The Skin We’re In: A Year of Resistance and Power, by Desmond Cole. Doubleday, 2020. ISBN 9780385686341
July 2020 – Some white people might find Desmond Cole’s blunt talk in his book The Skin We’re In provocative: “The Canadian government and its institutions are the products of a white supremacist ideology that claims this land as the property of a white European colonial government.” It’s not something we usually like to hear. As a country we have a tendency to polish our halo when it comes to racism. It’s refreshing to hear someone drill down through all our sanctimoniousness. “This idea that Canada’s racial injustices are not as bad as they could be – this notion of slavery lite, of racism lite, of what my friend calls the ‘toy version of racism’ – is a very Canadian way of saying ‘remember what we could do to you if we wanted to.’”
Cole isn’t just throwing gasoline on the fire. The book documents the experiences of black people in this country and the pattern of abuse at the hands of various police departments. Cole is deeply involved in his community and tells the stories with far more detail than one normally receives from the media.
I found this especially so in his chapter dissecting the police practise of “carding”, but for the purpose of this web site, the chapter on the infamous Toronto Pride Parade of 2016 is also revealing. You may recall that Black Lives Matter – Toronto (BLM -TO) stopped the parade to make demands of Pride organizers, including the removal of police floats in Pride marches and parades.
I was interested to know what was going on at the time, but most of my information came from the mainstream media which I now find didn’t present the entire story. I was inclined to think that not engaging the police in meaningful dialogue to improve relations was self defeating, but in reading this chapter I realized I had been naive. The behaviour of the Toronto police toward Black LGBTQ people over the years spoke far more loudly than the pinkwashing going on at the Parade. Unfortunately, Toronto Pride was also complicit in this.
Black trans people were at the forefront of much of this activism. According to Syrus Marcus Ware of BLM-TO, who is trans, the “idea that we could be black and queer, black and trans, is unfathomable to too many people in our community.”
Cole is clearly not of the opinion that the police can be reformed. Since the killing of George Floyd, calls to defund the police have become common, but his skepticism runs deeper. The police do not act in isolation. “Rather, they are carrying out the will of Canada’s white majority.”
Passionate yet strongly argued books like this and Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Anti-Racist are what we need right now. They cut through so much of the fog about race that has enveloped this country for too long. They also recognize that the oppression of trans folks is part of this big picture, and that we are all in this together.
For more on Black trans folks in Toronto, here’s a link to a recent piece on the CBC site: