The Drum Roll Please– the best book I’ve read in 2018

The best book I’ve read so far this year is  winner of the  2017 Toronto Book Award.  

In the Black: My Life is by B Denham Jolly.  At nearly 80 years of age, it is his first book and what a fantastic book it is.  Jolly came to Canada from a rural town in Jamaica in the mid-1950s.  He came to study agriculture and science, first in Toronto, then in Guelph, then in Truro, NS, and finally at McGill.   Still, he considered Toronto, where he now lives, his home.  

in-the-blackRacist reaction toward him grew with the growth of the Black population in the country, and frankly with his increased success and wealth in his life.  

The book begins with this paragraph: “When you are Black in Canada, the arrival of the police on the scene is not always, or even often, reassuring.”  After 5 decades in Canada, this was how he prefaced a cop’s response to him having had a minor car accident in Toronto’s Cabbagetown in 2013.  It had been a mere fender-bender; but a cop came to the scene and  ordered  Jolly to call a tow truck and get his car towed. Jolly “very politely”  assured the policeman it was a minor dent and he could drive it to a garage.  The cop then “escalated” in his response. “What do I have to do to make sure you do, put a gun in your face?” 

Terrified and angered by the cop’s viciousness  — Jolly called a tow truck, and then launched a complaint with Toronto Police.  At first the department excused the officer, saying he was already in trouble for losing  his cool. Jolly found out this was untrue, just said to deter him.   Jolly complained all the way up to the chief of police, (now Liberal Cabinet minister) Bill Blair.  The police said they could not ‘substantiate’ the facts of  Jolly’s complaint– meaning he lied. Then Jolly saw the police report which began with “The complainant, a seventy-seven-year-old Jamaican immigrant…”.  Jolly had lived in Canada for 55 years, but he understood, in his words, “Who would believe a Jamaican immigrant?”  

The book soars. He writes about the Black Action Defence Committee, The Coalition of Visible Minority Women, Dudley Laws, Charlie Roach and the murders of dozens of young blacks by the police — and how the police managed to be exonerated every time. He writes about the nearly 8 year battle Dudley Laws had to fight as he was entrapped by the Toronto Police, the RCMP and the US border police who laid charges that he was smuggling immigrants.  The fight to have the charges dropped and clear his name, cost Laws between half a million and one million dollars (in 1998). In one whole chapter he names the names of the young black men killed, what happened to them and the policemen who had the charges against them dropped.  That was the most staggering chapter.   

I think I passed by  Mr Jolly a few times.  He used to teach at the posh Forest Hill Collegiate in Toronto, where I went to high school (I was expelled in Gr XIII but that’s another story).  I was not in the science stream, everyone was ‘streamed’ in those days, but some of my friends who wanted to go into medicine or dentistry had him for biology, I  remember.  I wish I could have known him — maybe I still can.  Weary of the racism of education bureaucrats,  he became an entrepreneur and, for more than a decade in the 1990s, owned the first  Black music station in Toronto, the Flow 93.5.  It featured hip-hop, R&B and even helped give Drake a start.  When he and some investors went for help to his local MP, the MP put his feet up on his desk and the Black businessmen were forced to talk to the soles of his white man’s shoes. 

Read this spell-binding, racially-infused account of the last 55 years of Canada forms an autobiography that resists and does not mince words.   It’s in the Halifax Public Library, or you can buy it.

More about Jolly:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denham_Jolly

 

Bedtime reading…short and disturbing….

Two dazzling short stories, by 2 American masters.  For  Joyce Carol Oates this was her first or second published short story. Region of Ice  is an amazing and luminous story — read it tonite. OatesJoyceCarol15-258 Joyce Carol Oates

One day I heard John Cheever’s

cheeverthe late John Cheever

The Five-Forty-Eight read on a New Yorker Magazine broadcast.  It was brilliant, even feminist, and you can read it here.

Of course my current favourite is our very own Canadian Margaret Atwood.  Her short stories soar in every way. This one, the title story in this book,  stonemattressThe Stone Mattress is outstanding, macabre and oh NOT so gentle.  Read it here

What to read, what to watch….

