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Writing against injustice

Acclaimed author and activist Desmond Cole is working to dispel notions that we live in a post-racial Canada.

Desmond Cole

Desmond Cole. Image by Kate Yang-Nikodym.

On February 5, 2020, AGO Futures – the talk series that brings leading authors, curators and artists to the AGO’s stage – welcomed author and thought leader Desmond Cole to discuss his new book, The Skin We’re In, in conversation with writer NourbeSe Philip.

Ahead of his talk, we connected with Cole to find out more about his book and the complex concepts it explores.

AGO: In your new book you talk about the concept of a “post-racial nation”. Can you tell us what that means?

Cole: I think the idea of a "post-racial nation" was created by white people who don't want to deal with racism. Canada continues to enforce an Indian Act after 150 years so we are hardly post-racial. Race in Canada is directly linked to rates of poverty, incarceration, education and income. White Canadians may want to believe they live in a post-racial country, but that willful ignorance can't erase the realities Black people are living.

AGO: Where does the title of your book come from?
Cole: This title came out of my 2015 Toronto Life essay, The Skin I'm In. I pluralized it for this book because, although I narrate and share a few personal experiences, this book focuses on the broader struggles of Black Canadians. 

AGO: You’ve done such an impeccable job of chronicling the contemporary Black experience in Toronto and Canada. Do you have any plans to examine international stories?

Cole: If those opportunities materialize I would like to cover international stories, as I did when I travelled to Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 to cover the uprising for Mike Brown and against anti-Black racism. But I'll continue to focus most of my work in Canada, where mainstream journalism is so devoid of Black storytelling. 

AGO: How can cultural institutions help in battling the injustices faced by Black Canadians?

Cole: Invite Black artists into your spaces and don't censor them! Stop using the language of diversity, multiculturalism and tolerance because we need to talk about racism, white supremacy and Black liberation.

AGO: What insight do you hope attendees will gain from your AGO talk on February 5?

Cole: I'm very lucky to be in conversation with NourbeSe Philip, who's been writing, thinking about and fighting for Black liberation in Canada for decades. I hope the audience will reflect on the length of that struggle, the insufficiency of incremental approaches, and the need for language and activism that can truly free us.

Incase you missed the talk, take a listen below.

AGO Talks: Futures: Desmond Cole
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