Black Lives Matter in Canada, Too

Last month, I showed a stack of books that constitutes part of my antiracism reading since June.

I’ve written about How to Be An Antiracist most recently, here; about Me and White Supremacy, here; and about So You Want to Talk About Race, here.

Today I want to highlight Black people in Canada. Although all people currently living in North America share history, Canada also has its own history to reckon with. And the two books below are excellent places to start.

The Skin We’re In, by Desmond Cole, has won All The Awards, and deservedly so.

Cole, a journalist and activist, writes about one year (2017) in journalism in Canada, primarily Toronto. Thirteen broad topics, all different and all depressingly the same, shed light on parts of Canada’s past and present that most of us would prefer to ignore. It’s full of research and great explanations, straight talk and vivid descriptions.

I appreciated how Cole doesn’t mince words. Early on, he sets up the reader for what to expect in the rest of the book: 

White supremacy, which informs and fuels anti-Black racism, is an insatiable force. White supremacy is never personal, never individual, never isolated  (7).

And then he begins. Going month by month through the year and bringing history in when illuminating, he sets out stories that allow readers to make connections. 

For example, I better understand the reasons for the distrustful relationship between Black communities and “law enforcement.” It reminds me of how listening to the initial 2017 season of Connie Walker’s true crime podcast, Missing & Murdered, showed me why Indigenous people don’t “just call the RCMP.”

Cole also considers a broad range of racial injustice—indigenous water rights, immigrants from the U.S. and Somali refugees. It’s brutal, and it’s personal. And well worth reading.

As is the other book, Black Writers Matter. Edited by Whitney French, who also introduces and contributes a chapter, and with a foreword by Dr. Afua Cooper, the anthology is divided into sections: Everyday People, Letters to Community, and Black Writers Matter.

The voices vary widely, from interviews and panel discussions to academic writing. Some author names are familiar to Canadian readers (Chelene Knight, Rowan McCandless, and Eternity Martis), while others aren’t. Yet.

All are distinctive and insightful. In “The Place That Is Supposed To Be Safe,” Angela Wright considers her schooling, especially the influence of an Indigenous teacher on her understanding of the place she lives and the system that governs it.

It was the first time someone explained Canada was not just a place; Canada was also a time. It was impossible to draw a start date, showing when the land began. But the beginning of Canada was clear. It was the year someone from another place decided to give the land a new name (104).


That’s a very different understanding of history than the one I learned, and I’m grateful to have read it.

In “Memorialty,” Christelle Saint-Julien considers her tendency to document her life, and the role memory plays in the contemporary world. 

Deliberately remembering allows you to rewrite the narrative. It is my own story that I’m trying to recount, to understand situations through and in the time, place, and people that made and shape me (162-163).

My interests--dementia and creative nonfiction, as well as fiction, not to mention the process of examining the stories we all tell ourselves to get through a pandemic day--dovetailed neatly with her insights.

Of course, it's irresistible to contemplate how we'd tell the story of the pandemic year. But I'm not sure that this year is more important than other times, places, and peoples. Nor more important than the stories we've lost over the decades, or the stories we heard from one perspective only--that of the history books. 

These examples from Black Writers Matter are picked at random. There is so much to learn from these writers and the breadth and depth of the experiences they share.

I hope Canadians make an effort to seek them out—both the anthology and Cole’s book. We have a lot of listening to do.