February 12th, 2021

The Skin We're In by Desmond Cole

The Skin We're in by Desmond Cole was one of my Christmas presents from my wife. Armed with a picture of a book, she went out and purchased it for me. Armed with some free time during Christmas holiday's I had the privilege of embarking on a hard look in the mirror at the racism problem in Canada.

The Skin We're In is a monthly snapshot of Black life and the violent racism exacted on those that aren't white in Canada1.

I couldn't begin to highlight all the documented violence in this book. I feel appalled at how Canadian media and white people brush away this violence unless Black people make a huge event of it. I am angry that when Black people don't complain in the mild "approved" ways we discount the issues that they live with daily.

We Like to Think that Racism isn't a Canadian problem

I feel like I've said this when I've talked about other books. That racism in Canada is much more directed at First Nations, but this book strongly pushed that notion away. At the very least it's a problem of the past as shown in Words Have a Past via the newspapers of residential schools. The truth is that I'm a white dude, so I wouldn't encounter this systemic racism in any fashion as I exist in society. The world is my safe space.

That is not the experience of millions of my fellow Canadians. Where I have a hard time seeing the police and other government institutions as a way to discipline Black people on behalf of the ruling class2, that is the experience of most policing for Black and First Nations peoples. While I don't love paying my taxes all the time, I don't view it as supporting my own persecution at the hands of the police forces I'm funding, but that's the experience of many others3. They pay taxes only to see the fruits of their labours come back to them in oppression and racism.

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. To maintain it’s stolen land, the government is engaged in an ongoing, centuries-long genocide of Indigenous peoples. Our government is designed to assimilate or eradicate Indigenous peoples, and unfortunately it works exactly as it was designed to. 4

We in fact hide much of the violence that white people exact on Black bodies behind the word policing5. Cole calls attention to many instances in Toronto of egregious conduct by police in Toronto where no charges were laid and violent racist officers continue to serve on the force.

Canada has taken the old pass system used to take away the mobility of First Nations as Canada stole their children6 and turned it into carding7. Police stop and ask for identification then record the information even when someone isn't reasonably suspected of a crime. Those carded are overwhelmingly Black and it supposes that the very existence of Black people on the streets is worth suspicion8.

Where Canadians applaud themselves for being the final destination for black slaves on the underground railroad, you didn't escape colonialism and oppression because you crossed a invisible line on some land9. You only have to look at immigration laws to see this. They only came about after a bunch of white people stole land from the First Nations and then decided to exclude others from sharing in that theft. Predominantly immigration laws favour more white people10 because they look like the white people enforcing the rules.

Should You Read The Skin We're In by Desmond Cole?

Yup...no qualifications. You should especially read it if you're Canadian and under some illusion that racism as you see in the US doesn't happen hear. You just don't see it and tell yourself that we're better in Canada.

I think that we're just better at hiding it from ourselves. We simply put a better face on it. Canada's racism is like the emperor with no clothes on, but most of us are ignoring the truth as it's called out in front of us.

Purchase The Skin We're in by Desmond Cole: Independent Bookstore | Amazon


  1. Page 17 

  2. Page 4 

  3. See Scratch Page 139 

  4. Page 8 

  5. Page 20 

  6. See Words Have a Past 

  7. Page 63 

  8. Page 65 

  9. Page 160 

  10. Page 158