I’m a fan of Ken Loach. If you want to understand working class family life, how single mothers were treated in the 60s, and the ever present forms of authority and policing of women, and see London before the swinging 60s, you must watch Loach’s first film, Cathy Come Home.  You can watch it on Youtube, anytime. cathyWhile I’m talking about what to watch, the public library lends The State I’m In.  This is a must-see for anyone who lived on the serious left thru the 70s and 80s. Christian Petzold is one of my favourite filmmakers, and his film will leave you shaken —  state-im-inThe library also has a another film about runaways — with lofty ideals. It’s called Workers for the Good Lord, and I recommend it.workers-lordWhat I would not rush to read are two books written by local writers.  Pauline Dakin, a former CBC health reporter, has had a lot of media interviews about her first book, Run, Hide, Repeat.  dakin  Not to give too much away, but in a breezy style, Dakin tells the very surreal story of her own early years fanning out to   adulthood.  Dakin’s mother and her mother’s boyfriend told Dakin and her younger brother that the mafia or some organized criminals were after them. As a result,  they had to move across the Canada, living day to day in different towns and provinces  more or less in hiding –to escape.  Turns out Dakin believed her mother and step-father’s story  long after growing up, going to university and even marrying.  Dakin’s life was one of fear and anger but also deep devotion to her mother.  Ultimately her mother (like her step-father) became a United Church Minister near Halifax and (spoiler alert) still believed  the family’s past was for real.  I found it a bit hard to believe that Dakin, who does investigative journalism, could believe the story and live the life created for her for more than 20 years…

Another book I would not rush  to read is journalist first-degreeKayla Hounsell’s new book First Degree.  This book is about the trial of Dalhousie medical student Will Sandeson, who was convicted of murdering Taylor Samson, also a Dal student.  Clearly, the murder had a lot to do with selling drugs, and tens of thousands of dollars.   The crown theorized that Sandeson  needed money to pay off about $80,000 in debts from university plus a term at the Saba medical school in the West Indies.  He went to the Saba medical school in a bid to up his game and gain acceptance into to medical school at Dal.  He was accepted at Dal, but two weeks before classes were to begin in 2015, he killed and possibly dismembered Samson, whose body has never been found.  While the book is competent in that it reports much from the trial transcripts, it asks and attempts to answer no questions.  For instance Halifax police took Sandeson in for questioning for more than 12 hours — before charging him and they never suggested he get a lawyer.  Sandeson did not ask for one either — but after all the crime shows we  watch on Netflix, isn’t that the first thing anyone does when facing a charge of murder or any serious charge?  Hounsell never looked at that issue or injustice at all.  At the start of the book she dedicates it to victim’s family.  She fundamentally believed the crown’s case from the get-go.  Hounsell  never looked into psychopaths, or psychopathic behaviour.  I would recommend this book psychoif you’d like to know more about psychopaths.  Yet who –on the verge of having a wonderful and lucrative career for life –would ditch it all suddenly without a second thought?  The book is pedestrian and straight forward — in the wrong kind of way.  No   questions are answered — such as why did Sandeson from a good, loving family do this? Did he in fact do it? Did he have a connection to organised crime and that is why Sandeson never took the stand in his own defence? And his defence seemed tepid in that I gather only his (ex) girlfriend testified on his behalf.  I wonder. Sandeson got life in prison by the way — Murder One. 

 

 

Launch of Racism Free Transit Group in Halifax — this is great.

By Robert Devet, also photo credit to Devet.

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – A newly formed group wants police and Halifax Transit to take verbal and physical incidents of racist violence on buses and in public spaces everywhere much more seriously.

At a press conference at the Glitter Bean coffee shop in downtown Halifax the group, Racism-free Transit in Halifax, said that such attacks on racialized people are becoming more prevalent, and that HRM institutions must give it the attention that it requires.

TransitPres from left, Isaac Saney and baby daughter Asha, Tonya Paris, and Rosa Poirier-McKiggan

The group was formed after Dr. Isaac Saney, a Dalhousie University professor who specializes in Black Nova Scotian history, suffered verbal abuse and was threatened by a racist couple while he was travelling on the bus with his baby daughter.

I was extremely alarmed, worried about the safety of my young child

After Saney boarded a bus on Spring Garden Road, with his daughter in a stroller, a middle aged white woman and a younger large white male started yelling racist insults at Saney.

“They began to make all kinds of racist comments, about people being let into the country, about their manners, about priorities of people in Canada, and I told him that I did not find this acceptable,” Saney said.

“Then the woman shouted at me, you really want me to be f***ing racist? I can be f***ing racist. i was told to shut the f**k up. They pointed at me and at the baby, and said, wait til we get you guys off the bus,” said Saney.

