12 (Mostly) Canadian Books about Racism, Anti-Blackness, and Anti-Racism, Plus Places to Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Happy Pride Month! In honour of the original riot against police brutality that inspired Pride month and in support of #BlackLivesMatter I want to share two lists, one of people and organizations to donate to, and another of books. The intended audience for these lists are fellow white people; when I say “you” that’s who I’m talking to. (If these resources are useful for non-white people, I am glad for that as well!) The book list is of non-fiction books about racism (anti-Blackness in particular) and anti-racism. But first I want to share places where you can materially support anti-racism efforts and human rights in prisons and the justice system. Please give if you can, even if it is a small amount. If you know of an organization or fundraiser that belongs on this list, let me know! I have focused on Canadian-specific resources.

Bail Funds in Different US States  

Black Lives Matter Solidarity Fund in Nova Scotia

Black Lives Matter Toronto

Black Lives Matter Vancouver

Black Youth Helpline

Justice for Regis: Fundraiser for Regis Korchinski-Paquet

Keep6ix (“an organization that aids with the rehabilitation of young men who have been incarcerated”)

Obsidian Theatre in Toronto (“Producing, developing and supporting the Black voice”)

Support Queer Black Refugees in Kenya: Fundraiser for Canadian Refugee Organizer Seagirl Abuson

Various Fundraisers, Mostly for Black Americans

West Coast Prison Justice Society

Now onto the books! Buy these books and support the authors if you can; if not, request them from your library and/or submit a request for purchase for them and other anti-racist books that your library does not already have. Read the books. Process their ideas; maybe read them again. Share what you have learned with other white people. Incorporate what you have learned into what you say and do. You will make mistakes; learn from them and keep going.

I have mostly focused on books by Black Canadian authors and about the Canadian context. I especially want to counteract white Canadians’ self-congratulatory and ignorant tendency to compare Canada favourably to the US and say we don’t have racism here, or we never had slavery here, or police brutality and state-sanctioned violence don’t happen here. None of those things are true and these books will show you!

Bread Out Of Stone: Recollections on Sex, Recognitions, Race, Dreaming and Politics by Dionne Brand (Canadian)

I read this essay collection by Black Canadian lesbian poet legend Dionne Brand many years ago and was very glad I did (full review here). It is a sharp, personal account of, among other things: racism in Canada, education and academia, political activism, memory, capitalism, immigration, Black women’s sexuality, and writing. Most of the essays in Bread Out of Stone are written in what is for Brand a fairly prosaic style—that is, still pretty poetic because Brand is such a natural poet she just can’t help it. Many of the essays are odes to Black Toronto. One such essay is “Bathhurst,” which examines Black activism in the city, both past and present.  “Brownman, Tiger…” is a searing criticism of racism, particularly the treatment of young Black people.  Brand calls Toronto “this city which treats its white rapists and murderers like the boy next door gone unaccountably and sadly wrong.” Other essays are less descriptive and more like political theory.  I was especially interested in her theory about equality versus justice in the context of anti-racist activism:

I realized that at some point the idea of upliftment had replaced the idea of justice and that equality rather than justice had become what we were fighting for.  The distinction may be slippery, but it is a major one.  Did we want only to be equal to white people, or did we want to end exploitation and oppression?  Because to be equal to the white power structure twenty-five years ago and still today is to have the right to impose inequality.

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

In the vein of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me (both writers were inspired by the same James Baldwin essay), Chariandy writes a letter about race, identity, and belonging to his 13-year-old daughter. It’s a very sweet, tender book that while reading feels almost like you’ve stumbled upon something too personal for outside eyes, like you’re trespassing. It contains so many beautiful loving words.

