Race in America

Ta-Nehisi Coates says, “race is the child of racism,” (among other denigrating labels), challenging the fabric of the  Dream engineered by those “who see themselves as white” as it feeds into the portrait of a nation built on this falsehood, damaging the bodies of men and women who have been victims of this lie for centuries, through slavery and segregation and now disproportionate incarcerations and targetted violence in America today.

In this book-length letter to his son (which is also a scathing critique of democracy and its institutions), he explains his pessimism, and wariness over why being black in his growing years was different from his son Samori’s experiences today, with parental exasperation and despair at the turn of events in the new century and a worsening outlook of the Dreamers, or those who built their dreams “on the backs of black bodies” building dreams of exclusion down the ages. Coates cautions his son with both fervour and reluctance against his own fears. He also builds hope.

2015-12-08 15.02.16

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me (Spiegel and Grau, 2015) is also the National Book Award Winner for Nonfiction

I am sorry that I cannot make it okay. I am sorry that I cannot save you–but not that sorry. Part of me thinks that your very vulnerability brings you closer to the meaning of life, just as for others, the quest to believe oneself white divides them from it (Coates, 107).

Coates’ edicts are wise to the shocks and horrors of the Civil War battlefields, the living rooms of the families of those murdered in racial killings, and the solace of “The Mecca” his high seat of learning and the “crossroads of black diaspora” at the Howard University in Washington DC. Buoying with soul and inspiration, from beneath sadness and disillusionment, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ letter traverses the question of what it is to be a free man in a black body–the answer is in the pursuit itself, he warns, before he parts with his painfully learned lessons from his forefathers and his own with love, nostalgia, moral debt and fear. Coates is a journalist with The Atlantic and the author of “The Case for Reparations”. Between the World and Me is unlike any book I’ve ever read in a while. He speaks freely, and beyond his times, acknowledging the limits of history and the irreversible damage to the lives of innumerable women and men across the ages.  

It’s probably because I’m living in North America (in a time where racial discord and senseless shootings make for daily headlines) that this memoir takes on a new urgency. The values he fights for and the freedoms he speaks to are relevant the world over today. He can also be found on @tanehisicoates. But go read his work and feel at one with the world again.

Also by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood (Spiegel and Frau, 2008)


Why Canada’s—or the next government’s—success lies in leveraging “the Big Shift”

Published by HarperCollins Canada, 2013

Published by HarperCollins Canada, 2013, Price: 27.99 CAD


A book that surprisingly does not feature in this nifty list of Election Reads is the 2013 non-fiction bestseller The Big Shift: The seismic change in Canadian politics, business, and culture and what it means for our future. Co-authored by influential pollster and CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs, Darrell Bricker, and renowned journalist and biographer John Ibbitson, The Big Shift is a pulsating read about a country that considers itself a moral superpower (or hyper-power) of this century. Its citizens are the happiest of all the Americas, and its economic health ranks high among others of equivalent resources and wealth, notably ahead of other advanced developed economies in Europe, the Pacific and Americas.

So what else distinguishes Canada from the rest of its league, and why is this distinction important for its image—of being an epicenter of tolerance, diversity, and salad-bowl globalism? Rated the best country to do business in by many and home to the highest immigration levels per capita in the world, Canada is being transformed by the “Big Shift” in the 21st century, unlike any other country. Political parties that understand the anatomy of this shift and the New Canada—based on real public opinion and market research—where immigration policy is the result of a demographic deficit, labour shortages, and power shifting to the Pacific and West coast, will be able to wrap their heads around the machinery that’s propelling this country into the future, ahead of others.

Canada’s immigration policy has been founded on a premise that aimed to recruit “the immigrants Canada needed and not the immigrants that needed Canada” (Bricker and Ibbitson, 2013). Canada is one of the world’s most urban countries with among the lowest crime rates (owed to its increasingly older demographic), all adding to its international appeal. Global mobility surveys repeatedly reveal the attractiveness of Canada as a destination for migrants. Over half of Canada feels that immigrants are positively impacting Canada, unlike most countries where native-borns generally view outsiders negatively. But nobody would know any of this without market research or public opinion studies. The authors claim, “the most disruptive force in the world today is public opinion,” and politicians, businessmen and artistes who understand this, will win. This book is a love song to the polls.