Other people on the bus came to Saney’s defense, and once on Barrington Street the bus driver pulled the bus over and told the racist couple to get off. Then the driver called in a report of the incident to Halifax Transit.

But Saney’s ordeal wasn’t over yet.

“As I was about to get off at Scotia Square, a woman warned me that the couple were laying in wait for me. The woman got off the bus as well, because she was concerned about my security,” Saney said.

“They shouted threats at me from the other side of the street, at this point. I was extremely alarmed, worried about the safety of my young child,” said Saney.

Both the woman who had joined him, and Saney called the police. The police officer on the scene was fairly nonchalant about the entire incident, Saney says, but when Saney later on expressed his dissatisfaction with how police treated the incident, he was assigned a second and more attentive officer. At this time the Crown is considering whether to lay charges.

Saney recognized that in a sense he is privileged.

“I have a public profile, and I have contacts, and that is why I was taken seriously. Think of all the people who suffered such racist incidents and who have remained silent. If you can’t feel safe on public transit, then what kind of society are we living in,” Saney asked.

I am here to ask other white people to confront racism wherever and whenever they witness it

As we saw in the incident affecting Dr. Saney, white fellow passengers such as the woman who joined him when he got off the bus at Scotia Square, have a crucial role to play to stop racists from perpetrating their vile verbal and physical attacks.      

Rosa Poirier-McKiggan related how she played that role when she spoke up in another such incident, once again on Spring Garden Road, this time in April 2017.

A white male in his forties or fifties took offence at a woman with a baby stroller of apparently South-East Asian descent, and told her. “You f***ing Phillipino, go home,” Poirier-McKiggan said.

When she interfered and told him that there was zero tolerance for harassment and racism on this bus, the man became threatening and abusive towards her and she feared for her safety.

The woman with the stroller, who was very distressed, got off the bus at the Central Library.

When Poirier-McKiggan contacted police, she was told that since there was no verbal threat of violence there was no ground for charges.  

“As a white person I had for too long taken the feeling of safety on public transit for granted. I will never be made to feel unsafe on Halifax Transit because of the colour of my skin.

This is not a privilege all can enjoy. I am here to ask other white people to confront racism wherever and whenever they witness it, in Halifax Transit and in the community at large.

“Racism victimizes People of Colour, but white people must play a central role in dismantling white supremacy, white privilege and racism,” Poirier-McKiggan said.

Working for Halifax Transit while Black

Tonya Paris drove a Metro Transit bus for years. Like so many African Nova Scotian Transit employees she experienced racism from her white colleagues in the garage before and after shifts.

And during her shift she would frequently be subjected to racist slurs from passengers, at least three or four times a week, she said.

“I am putting out a plea to the drivers to make the people on your bus feel safe, I don’t expect anybody to act as a police officer and do things that make them feel unsafe, but there is a phone on the bus, you can call dispatch, and have police officers meet up with you at the next stop,” Paris said.

It’s getting worse

All participants in the press conference felt that in Halifax racist incidents and attacks are on the rise.

There has always been structural racism in Nova Scotia, Saney said, pointing to a United Nations task force report that looked at racism in Nova Scotia and did not like at all what it found.

“But increasingly license has been given, and we are waging battles that we thought we had won,” Saney said,

People now feel more comfortable saying these things,” said Paris, but racism has always been with us.

“We always came forward, but we were never heard,” she said. “I have lived in Mobile (Alabama), I have lived in Mississippi, but I have never experienced more racism than in Nova Scotia.”

racism-transit

Anti-racist promotion poster in Toronto’s Transit buses, above

What the group is asking for

Spokesperson Connor Smithers-Mapp said the group is asking that the Halifax Auditor General conduct an inquiry into the occurrence of such racist incidents, and that Halifax Transit articulate specific strategies on how to deal with racism.

As well, the group wants the police and Halifax Transit to collect statistics on racist incidents, and make those public. They also want assurances that all such incidents are thoroughly investigated.

Finally, the group wants very much to collect stories of people encountering racism on the bus and in other public spaces, whether they be white or Black, Smithers-Mapp said. “ We want to create a registry of stories.”

Contact Racism-free Transit at racismfreetransit@gmail.com

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – A newly formed group wants police and Halifax Transit to take verbal and physical incidents of racist violence on buses and in public spaces everywhere much more seriously.