Chariandy’s impetus to write this book emerged from a racist encounter that he quietly ignored while out with his then 3-year-old daughter. She asked him “What happened?” Chariandy wondered how to begin discussing race and racism with his children. He shares his own experiences growing up a visible minority (his parents are Black and South Asian immigrants from Trinidad) in the country where he was born. He looks back to his family history of slavery and indenture, tracing the effects up to the present. He tells his daughter:

You did not create the inequalities and injustices of the world, daughter. You are neither solely nor uniquely responsible to fix them. If there is anything to learn about the story of our ancestry, it is that you should respect and protect yourself; that you should demand not only justice but joy; that you should see, truly see, the vulnerability and the creativity and the enduring beauty of others.

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

The Skin We’re In focuses on one year—2017—in Toronto journalist and activist Desmond Cole’s life. Cole’s work first became well-known when he did a cover story for Toronto Life in 2015 about his own experiences with the Toronto police force’s racist practice of carding. In 2017, Cole continued his anti-racist work, facing consequences both personal and professional. He writes about attending and disrupting Toronto police board meetings demanding issues of police brutality, cover-ups, and carding be addressed. Cole was later told by his employer, The Toronto Star, that his activism violated their policies. He quit. He was also arrested after refusing to leave a meeting when the Toronto police board refused to address a police cover-up of a brutal assault of Dafonte Miller by an off-duty police officer and his brother.

Cole divides the book into chapters dealing with different issues such as immigration and Toronto Pride, often referring to the links between Black and Indigenous struggles. I can’t describe better than the blurb what this book does: “Punctur[e] the bubble of Canadian smugness and naive assumptions of a post-racial nation.” It’s also a call to action. He writes: “White supremacy keeps stepping on your toes while insisting it was an accident.”

The Hanging of Angelique: The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montreal by Afua Cooper (Canadian)

Shame on me for never having heard of this book or the woman it is about until now. Marie-Joseph Angélique was a 29-year-old enslaved Black Portugal-born woman. She maintained her innocence but was found guilty of starting a fire that burned down 46 buildings in Montreal in 1734. She was tortured after the trial, as tormentors tried to get her to name accomplices. They suspected she had not acted alone. Under duress, she confessed to the arson, but still named no one else. She was hanged, but not before she was “paraded through the city.”

This book is the culmination of Canadian historian Afua Cooper’s 15 years of research into this forgotten historical figure. Not only does The Hanging of Angelique give a picture of what Marie-Joseph Angélique’s life was like, it is also a detailed account of slavery in Canada at that time. In fact, the trial records actually “[p]redat[e] other first-person accounts by more than forty years, … constitute[ing] what is arguably the oldest slave narrative in the New World.” Cooper places Canada in the larger context of transatlantic slavery and disproves the myth that Canada has no history of slavery. That makes this book essential anti-racist unlearning for Canadians!

Until We Are Free: Reflections on Black Lives Matter in Canada edited by Rodney Diverlus, Sandy Hudson, and Syrus Marcus Ware

This is the book for the latest information and thinking on Black Lives Matter in Canada and Black Canadian anti-racist activism. Published in February of this year, this anthology features work by El Jones, Robin Maynard, Paige Galette, Sarah Jama, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, and many more. The editors are the founders of Black Lives Matter Canada. Activists write from Toronto, Halifax, Whitehorse, Waterloo, Lethbridge, Hamilton, and Los Angeles on topics including Black futures, evolution of Canadian Black activism, use of social media in organizing, intersections of Black and disabled identities, queer and trans Black communities, neglect of Black Canadian history, alliances between Black and Indigenous activists, and more! You can read an excerpt from Galette’s essay about moving to the Yukon as a Black queer person here. You can read a full review of the book on Quill & Quire. Vershawn Young writes about this book:

Until We Are Free busts myths of Canadian politeness and niceness, myths that prevent Canadians from properly fulfilling its dream of multiculturalism and from challenging systemic racism, including the everyday assaults on black and brown bodies. This book needs to be read and put into practice by everyone.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge (British)

