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Wednesday, August 5, 2020
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DiversityTips & Training

5 books on racism and social justice from Black Canadian authors

 Over the past week, thousands of people have come together in protests across Canada – from Kitchener, ON to Calgary, from Halifax to Vancouver – in solidarity with massive U.S. demonstrations prompted by the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer who kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes. The protests have also called attention to racism and inequality within Canada’s borders. They have left many people wondering, how do we do better? This is an important consideration for career professionals, given how racism and privilege shape who can access opportunities in education and the labour market. By raising their awareness of how discrimination affects people in the hiring process, in the workforce and beyond, career professionals can play an active role in dismantling discriminatory structures and help all people to reach their potential.  

I am not in a position to tell others how to be a good ally, as a white woman. These book recommendations have been compiled from lists put together by experts on the subjects of anti-Black racism and anti-racism. If you have other book recommendations on these topics, please share them in the comments section below. 

Of course, we cannot talk about racism in Canada without talking about the entrenched, systemic racism perpetuated against Indigenous people in this country. Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was released a year ago, but the federal government has not yet delivered on its promise of an action plan to implement the report’s calls to justice. While this article does not cover books about racism against Indigenous people and their experiences in Canada, it is imperative that Canadians educate themselves about this reality as well.  

This article specifically highlights Canadian books, but there are also numerous books by American authors being recommended by experts to learn about racism and anti-racism. 

I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You: A Letter to My Daughter by David Chariandy 

When a moment of quietly ignored bigotry prompted his three-year-old daughter to ask “what happened?” David Chariandy began wondering how to discuss with his children the politics of race. A decade later, in a newly heated era of both struggle and divisions, he writes a letter to his now 13-year-old daughter. Chariandy is the son of Black and South Asian migrants from Trinidad, and he draws upon his personal and ancestral past, including the legacies of slavery, indenture, and immigration, as well as the experiences of growing up a visible minority within the land of one’s birth. In sharing with his daughter his own story, he hopes to help cultivate within her a sense of identity and responsibility that balances the painful truths of the past and present with hopeful possibilities for the future. 

The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power by Desmond Cole  

Puncturing the bubble of Canadian smugness and naive assumptions of a post-racial nation, Cole chronicles just one year – 2017– in the struggle against racism in this country. It was a year that saw calls for tighter borders when Black refugees braved frigid temperatures to cross into Manitoba from the States, Indigenous land and water protectors resisting the celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday, police across the country rallying around an officer accused of murder, and more. Month-by-month, Cole creates a comprehensive picture of entrenched, systemic inequality. Urgent, controversial and unsparingly honest, The Skin We’re In is destined to become a vital text for anti-racist and social justice movements in Canada, as well as a potent antidote to the all-too-present complacency of many white Canadians. 

Black Writers Matter, edited by Whitney French 

An anthology of African-Canadian writing, Black Writers Matter offers a cross-section of established writers and newcomers to the literary world who tackle contemporary and pressing issues with beautiful, sometimes raw, prose. As editor Whitney French says in her introduction, Black Writers Matter “injects new meaning into the word diversity [and] harbours a sacredness and an everydayness that offers Black people dignity.” An “invitation to read, share, and tell stories of Black narratives that are close to the bone,” this collection feels particular to the Black Canadian experience. 

They Said This Would Be Fun by Eternity Martis 

booksmart kid from Toronto, Eternity Martis was excited to move away to Western University for her undergraduate degree. But as one of the few Black students there, she soon discovered that the campus experiences she’d seen in movies were far more complex in reality. Over the next four years, Eternity learned more about what someone like her brought out in other people than she did about herself. She was confronted by white students in blackface at parties, dealt with being the only person of colour in class and was tokenized by her romantic partners. She heard racial slurs in bars, on the street and during lectures. And she gathered labels she never asked for: Abuse survivor. Token. Bad feminist. But, by graduation, she found an unshakeable sense of self – and a support network of other women of colour. 

Policing Black Lives by Robyn Maynard  

Delving behind Canada’s veneer of multiculturalism and tolerance, Policing Black Lives traces the violent realities of anti-blackness from the slave ships to prisons, classrooms and beyond. Robyn Maynard provides readers with the first comprehensive account of over 400 years of state-sanctioned surveillance, criminalization and punishment of Black lives in Canada. 

While highlighting the ubiquity of Black resistance, Policing Black Lives traces the still-living legacy of slavery across multiple institutions, shedding light on the state’s role in perpetuating contemporary Black poverty and unemployment, racial profiling, law enforcement violence, incarceration, immigration detention, deportation, exploitative migrant labour practices, disproportionate child removal and low graduation rates. 


Are you interested in writing about how racism and discrimination intersect with career development? Email Editor Lindsay Purchase, lindsay@ceric.ca. New writers welcome.

Lindsay Purchase Administrator
Lindsay Purchase oversees CERIC’s tri-annual magazine, Careering, and the CareerWise website, along with the CareerWise Weekly newsletter. She has a background in journalism, having worked previously as a digital editor and reporter. Lindsay is a graduate of Wilfrid Laurier University’s Global Studies program.
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Lindsay Purchase Administrator
Lindsay Purchase oversees CERIC’s tri-annual magazine, Careering, and the CareerWise website, along with the CareerWise Weekly newsletter. She has a background in journalism, having worked previously as a digital editor and reporter. Lindsay is a graduate of Wilfrid Laurier University’s Global Studies program.
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