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The Skin We're In

A Year of Black Resistance and Power
Written by: Desmond Cole
Narrated by: Desmond Cole
Length: 8 hrs and 14 mins
5 out of 5 stars (237 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

National Best Seller

A bracing, provocative, and perspective-shifting audiobook from one of Canada's most celebrated and uncompromising writers, Desmond Cole. The Skin We're In will spark a national conversation, influence policy, and inspire activists.

In his 2015 cover story for Toronto Life magazine, Desmond Cole exposed the racist actions of the Toronto police force, detailing the dozens of times he had been stopped and interrogated under the controversial practice of carding. The story quickly came to national prominence, shaking the country to its core and catapulting its author into the public sphere. Cole used his newfound profile to draw insistent, unyielding attention to the injustices faced by Black Canadians on a daily basis.

Both Cole’s activism and journalism find vibrant expression in his first book, The Skin We’re In. Puncturing 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 Black refugees braved frigid temperatures to cross into Manitoba from the States, Indigenous land and water protectors resisting the celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday, police across the country rallying around an officer accused of murder, and more. 

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 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 police board meeting, Cole challenged the board to respond to accusations of a police cover-up in the brutal beating of Dafonte Miller by an off-duty police officer and his brother. When Cole refused to leave the meeting until the question was publicly addressed, he was arrested. The image of Cole walking out of the meeting, handcuffed and flanked by officers, fortified the distrust between the city’s Black community and its police force. 

Month-by-month, Cole creates a 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.

©2020 Desmond Cole (P)2020 Doubleday Canada

What the critics say

"The sheer strength of this book arises from its insistent linking of policing, prisons, public education, migrant labour, impoverished neighbourhoods and the fates of refugees. The Skin We're In is about the interlocking forces besieging Black life in Canada; and it is also about organizing resistance and imagining futures in bravely intimate terms. Desmond Cole is an urgent and essential voice from a generation that will be heard." (David Chariandy, author of Brother and I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You: A Letter to My Daughter)

"In The Skin We're In, Desmond Cole offers us not only analysis of one year of anti-blackness in the lands we currently call Canada: he also recovers disappeared histories of Black resistance, gives richly deserved credit to Black LGBTQ+ activists, shows solidarity with disabled and Indigenous folks, and, most importantly, reminds us of the power of Black genius and Black joy. This smart, powerful, essential book is an act of radical generosity - one we should all be grateful to receive, hold, share and revisit." (Alicia Elliott, author of A Mind Spread Out on the Ground)

"Desmond Cole systematically dismantles any lingering illusions of Canada as a beacon of racial benevolence by exposing the multiple forms of state violence facing Black peoples of all ages and genders. His text, further, compellingly highlights the ongoing refusal of Canada's Black diaspora to submit to conditions of subjugation, bringing to light both historical and contemporary legacies of rebellion. A powerful read." (Robyn Maynard, author of Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present)

What listeners say about The Skin We're In

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

A must read!

Everyone living in Canada - especially Ontario - needs to hear this book! Thank you Desmond for writing it!

4 people found this helpful

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  • AR
  • 2020-05-25

For Canadians Learning & Unlearning

Heartbreaking and inspiring accounts of the struggles of Black people, as well as Indigenous & POC, on the lands that Canada occupies. Devastating history, both recent and further back to the country’s founding, that all Canadians need to learn if we are going to be part of righting wrongs and creating a safe and just society for Black Canadians. Learning the details of how activists like Black Lives Matter took action to achieve change must inform our anti-racist work. Canadians need to abandon politeness & niceness as a national identity and do some actual work. Hearing the author’s reading adds to the experience.

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Excellent - required reading for white settlers

Cole's book was ever better than I hoped. Inciseve, reflective, well-researched, and, amazingly hopeful.

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Relevant

This book is a must read given the current climate of the world. Many of us Canadians feel privileged to live in a country we deem as welcoming and unbiased, but thus book helps educate the listener on the systemic problems many believe to only be an American issue. Passionate stories of those who stood up for not only themselves and others oppressed by the system inspire the listener to take action and help fight for change

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Interesting and Informative

I learned lots about Canada's perpetuation of racism and racist policies. I appreciate Desmond's perspective.