Given Canada’s close current and historical cultural and political ties to the UK, I think it’s helpful to look at the contemporary context there in terms of racism generally and anti-Blackness specifically. Eddo-Lodge’s book began as a blog post of the same title. She was inspired to write the original post by her frustration that “discussions of race and racism in Britain were being led by those who weren’t affected by it.” Eddo-Lodge tackles topics including eradicated Black British history, white feminism, the links between race and class, and the result of white supremacy in politics. She writes:

If you are disgusted by what you see, and if you feel the fire coursing through your veins, then it’s up to you. You don’t have to be the leader of a global movement or a household name. It can be as small scale as chipping away at the warped power relations in your workplace. It can be passing on knowledge and skills to those who wouldn’t access them otherwise. It can be creative. It can be informal. It can be your job. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you’re doing something.

Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall (American)

It feels best to start off with this quotation from Kendall’s book which shows us where she’s starting this incisive book from:

One of the biggest issues with mainstream feminist writing has been the way the idea of what constitutes a feminist issue is framed. We rarely talk about basic needs as a feminist issue. Food insecurity and access to quality education, safe neighborhoods, a living wage, and medical care are all feminist issues. Instead of a framework that focuses on helping women get basic needs met, all too often the focus is not on survival but on increasing privilege. For a movement that is meant to represent all women, it often centers on those who already have most of their needs met.

For white women (like myself) who consider themselves feminist, Hood Feminism is a must-read. Feminism must be actively intersectional and stop centring the needs of white middle class women, and focus on the issues that are disproportionately affecting women of colour and/or poor women.

How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi (American)

A lot of people are (rightfully so) talking about How to Be an Anti-Racist right now, so I don’t think it needs a lot of introduction! This book is a guide to anti-racism in the American context. Particularly helpful for its introductory nature is Kendi sharing his journey to becoming an anti-racist, which includes admitting and confronting his own racist ideas and behaviour. He writes:

What’s the problem with being not racist? It is a claim that signifies neutrality. ‘I am not a racist, but neither am I aggressively anti racism.’ But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle… One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.’ The claim of ‘not racist’ neutrality is a mask for racism.

Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present by Robyn Maynard (Canadian)

Anti-Blackness is alive and well in Canada and has been for a long time, and Maynard’s entire book is here to prove it. It’s a dense book, for good reason as it covers a lot: “nearly four hundred years of state-sanctioned surveillance, criminalization and punishment of Black lives in Canada.” Maynard is also careful to pay attention to intersectional Black communities, including queer, trans, undocumented, disabled, and female Black people.

Some of the topics she addresses include the legacy of slavery in Canadian institutions, historic state-sponsored segregation, Black poverty and unemployment levels today, incarceration and policing, deportation and immigration, exploitation of Black migrant workers, disproportionate removal of Black children by the state, low school graduation rates, and more. Maynard explains why she wrote this book:

In combing through the world of research for something that would describe the realities that I was seeing [‘enormous and disproportionate levels of what can only be called state-sanctioned violence and concerted neglect of Black people’], I realized that there was still far too little literature addressing, in one place, the specificities of how criminal and immigration laws, inequitable access to work and housing and other state policies and institutions interact to shape the conditions of Black life in this country. It has become increasingly clear that none of these incidents are isolated; they are part of a larger pattern of the devaluation of Black life across Canada. I felt compelled to write this book because anti-Blackness, particularly anti-Blackness at the hands of the state, is widely ignored by most Canadians.

Shame on Me: An Anatomy of Race and Belonging by Tessa McWatt (Canadian)

Guyanese Canadian author Tessa McWatt’s memoir is a nuanced look at her own body and heritage as she grapples with the topics of race and racism. She starts with a childhood memory of being asked “What are you?” by her elementary school teacher. As a mixed-race person of Scottish, English, French, Portuguese, Indian, Amerindian, African and Chinese descent, McWatt has never had an easy answer to this harmful question. From her unique position of “having been plagued with confusion about her race all her life,” McWatt investigates the concepts of a so-called “post-racial” world, shadism, anti-Blackness, identity politics, and call-out culture. She also writes about how story–McWatt is an accomplished fiction writer–has brought her kinship and solidarity. She writes about visualizing a part of her ancestry:

I hold on to the image of my Indian ancestor squatting not because I don’t trust the science of DNA, but because it doesn’t account for all the songs or symphonies we are, or for literature, or for out of body experiences, for my father in the birds, my mother’s awe of the trees, for the perfection of being in the right life, the right body.

