Recent titles exploring Black history, Black futures, and experiences of being Black right now.
Portia White: A Portrait in Words, by George Elliott Clarke, illustrated by Lara Martina
About the book: In his unique brand of spoken word, Africadian poetry, the incomparable George Elliott Clarke explores a personal subject: his great-aunt Portia White. The result is a stirring, epic poem vibrating with energy and music that spans White's birth in 1911, a coming of age amidst the backdrop of two World Wars, and her life-long love affair with music—from singing in to directing the Cornwallis Street Baptist Church choir to her bel canto tutlege at the Halifax Conservatory of Music to her final, command performance before Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1964.
Portia White is a stunning testament to the first African Canadian to become an international star. Features vibrant illustrations by contemporary artist Lara Martina.
The Skin We're In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power, by Desmond Cole
About the book: In his 2015 cover story for Toronto Life magazine, Desmond Cole exposed the racist actions of the Toronto police force, detailing the dozens of times he had been stopped and interrogated under the controversial practice of carding. The story quickly came to national prominence, shaking the country to its core and catapulting its author into the public sphere. Cole used his newfound profile to draw insistent, unyielding attention to the injustices faced by Black Canadians on a daily basis.
Both Cole’s activism and journalism find vibrant expression in his first book, The Skin We’re In. 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.
The year also witnessed the profound personal and professional ramifications of Desmond Cole’s unwavering determination to combat injustice. In April, Cole disrupted a Toronto police board meeting by calling for the destruction of all data collected through carding. Following the protest, Cole, a columnist with the Toronto Star, was summoned to a meeting with the paper’s opinions editor and informed that his activism violated company policy. Rather than limit his efforts defending Black lives, Cole chose to sever his relationship with the publication. Then in July, at another police board meeting, Cole challenged the board to respond to accusations of a police cover-up in the brutal beating of Dafonte Miller by an off-duty police officer and his brother. When Cole refused to leave the meeting until the question was publicly addressed, he was arrested. The image of Cole walking out of the meeting, handcuffed and flanked by officers, fortified the distrust between the city’s Black community and its police force.
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.
“Where Are You From?”: Growing Up African-Canadian in Vancouver, by Gillian Creese
About the book: Metro Vancouver is a diverse city where half the residents identify as people of colour, but only one percent of the population is racialized as Black. In this context, African-Canadians are both hyper-visible as Black, and invisible as distinct communities. Informed by feminist and critical race theories, and based on interviews with women and men who grew up in Vancouver, "Where Are You From?" recounts the unique experience of growing up in a place where the second generation seldom sees other people who look like them, and yet are inundated with popular representations of Blackness from the United States.
This study explores how the second generation in Vancouver redefine their African identities to distinguish themselves from African-Americans, while continuing to experience considerable everyday racism that challenges belonging as Canadians. As a result, some members of the second generation reject, and others strongly assert, a Canadian identity.
Our Own Two Hands: A History of Black Lives in Windsor, by Irene Moore Davis
About the book: The Windsor-Essex region, nestled directly across from Detroit, enjoys popular mythos on both sides of the border as a terminus of the Underground Railroad and a beacon of Canadian tolerance and freedom. But the truth is slavery was alive and well as late as the 19th century in Windsor, and the real-life narratives of enslaved peoples have been obscured by the myths. In this thought-provoking, page-turning history, historian Irene Moore Davis centres black voices to correct the previously imbalanced histories of this era, providing a complete and full telling of the black history of the region—from the first arrival of people of African descent up to the present day.
Until We Are Free: Reflections on Black Lives Matter Canada, edited by Rodney Diverlus; Syrus Marcus Ware & Sandy Hudson
About the book: The killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012 by a white assailant inspired the Black Lives Matter movement, which quickly spread outside the borders of the United States. The movement’s message found fertile ground in Canada, where Black activists speak of generations of injustice and continue the work of the Black liberators who have come before them. Until We Are Free contains some of the very best writing on the hottest issues facing the Black community in Canada. It describes the latest developments in Canadian Black activism, organizing efforts through the use of social media, Black-Indigenous alliances, and more.
They Said This Would Be Fun: Race, Campus Life, and Growing Up, by Eternity Martis (Out in March)
About the book: A powerful, moving memoir about what it's like to be a student of colour on a predominantly white campus.
A 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.
Using her award-winning reporting skills, Eternity connects her own experience to the systemic issues plaguing students today. It's a memoir of pain, but also resilience.
The Black Prairie Archives: An Anthology, by Karina Vernon (Out in April)
About the book: The Black Prairie Archives: An Anthology recovers a new regional archive of “Black prairie” literature, and includes writing that ranges from work by nineteenth-century black fur traders and pioneers, all of it published here for the first time, to contemporary writing of the twenty-first century. This anthology establishes a new Black prairie literary tradition and transforms inherited understandings of what prairie literature looks and sounds like. It collects varied and unique work by writers who were both conscious and unconscious of themselves as black writers or as “prairie” people. Their letters, recipes, oral literature, autobiographies, rap, and poetry provide vivid glimpses into the reality of their lived experiences and give meaning to them.
The book includes introductory notes for each writer in non-specialist language, and notes to assist readers in their engagement with the literature. This archive and its supporting text offer new scholarly and pedagogical possibilities by expanding the nation’s and the region’s archives. They enrich our understanding of Black Canada by bringing to light the prairies' Black histories, cultures, and presences.
About the book: When Jackie Mittoo and Leroy Sibbles migrated from Jamaica to Toronto in the early 1970s, the musicians brought reggae with them, sparking the flames of one of Canada’s most vibrant music scenes. Professional reggae musician and scholar Jason Wilson tells the story of how reggae brought black and white youth together, opening up a cultural dialogue between Jamaican migrants and Canadians along the city’s ethnic frontlines. This underground subculture rebelled against the status quo, broke through the bonds of race, eased the acculturation process, and made bands such as Messenjah and the Sattalites household names for a brief but important time.
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