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What we’ve been reading in anti-racism book club

What we’ve been reading in anti-racism book club

bookclub

Introduction

In 2020, the global movement for racial justice was the catalyst for Imagine Canada to take a look at our own internal and external practices and embark on an anti-racism organizational change process. While we're only a year into this process, we wanted to share one of the ways in which we’re trying to advance anti-racism internally.

From the outset, it was clear that we weren’t very good at having courageous conversations about race, racism, or other systems of oppression as an organization. We began a monthly anti-racism book club in late 2020 as a way to work on this skill. This club, open to all staff,  has been a valuable space for learning and exchange and has allowed staff to begin to build a shared vocabulary and understanding of topics related to anti-racism and anti-oppression. In this post, members of the book club are sharing their thoughts and learnings from the first seven books that we’ve read together. 

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

“For book club beginners like myself, this was a wonderful introduction to both the topic of anti-racism and participation in such a forum.  As I reflect on the powerful stories and examples given in the book, the standout learning related to the history of policing. It was both eye-opening and disturbing to come to be aware of the origins of modern policing and how they evolved from entities that were designed to control Black and Indigenous populations. A challenging starting point from which to build a healthy relationship. So much to learn.”

-Bruce MacDonald, President & CEO

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

“Trevor Noah has a gift for tackling difficult topics in an approachable and entertaining way. Noah’s racial identity as a mixed-race person fundamentally challenged the logic of the institutionalized racism of Apartheid-era South Africa and this gives him an unique perspective on issues of race. Learning about his childhood in South Africa, which continues to struggle with the legacies of colonialism, helped me look at Canada’s colonial past (and present) with fresh eyes. Some of my favourite parts of this book are Noah’s descriptions of his mother. She is a funny, tough, caring person and it is clear from his writing that Noah admires her deeply.”

-Emily Jensen, Network Engagement Coordinator

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

“This book challenged us to confront the reality of anti-Black racism in Canada, and to deconstruct the self-congratulatory myth of Canada as ‘less racist than America.’ In particular, we reflected on the formal and informal education we had each received concerning the historical and present-day experiences of Black people in Canada and compared this education with what we learned from Maynard’s book. Despite the fact that Black communities across Canada have been vocal against the violence enacted upon them by the police and the criminal justice system since the 1980s and early 1990s, many of us were not aware that this was an issue in Canada until 5 to 10 years ago. Finally, we considered the impacts of Canada’s child welfare system on Black communities and what lessons this abuse of power holds for the social sector as a whole.”

-Tamara Sandor, Coordinator, Standards Program    

The Right to be Cold: One Woman's Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic, and the Whole Planet by Sheila Watt-Cloutier

“Watt-Cloutier’s Right to Be Cold tells a visually exquisite and detailed story of her development from a young Inuk child, filled with rich Arctic Inuit culture, to becoming a human and environmental rights activist and advocate.

She meticulously uses each chapter of the book to captivate the reader in the traditional, spiritual and communal knowledge and wisdom she acquired growing up in the Inuit culture. 
Her transparency on the highs and lows experienced growing up mixed-race, especially in the Canadian government-funded residential school system, speaks further to her determination to not only protect the North, but to protect the environment that we’re all connected to, on a global scale. A good read.”

-Lai Ngoh, Assistant, Client Services

Ru by Kim Thúy
Ru by Kim Thúy is a heartbreakingly beautiful collection of fictional memories (based on the author's life) from her early years as part of Vietnam's upper class, through her time as a refugee in Malaysia with her family, to her new life in a suburb of Montreal. Thúy's writing style - she uses vignettes to paint powerful pictures in the reader's mind of each recollection - lulls you into a deeper understanding of the experiences of refugees and migrants. This book was so valuable to read as it shared a unique perspective that has continued to positively influence how I connect with people.

- Danielle Ferguson-Shivrattan, Executive Engagement Coordinator

21 Things You may not know about the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a reality by Bob Joseph

“The Indian Act, first passed in 1876 is a “piece of legislation created under colonial rule for the purpose of subjugating a group of people”. Although I knew of the existence of the Indian Act, I was, as most of us were, unfamiliar with its origins and with the extent to which it has been used over the years to control the lives of Indigenous Peoples, restrain their freedom, erase their traditions, heritage and culture, and take away opportunities to thrive. Under this law, residential schools were created and children were prohibited from speaking their languages. I was surprised and appalled by how incredibly restrictive the legislation was; for instance, in 1927 an amendment was introduced to prohibit Indigenous Peoples from going to pool rooms. This book is an essential and accessible read for anyone who is looking to educate themselves on the ongoing legacy of the Indian Act, and on the Canadian government’s relations with Indigenous Peoples.”

-Émilie Pontbriand, Manager, Marketing & External Relations

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

“Of all the books we have read so far, this one was in some ways the most intense because the events it discusses are both recent (most occurred in 2017) and local (most occurred in Toronto). Despite this, many of us were unfamiliar with them, which caused us to reflect on how the media cover issues relating to race. A couple of chapters in particular stood out for me. One was the chapter on the relationship between Black Lives Matter Toronto and Pride Toronto, which I would highly recommend to anyone trying to understand the complex issue of intersectionality. The other chapter that I found particularly interesting focused on the National Black Canadians Summit and the creation of the Federation of Black Canadians, which should be required reading for anyone engaged in advocacy work.”

-Cathy Barr, Vice-President, Research & Strategic Relationships

What’s next?

Our book club plans to take a break in July and August, but we’re excited to come back in September to read and learn more. In an effort to make the book club more accessible to those on our team who aren’t fans of reading or who simply don’t have the time to read a book every month, we’re planning to choose a documentary, movie or podcast every third month instead of a book starting this fall. 

The book club is one part of the work we’re doing to integrate anti-racism as part of our organization’s DNA. Stay tuned for more updates from our team coming soon.
 

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