At a press conference at the Glitter Bean coffee shop in downtown Halifax the group, Racism-free Transit in Halifax, said that such attacks on racialized people are becoming more prevalent, and that HRM institutions must give it the attention that it requires.

The group was formed after Dr. Isaac Saney, a Dalhousie University professor who specializes in Black Nova Scotian history, suffered verbal abuse and was threatened by a racist couple while he was travelling on the bus with his baby daughter.

I was extremely alarmed, worried about the safety of my young child

After Saney boarded a bus on Spring Garden Road, with his daughter in a stroller, a middle aged white woman and a younger large white male started yelling racist insults at Saney.

“They began to make all kinds of racist comments, about people being let into the country, about their manners, about priorities of people in Canada, and I told him that I did not find this acceptable,” Saney said.

“Then the woman shouted at me, you really want me to be f***ing racist? I can be f***ing racist. i was told to shut the f**k up. They pointed at me and at the baby, and said, wait til we get you guys off the bus,” said Saney.

Other people on the bus came to Saney’s defense, and once on Barrington Street the bus driver pulled the bus over and told the racist couple to get off. Then the driver called in a report of the incident to Halifax Transit.

But Saney’s ordeal wasn’t over yet.

“As I was about to get off at Scotia Square, a woman warned me that the couple were laying in wait for me. The woman got off the bus as well, because she was concerned about my security,” Saney said.

“They shouted threats at me from the other side of the street, at this point. I was extremely alarmed, worried about the safety of my young child,” said Saney.

Both the woman who had joined him, and Saney called the police. The police officer on the scene was fairly nonchalant about the entire incident, Saney says, but when Saney later on expressed his dissatisfaction with how police treated the incident, he was assigned a second and more attentive officer. At this time the Crown is considering whether to lay charges.

Saney recognized that in a sense he is privileged.

“I have a public profile, and I have contacts, and that is why I was taken seriously. Think of all the people who suffered such racist incidents and who have remained silent. If you can’t feel safe on public transit, then what kind of society are we living in,” Saney asked.

I am here to ask other white people to confront racism wherever and whenever they witness it

As we saw in the incident affecting Dr. Saney, white fellow passengers such as the woman who joined him when he got off the bus at Scotia Square, have a crucial role to play to stop racists from perpetrating their vile verbal and physical attacks.

Rosa Poirier-McKiggan related how she played that role when she spoke up in another such incident, once again on Spring Garden Road, this time in April 2017.

A white male in his forties or fifties took offence at a woman with a baby stroller of apparently South-East Asian descent, and told her. “You f***ing Phillipino, go home,” Poirier-McKiggan said.

When she interfered and told him that there was zero tolerance for harassment and racism on this bus, the man became threatening and abusive towards her and she feared for her safety.

The woman with the stroller, who was very distressed, got off the bus at the Central Library.

When Poirier-McKiggan contacted police, she was told that since there was no verbal threat of violence there was no ground for charges.

“As a white person I had for too long taken the feeling of safety on public transit for granted. I will never be made to feel unsafe on Halifax Transit because of the colour of my skin.

This is not a privilege all can enjoy. I am here to ask other white people to confront racism wherever and whenever they witness it, in Halifax Transit and in the community at large.

“Racism victimizes People of Colour, but white people must play a central role in dismantling white supremacy, white privilege and racism,” Poirier-McKiggan said.

Working for Halifax Transit while Black

Tonya Paris drove a Metro Transit bus for years. Like so many African Nova Scotian Transit employees she experienced racism from her white colleagues in the garage before and after shifts.

And during her shift she would frequently be subjected to racist slurs from passengers, at least three or four times a week, she said.

“I am putting out a plea to the drivers to make the people on your bus feel safe, I don’t expect anybody to act as a police officer and do things that make them feel unsafe, but there is a phone on the bus, you can call dispatch, and have police officers meet up with you at the next stop,” Paris said.

It’s getting worse

All participants in the press conference felt that in Halifax racist incidents and attacks are on the rise.

There has always been structural racism in Nova Scotia, Saney said, pointing to a United Nations task force report that looked at racism in Nova Scotia and did not like at all what it found.

“But increasingly license has been given, and we are waging battles that we thought we had won,” Saney said,

People now feel more comfortable saying these things,” said Paris, but racism has always been with us.

