A book that explores racism by a Black Canadian author(s)
By C.J. Zvanitajs
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are living in a time of uncertainty, but also one of heightened divisiveness. With global protests against systemic racism by police and race-related confrontations being posted to social media on a daily basis, issues related to intolerance and inequality are top of mind, and deeply troubling. For those of us in Canada, the red flags raised by the Black Lives Matter movement in Canada, and the recognition of decades of social and racial injustice against Indigenous people, have only brought these issues closer to home. We are left wondering: What can we do to stop this? How can we all do better?
While books and reading won’t end the racism and discrimination in the world, they can serve to help us understand how racism is entrenched in our society, and the impact it has had on the lives of people of colour. Books can educate us, teach us empathy, and give us hope for change and a tomorrow where we are all seen and treated as equals.
Here are four books by Black Canadian authors that explore living with racism in Canada:
Uncle: On Race, Nostalgia, and the Politics of Loyalty, by Cheryl Thompson
Jackie Robinson, President Barack Obama, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, O. J. Simpson and Christopher Darden have all been accused of being an Uncle Tom during their careers. How, why, and with what consequences for our society did Uncle Tom morph first into a servile old man and then to a racial epithet hurled at African American men deemed, by other Black people, to have betrayed their race?
Uncle Tom, the eponymous figure in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s sentimental anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was a loyal Christian who died a martyr’s death. But soon after the best-selling novel appeared, theatre troupes across North America and Europe transformed Stowe’s story into minstrel shows featuring white men in blackface. In Uncle, Cheryl Thompson traces Tom’s journey from literary character to racial trope. She explores how Uncle Tom came to be and exposes the relentless reworking of Uncle Tom into a nostalgic, racial metaphor with the power to shape how we see Black men, a distortion visible in everything from Uncle Ben and Rastus The Cream of Wheat chef to Shirley Temple and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson to Bill Cosby.
In Donald Trump’s post-truth America, where nostalgia is used as a political tool to rewrite history, Uncle makes the case for why understanding the production of racial stereotypes matters more than ever before.
The Skin We're In, by Desmond Cole (Available on Audible Canada)
Written by renowned Toronto journalist and activist, Desmond Cole, The Skin We’re In discusses the issues related to systemic racism and injustice as experienced by Black Canadians, including himself. It includes events such as the rise of Black Lives Matter in Toronto, the killing of Abdirahman Abdi in Ottawa by police, the attack on Dafonte Miller by two off-duty police officers, and his own confrontations with the Toronto Police Board. Scathing and controversial, Desmond Cole’s book serves as a wake-up call that while Canada is multicultural and accepting of others, racism has always been a part of our society and there’s still much work for us to do.
Finish this Sentence, by Leslie Roach
Leslie Roach is a poet and lawyer. Finish this Sentence shares her personal experience dealing with racism and what she needed to do to heal from the trauma. She found a path by shedding an outworn identity, walking away from the voices in her head, and seeing the irony and the power within herself. Awakening to these truths helped the author to find peace, as well as the strength to overcome her pain and suffering, and what she learned may help others heal too.
Saga Boy: My Life of Blackness and Becoming, by Antonio Michael Downing (Available on Audible Canada)
Saga Boy is an account of the author’s journey from Trinidad to Canada where he has been sent to live with his strict aunt in an isolated region of Northern Ontario. He experiments with different musical personalities and rebellious behaviour to escape his longing for what’s missing in his life. A disastrous reunion with his parents only leads to more bad decisions until he has to face the truth about his identity. Saga Boy is a soul-stirring yet hopeful story about a lonely immigrant boy who overcomes his heartbreak and abandonment by embracing his rich Trinidadian heritage through music and drama.