The quality of public healthcare and the governments ability to balance budgets and cope with an aging population were some issues that voters prioritized highest according to a Nanos poll in 2012.

The quality of public healthcare and the governments ability to balance budgets and cope with an aging population were some issues that voters prioritized highest according to a Nanos poll in 2012.

While the authors’ central argument remains that power has been slipping away from the “Laurentian elites” since the 1960s, their larger argument is for the need for consistent market research. Canada is home to slowing birth rates, growing infertility (1.7 babies born per woman on an average, compared to the required ideal of 2.1 to self-sustain), growing urbanization and immigration, and the rising power of the West (everything West of the Ottawa River Curtain: Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia) and suburban middle class immigrant voters. The Liberals, loosely labeled, the “Laurentian elites” of Eastern-Canada are pro-immigration but emphasize “compassion” over “economic advantage” in their brand of multiculturalism. Their opposition, the Conservatives are also pro-immigrant but view immigrants as skilled labour and economic opportunities first.

Immigrants are transforming Ontario from a European Atlantic province into a Western, Asian, and Pacific one. Historically, immigrants tended to vote Liberal to counter the hostility of English Canada (there were bans on Asian immigrants until 1967). However, with the rising power of the West, seismic changes in politics, culture and business, like the rise of connection economies, diaspora, and super-technologies, new Canadians began to see value in the economic and immigration policies and programs of the West. The authors warn that labour shortages are not to be viewed as a honey trap for immigrants, but as open competition from the developing countries that “will intensify as labour shortages grow in developed countries and developing countries become increasingly able to offer their own citizens good jobs at good wages, with Mom and Dad close by” (Bricker and Ibbitson, 2013). This understanding distinguishes Canada’s multiculturalism from other experiments, and it part of the reason many would argue that multiculturalism is more “successful” (celebrated and understood) here–because it is vital to the economic engines and social fabric here.

The Big Shift chronicles Ontario’s increasing attraction to the “West” at the expense of the “East” or the Laurentian influence/consensus. Multicultural, independent, immigrant-friendly West is influencing Ontario (named “the economic engine of the country”) to make its policies more West-coast looking. Canada is probably the only modern nation where both left wing and right wing parties enjoy the support of immigrants of all cadres and Canadian politics is special, as an Irish journalist explains “every party claims that they are more pro-immigrant, in contrast with European nations like say Ireland where every party has to prove its opposition to immigrants in order to woo voters.” Though Canada has always drawn huge numbers of immigrants, the emphasis on economic class immigrants (and their increased proportions) has been a recent phenomenon since 2010, in efforts to quickly address the country’s labour shortages, sometimes at the expense of other classes of immigrants: family class and refugees. However, Liberal and Conservative governments alike have been accused of prioritizing short-term political needs, and manipulating the immigration and recruitment system.

Mining and hospitality industries are also witnessing labour gaps waiting to be filled

Mining and hospitality industries are also witnessing labour gaps waiting to be filled

Quebec constitutes under a quarter of Canada's total population and accounts for nearly a fifth of the country's annual immigrant intake. Please note, Quebec's capital is also home to one of Canada's three largest cities, Montreal.

Quebec constitutes under a quarter of Canada’s total population and accounts for nearly a fifth of the country’s annual immigrant intake. Please also note, Quebec’s capital is one of Canada’s three largest cities, Montreal.

This book clutches at the heartstrings of the New Canada post the world wars, and the digital/social/mobile age. The narrative draws you into the nation’s present dilemma about governance and demographics while explaining major trends like the baby boom and bust, aging populations, demographic deficits, global worker mobility attitudes and the potential for better research in business, culture and politics. The authors’ overall criticism of the Laurentian elites or the present political opposition is largely that they haven’t done much market research nor actively engaged in the study of public opinion polls to understand the demographics of the country or its population closely. Perhaps the Bricker and Ibbitsons’ criticisms have already been carefully considered by the opposition if this report on leader momentum score is any proof-in-the-works; whether these polls carry through in the election results is soon to be seen. (Catch all the election-on-Twitter excitement at #elxn42). The authors further recommend reading the famous and out-of-print book Boom, Bust and Echo: How to Profit from the Coming Demographic Shift by David Foots for a solid background on demographics, with the caveat that relying on demographics alone can be misleading; The Big Shift puts the implications in perspective.

