The Skin We're In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power
Both Cole's activism and journalism find vibrant expression in his first book, The Skin We're In. Puncturing once and for all the bubble of Canadian smugness and naive assumptions of a post-racial nation, Cole chronicles just one year-2017-in the struggle against racism in this country. It was a year that saw calls for tighter borders when African refugees braved frigid temperatures to cross into Manitoba from the States, racial epithets used by a school board trustee, a six-year-old girl handcuffed at school. It was also a year of solidarity between Indigenous people and people of colour in Canada, a commitment forged in response to sesquicentennial celebrations that ignored the impact of violent conquest and genocide.
The year also witnessed the profound personal and professional ramifications of Desmond Cole's unwavering determination to combat injustice. In April, Cole disrupted a Toronto police board meeting by calling for the destruction of all data collected through carding. Following the protest, Cole, a columnist with the Toronto Star, was summoned to a meeting with the paper's opinions editor and was informed that his activism violated company policy. Rather than limit his efforts defending Black lives, Cole chose to sever his relationship with the publication. Then in July, at another TPS meeting, Cole challenged the board publicly, addressing rumours of a police cover-up of the beating of Dafonte Miller by an off-duty police officer and his brother. A beating so brutal that Miller lost one of his eyes, and that went uninvestigated for four months. When Cole refused to leave the meeting until the question was publicly addressed, he was arrested. The image of Cole walking, handcuffed and flanked by officers, out of the meeting fortified the distrust between the city's Black community and its police force. (A trespassing charge against Cole will be challenged in the new year as a violation of his right to freedom of expression.)
In a month-by-month chronicle, Cole locates the deep cultural, historical and political roots of each event so that what emerges is a personal, painful and comprehensive picture of entrenched, systemic inequality. Urgent, controversial and unsparingly honest, The Skin We're In is destined to become a vital text for anti-racist and social justice movements in Canada, as well as a potent antidote to the all-too-present complacency of many white Canadians.
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