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Ebony Roots, Northern Soil: Perspectives on Blackness in Canada


Ebony Roots, Northern Soil is a powerful and timely collection of critical essays exploring the experiences, histories and cultural engagements of black Canadians. Drawing from postcolonial, critical race and black feminist theory, this innovative anthology brings together an extraordinary set of well-recognized and new scholars engaging in the critical debates about the cultural politics of identity and issues of cultural access, representation, production and reception. Emerging from a national conference in 2005, the book records, critiques and yet transcends this groundbreaking event. Drawn from a range of disciplines including Art History, Communication Studies, Cultural Studies, Education, English, History and Sociology, the chapters examine black contributions to and participation within the realms of popular music, television and film, the art world, museums, academia and social activism. In the process, the burning issues of access to cultural capital, the practice of multiculturalism, definitions of black Canadianness and the state of Black Canadian Studies are dissected. Attentive to issues of sexuality and gender as well as race, the book also explores and challenges the dominance of black Americanness in Canada, especially in its incarnation as hip hop. Acknowledging a differently constituted and heterogeneous black Canadianness, it contemplates the possibility of an identity in dialogue with, and yet distinct from, dominant ideals of African-Americanness.

Ebony Roots also explores the deficit in Black Canadian Studies across the nation’s universities, drawing a line between the neglect of black Canadian populations, histories and experiences in general and the resulting lack of an academic disciplinary infrastructure. Poignant blends of the personal and the political, the chapters are both scholarly in their critical insights and rigour and daring in their honesty. Ebony Roots defiantly foregrounds the often-disavowed issues of institutional racism against blacks in Canadian academia, education and cultural institutions as well as the injurious effects of everyday racism. In so doing, the book challenges the myth of Canada as a racially benevolent and tolerant state, the great white north free from racism and the legacy of colonialism. Instead the very definitions of Canada and black Canadianness are unpacked and explored. Ebony Roots is a necessary history lesson, a contemporary cultural debate and a call to action. It is a momentous and overdue contribution to Black Canadian Studies and a must read for academics, students and the general public alike.

This [book] indeed makes a significant contribution to studies on race and in particular race in Canada, it attempts to separate issues of race from that in the US, clearly delineating key areas of differences, this study to my knowledge is unparalleled. It is also fresh, nuanced, and contemporaneous, exploring such topics as hospitality and urban music (hip-hop) and dress. The book will also be relevant for university administration and politicians wanting to take seriously the issue of race in the academy and in government.
– Professor Sandra Jackson, Director, Center for Black Diaspora, DePaul University, Chicago, USA

I believe that this book would make a significant contribution to the field [it is] breaking new ground. Much like the works that gave birth to African American and Black Studies in the US, this book asserts the importance of examining race and its working foregrounding the academy. It poses issues salient to not only the curriculum and pedagogy, but also matters related to inclusion of black faculty and other faculty of color. When these things are critically examined, and realities laid bare, then they can no longer be ignored or seen as the mere imaginings of Others. I would also highly recommend it to Vice Presidents of Diversity and Provosts or Chancellors of Academic Affairs who are responsible for exercising leadership in implementing institutional commitment to diversity.
– Professor Jude Nixon, Dean of Arts and Science, Salem State University, USA

Cite this book: Charmaine A. Nelson, ed., Ebony Roots, Northern Soil: Perspectives on Blackness in Canada (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Scholars’ Press, 2010)


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