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo (American)

I read this book in 2018 and found it an excellent introduction to race and a lot of related concepts. A must-read for all white people, So You Want to Talk about Race is very smart but very accessible. Oluo breaks down complicated issues like police brutality, the model minority myth, micro-aggressions, intersectionality, the “N” word, privilege, and tone policing (among others) masterfully, weaving together personal stories, detailed examples, and statistics (American ones, though, FYI). This is definitely an entry-level book that feels aimed at readers at the beginning of politicized learning. If you read through audiobooks, I would definitely recommend the excellent narration by Bahni Turpin. On privilege:

We don’t want to think that we are harming others, we do not want to believe that we do not deserve everything we have, and we do not want to think of ourselves as ignorant of how our world works. The concept of privilege violates everything we’ve been told about the American Dream of hard work paying off and good things happening to good people. We want to know that if we do “a” we can expect “b”, and that those who never get “b” have never done “a”. The concept of privilege makes the world seem less safe. We want to protect our vision of a world that is fair and kind and predictable. That reaction is natural, but it doesn’t make the harmful effects of unexamined privilege less real.

Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad (British/Middle East)

If you want a practical, step-based workbooks to look critically at how white supremacy (especially unconsciously) affects you, this is it! Saad’s book aims to help you do the work of dismantling your own privilege, with the goal of stopping the damage you do on people of colour, as well as helping other white people do the same. If you’re wondering what the last part of the title refers to, Saad’s concept of being a good ancestor—“to live and work in ways that leave a legacy of healing and liberation, especially for black girls and black women”—is central to all her work. I’ll leave you with this excerpt:

You will be called out/in as you do antiracism work. Making mistakes is how you learn and do better going forward. Being called out/in is not a deterrent to the work. It is part of the work.

Please share any other resources on race, racism, anti-racism, and anti-Blackness in Canada in the comments, as well as any other Canadian organizations or fundraisers fighting racism. Again, Happy Pride Month and Black Lives Matter! None of us are free until all of us are.

About CaseytheCanadianLesbrarian

Known in some internet circles as Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, Casey Stepaniuk is a writer and librarian who holds an MA in English literature. She lives and works in the unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations (Vancouver, BC). Topics and activities dear to her heart include cats, bisexuality, libraries, queer (Canadian) literature, running, and drinking tea. She runs the website Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, where you can find reviews of LGBTQ2IA+ Canadian books, archives of the book advice column Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian, and some other queer, bookish stuff. She also writes for Autostraddle, Book Riot and Inside Vancouver. Find her on Twitter: @canlesbrarian. Some of her old reviews, especially the non-Canadian variety, can be found at the Lesbrary.
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11 Responses to 12 (Mostly) Canadian Books about Racism, Anti-Blackness, and Anti-Racism, Plus Places to Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

  1. Larissa says:

    This is a great post! I definitely have a lot of books to add to my reading list now.

  2. Kohila says:

    Great list! Are you able to add “Until We Are Free: Reflections on Black Lives Matter in Canada” to this list?
    https://uofrpress.ca/Books/U/Until-We-Are-Free

  3. Mary Chapman says:

    SHAME ON ME: AN ANATOMY OF RACE AND BELONGING, new book by Guyanese-Canadian author Tessa McWatt

  4. Anonymous says:

    Great list-thx for posting! please add White Fragility by Robin DiAngelos xoxo

  5. Hannah says:

    Hi! Thanks for the list. Please consider adding this mutual aid fund for black folks in Nova Scotia. https://ca.gofundme.com/f/black-lives-matter-solidarity-fund-ns

  6. added the ones I hadn’t heard of to my TBR

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