.
“I could also pull way back and go more into the history of Black Canada, of colonialism, of white supremacy and the theft of this land from Indigenous people and say, when you hear a story and you hear the word ‘racism’… people get shocked by this language.
“Now I can put all of those things into context and I feel like I don’t have to rush.”
Although The Skin We’re In focuses on 2017 specifically, Cole said it could have focused on any year in Canada’s history, and the same issues would have been present.
“I wanted to have a container to try and frame different stories around education, child welfare, the police, obviously… the prison system in this country, and how those institutions are affecting Black people.
“I could’ve written about 2019 and the leader of this country donning blackface more times than he could remember.
“It’s amazing how easily Canada reproduces anti-Black racism and then just asks Black people to get over it.”
The struggles faced by Black Canadians, Cole said, are reflected in Indigenous protest movements like the Wet’suwet’en solidarity protests.
“There’s going to be a march today, a Wet’suwet’en solidarity march,” he said. “Why is that happening? Because after hundreds of years of colonialism, Indigenous peoples are still saying, ‘You don’t own the land, you don’t own the water, you don’t own the air and the resources, and you have to protect them… and you’re not listening, and we’ve been telling you this for hundreds and hundreds of years.’
“That’s the frame for my existence here as a Black person, is that this is a British colonial occupied space. It does not belong to the governments that say it’s their land, it does not belong to the police, it does not belong to the RCMP… but they have taken this land by force.
“We don’t like to look in the mirror in Canada, and this book was an opportunity for me to make us do that.”
Cole will be at McNally Robinson Booksellers to sign copies of The Skin We’re In and talk about the issues in its pages at 7 p.m. Thursday.
The event is being hosted by grassroots community organization Black Space Winnipeg.
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