The Skin We’re In – Desmond Cole

Genre: Non-Fiction
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Pages: 320
Release Date: January 7, 2020

A bracing, provocative, and perspective-shifting book 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. 


The Skin We’re In is a raw and unflinching look at the experience of being black in Canada. Anytime the topic of racism comes up in Canada, most people duck their heads and say it’s not a problem here or it’s not as bad as what it’s like in The United States of America. The Skin We’re In gives readers a glimpse of how wrong that statement is through a year in the life of Desmond Cole, a Toronto activist.

I’m always trying to better educate myself regarding these topics since I have never had to deal with them personally being a white female. Most books I’ve read center around the American experience of being black, so whenever I discover a book about the Canadian experience I add it to the TBR immediately.

This idea that Canada’s racial injustices are not as bad as they could be, this notion of Slavery Lite, of Racism Lite, of what my friend calls the “toy version of racism” is a very Canadian way of saying: remember what we could do to you if we wanted to. Passive-aggressive racism is central to Canada’s national mythology and identity.”

Each chapter of The Skin We’re In tackles a different issue through the lens of a police brutality case. This gives readers a chance to see the issue through real life experiences. Cole frames these instances of police brutality and murder in a way that makes them real. Not to say they aren’t real to begin with, but the media has a tendency to report stories without empathy.

The story that resonated with me the most was that of Ottawa resident Abdirahman Abdi in July 2016. Abdi was brutally murdered by police. The police’s behavior after is embarrassing and not at all surprising. The way they’re allowed to close ranks around each other needs to be viewed as toxic behavior rather than some misguided boys club.

Overall, The Skin We’re In delivers to readers a raw and unflinching look at what it’s like to be black in Canada. It will open your eyes to the realities people of colour face in Canada. 


Have you read The Skin We’re In? What did you think?

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