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On Jan. 28, 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted “#WelcomeToCanada” to greet immigrants and celebrate diversity. However, as The Skin We’re In investigates, 2017 was not a year of acceptance in Canada, but another year that necessitated Black resistance and power.
Journalist Desmond Cole tells the story of 2017 as a year of continued Black struggle in Canada, highlighting the crucial role of Black LGBTQ+ activists, the lack of transparency in the Toronto municipal government, and human rights violations at the provincial and federal level.
Cole previously had a column in the Toronto Star but resigned in 2017 after being discouraged from discussing anti-Black racism in Toronto, and for being reprimanded after protesting the Toronto Police sharing historical “carding” data with the RCMP.
The Skin We’re In details some of the activism Cole has engaged in since his resignation, including continued opposition to police powers and racial profiling by police. Cole recalls being stopped by police more than 50 times without justification despite having no criminal history.
The book is structured by month, beginning in January of 2017 and ending in January of 2018. Each month analyzes a different aspect of the white supremacist roots of policing and the racism prevalent across all levels of government.
The first act of police violence Cole discusses in the book is a raid on a Black-owned art gallery on New Year’s back in 2017.
Through this incident and beyond, Cole dissects how police abuse their power over Black citizens—including physical and verbal abuse, assault and even murder. While The Skin We’re In focuses heavily on state violence, Cole also addresses other issues.
One of these topics is the harmful effect police presence can have on Black and Indigenous youth. Cole explains that in Toronto, School Resource Officers—armed police in Ontario schools—were implemented in the Toronto District School Board without community input.
While Cole and other activists successfully pressured trustees to end that policy in Toronto, Resource Officers are still in the city’s Catholic schools and in Kingston schools too.
Another issue Cole discusses is the lack of representation of Black LGBTQ+ people in Pride Toronto, which came to a head in 2016 and 2017, when Black Lives Matter Toronto, which represents an intersectional group of Black activists, stalled the Toronto Pride Parade.
The ultimate idea behind The Skin We’re In is everyone has the right to equality, safety, and representation, not only white people. The persistent discrimination experienced by immigrants and people of colour, Black folks especially, show how the infamous “#WelcomeToCanada” tweet embodies a lie of acceptance and diversity that white Canadians continue to tell themselves.
Black Lives Matter, Book review
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