“We always came forward, but we were never heard,” she said. “I have lived in Mobile (Alabama), I have lived in Mississippi, but I have never experienced more racism than in Nova Scotia.”

What the group is asking for

Spokesperson Connor Smithers-Mapp said the group is asking that the Halifax Auditor General conduct an inquiry into the occurrence of such racist incidents, and that Halifax Transit articulate specific strategies on how to deal with racism.

As well, the group wants the police and Halifax Transit to collect statistics on racist incidents, and make those public. They also want assurances that all such incidents are thoroughly investigated.

Finally, the group wants very much to collect stories of people encountering racism on the bus and in other public spaces, whether they be white or Black, Smithers-Mapp said. “ We want to create a registry of stories.”

Contact Racism-free Transit at racismfreetransit@gmail.com

 


Larry Haiven helped organize the committee, and helped make the media conference a success.

 


Reading…

amazonThis is the “logistics centre” for Amazon in Pforzheim, Germany.  James Bloodworth, a  young British writer recently published a book about his six months of low paid work in the UK.  He tackles interesting issues such as the hatred of immigrants in the north of England, and  the tumbling of the trade unions in modern day workplaces.   — Bloodsworth, with no credentials and no university degree,  went to work at Amazon in a  town in northern England, but his working conditions and living conditions plus the impoverishment of spirit make for a fascinating read in Hired:  Undercover in Low Wage Britain. hiredI highly recommend it .

A friend recommended The Alice Network to me.  The author manages to bridge the two World Wars with a “girls’ story” of friendship, spying and courting.  Eve,  an English spy in WWI, is by far a more interesting a character than Charlotte, an American in her late teens.  Most of the “action” takes place in 1947, when the two women meet and go off on what becomes a mad-cap adventure — with some heart-throbbing spells of romance combined with rather conventional tear-jerking moments of loss.  Eve’s  mission is to find a French enemy who destroyed her life and health 32 years before.  Charlotte wants to find a young cousin, missing in France since 1939.  aliceAll is a bit predictable, and a bit twee.  But the book moves quickly — the writer seems too sure of herself. 

widowThis is a brilliant book by Joyce Carol Oates.  Known for her scores of fiction books, essays and other literary outputs, Oates writes a candid and meaningful book about being suddenly widowed after 47 years of a very happy marriage to Ray Smith, a literary critic. On the one hand the book exudes unhappiness — but on the other it is a sometimes funny and usually persuasive story about the loss of love, and the loss of self — and finding both again, rather magically.  Highly recommended by me.  

 

 

What to Read, and What to Watch

Two books about life in Scarborough, Ont., a subway ride east of downtown Toronto, are excellent but very different.  The one I prefer is David Chariandy’s novel Brother. brother1It is a relentless look at how black Canadians are stigmatized and marginalized in a poor suburb of Canada’s most ‘multicultural’ city.  Two young boys and their mother emigrate to Scarborough from the West Indies. From the saggy chairs at the public library, to shabby townhouses to the walk-up apartment buildings, the teens trudge the limits of lives. There are few kindness and no comforts. The book is stunning; it’s won two awards including the Toronto Book Award in 2017. scarborHernandez’ book is also about the disenfranchised of Scarborough.  Stories dovetail — the story about an Indigenous family in a shelter, a Korean aesthetician in a beauty parlour, and several others twist around issues such as identity, religion, hardship, social services and — most importantly a free breakfast program. There are swings from melancholy to anger to actual fun in the book — it is well done and you won’t put it down. 

primeLast night I watched Marjorie Prime. This  brilliant film is about ageing and death. But it’s fascinating.  An 85 year old woman discusses her late husband, his wants and needs with a hologram.  The hologram is a younger version of her late husband.  He is a cipher — repeats what she wants to hear.  Except things get testy with her grown daughter and son-in-law who live with her — and their memories which are usually at odds with the mother’s and the hologram’s.  I borrowed the DVD from the the Public Library…

Unless you really like Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles, I’d give this a miss. It’s more than 90 minutes long however the scenes of postwar Vienna are a bit staggering. Made in 1949, it is one of the most celebrated films of the post WWII period. I recommend you read Graham Greene’s book by the same name instead. The music, the signature tune, is played on a zither. That must have been a first.  But the performances are wooden, and the love interest rather overdone.  the_third_man

Image

Banksy’s latest poster on Palestine!

banksy