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Eye opening

loved this book that clearly laid example after example of canadians and the canadian government continually mistreating their bipoc people. it definitely made me check, acknowledge my white privilege. very informative.

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  • LJB
  • 2020-06-10

a must read

this book is an important read for anyone. it's tells the truth about Canada and what's really going on behind our polite and friendly facade.

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Numbers and facts for mind and heart.

Authentic narration. My white skin is waking up to its priviledge after that. Extremely well supported data that moved my heart and head.

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A call to action and must-read for all Canadians

Canadians often compare ourselves to the US and sometimes, we can get a little high and mighty about how we think we have it better than our neighbours to the south. We definitely have it better in some ways, but in regards to racism? Canadians may want to think again.

This is a book that all Canadians should read - particularly those Canadians who think 'racism isn't an issue here in Canada' with an attitude of 'thank-god-we're-better-than-the-Americans'. In this collection of essays, one for each month in 2017, Cole confronts long-held beliefs that Canada opens its arms wide for one and all. That we're a place of inclusion, a country that celebrates diversity and was a place of solace for thousands of Black slaves as the end of the Underground Railroad.

Unfortunately, Canada's truth is far from glowing.

Desmond Cole, a Canadian journalist clearly documents numerous examples of racism, white privilege and puts a face to the issues using the specific cases of Defonte Miller, Abdouhl Abdi and Abdirahman Abdi. He shows how our systems in Canada were built with white supremacy in mind to the on-going detriment and subjugation of Black and Indigenous Canadians and how there is a general feeling of complacency by white Canadians to change a system that has benefited them for generations. Cole focuses on how racism is perpetuated at a systemic level in Canada - from its immigration policies, police brutality, corruption, intimidation and school policies. It is eye-opening, shocking and emotional.

I listened to the eAudiobook which is narrated by the author. His knowledge and passion are evident and my only beef is that the pacing of the audiobook is very slow (I increased my speed to 1.4x). I also attended an online event last night hosted by Kitchener Public Library, in conversation with Ruth Cameron, the Executive Director of ACCKWA and advisory committee member for the ACB Network, which was powerful and enlightening with specifics to my own region of Ontario. The following quotes are from that discussion:

"Black lives are constantly in a state of emergency."

"Our [Black Canadians] deaths aren't a teaching experience for white people."

Our system is functioning to "negotiate the level of harm as opposed to end it." (Ruth Cameron)


This is a powerful read that illustrates the importance of resistance, Canada's desperate need for change and will give white Canadians a chance to look at Canada through the lens of a Black Canadian. But ultimately, it is Cole's call to action for systemic reform that all Canadians must acknowledge and vow to act upon. We have a long road before all Canadians can feel equal.

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An eye opening view into systemic racism in Canada

An eye opening view into systemic racism in Canada as written and narrated by Desmond Cole.

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  • Rima Dib
  • 2020-08-02

A must read for ALL Canadians

A very thorough, difficult and uncomfortable analysis of anti-Black racism in Canada and all of its intersections including, Indigeneity, LGBTQ identities, ability, class, religion, sex and immigration status. Thank you Desmond Cole.

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  • Taylor Britton
  • 2020-06-08

powerful and compelling

a powerful and compelling account of the systemic issues with the states monopoly on rights enforcement and justice. my only criticism is the authors surrender of capitalism as a "white institution/construct". The pre-colonial free markets of africa from great zimbabwe to timbuktu would beg to differ. ironically, socialism is the white institution/construct.

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  • Alex (Knight Vert)
  • 2020-06-02

Power Packed and Vital

This is one of those books that every (settler, and especially white) canadian should read. It joins Thomas King’s - The Inconvenient Indian in my ‘essential list’. Powerful and confronting Cole manages to also share a beautiful picture of what true unity might achieve if only we (white people) acknowledge the truth of our history, present and impending future and fight to break the systems of oppression. As a true storyteller he honours the stories told and offers hope that it is difficult to fathom how he still manages to hold on to.
Excellent and essential.