Bricker and Ibbitson’s arguments appear nuanced and compelling as they call on all Laurentian elites (even Margaret Atwood is named among poets, professors, and politicians who address a Canada that does not exist) to observe and understand Canada as a result of The Big Shift, in order to win in politics, business and culture today.


Rich, wise and spirited: An ode to fatherhood

Much evocative of Marjane Satrapi’s wonderful, moving tale of growing up in revolutionary Iran in the Persepolis series, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home shares an equally trenchant narrative arc about a girl’s portrait of her family, drawing from strong influences of her father who created a Fun Home, “treating his furniture like children, and children like furniture,” their repository of family secrets. The similarities in both works stretch with the range and depth of emotions portrayed, intensity of relationships, apathy and satire, and the ultimately deep generosity that prevails.

Alison makes it clear in the beginning, it is her undertaker father who is the hero (instead of say her mother, or even herself) because a) he is no more and b) the bar is lower for fathers than for mothers, their every kindness amplified. Bechdel’s expanding etymology weaves a taut narrative, from her discovery of words and states of existence she wasn’t quite acquainted with before the dictionary as a diary-writing honest-to-page ten year old, to her growing resistance to facts with the onset of adolescence and written expression yielding to life’s farcical structures, and ambiguities: her likeness with her mortician father, and their differences; his sacrifices to make everything appear ideal, the father who reads to her at bedtime and later on (as she does not foresee) from his grave.

Alison introspects throughout her adolescence: was he a good father? His reading lists and library, his quirks and silences, photos, intimate friendships, transgressions with the law, endearing letters to her as his only potential companion, all rank in her memory as significant. She was his favourite pupil, and he her favourite high school teacher, and yet they were both antagonistic, competing for attention (and desires) in their shared life spaces! Was his ultimate act then in cowardice, generosity, happenstance or plain literary masterstroke? Alison leaves it to the reader, even though her verdict is all too clear. Yet, her mother’s versatility is never eclipsed by the flaws, imperfections  or greatness of her father, merely sidelined as an effective plot device; the protagonist is the antagonist who yields to the protagonist-in-waiting, our quizzical narrator.

Prosy for a comic, Fun home is an aching reminder of how the invisible or marginal have to dole more words (than action) to be understood by those alien to their context and plight; hyper-verbosity tears through her narrative quicker than Cupid’s arrow. Our predecessors are examples of who we don’t want to be. Alison tells us why role models exist, to enlighten and fail us, passing on their burdens of flesh. Readable in a single night’s sitting, this story was a much needed memory trip of what it was growing up, a flashback and reminder of how we arrived into this world and why we are where we are (or are not) because of it.

“And despite the tyrannical power with which he held sway, it was clear to me that my father was a big sissy…. Between us lay a slender demilitarized zone — our shared reverence for masculine beauty.”

The binaries we are dealt in life, and in her pages, “Bourgeois vs. Aristocratic, Homo vs. Hetero, City vs. Country, Eros vs. Art, Private vs. Public,” confront the daily confusions, as poles “converge through a vast network of transervals.” Have you ever been eighty-sixed? Peppered with American liberal arts vernacular and contemporary culture-speak of sibling movements of the Laramie Project, landmark court rulings, metamorphoses, life-epiphanies, and activism as Alison grapples with her emotional, sexual and political identity, griping about the lack of a story to “cohere with”,  she sets a high bar for storytelling with this memoir! Her illustrations arrive in deft caricatures, but the conversations remain the glue.

Fun home is a literary graphic novel (in the same league as Persepolis) I came upon in Toronto’s BMV on Yonge Street in my final hour in that city. This book would make a great Father’s Day present; a film must be in the works somewhere.

What is the Migration Nation?

[This review was first published in the Marketing Intelligence and Research Agency (MRIA)’s Ottawa Chapter Newsletter in their August 27th issue.]


The front cover of Migration Nation on my bookshelf, gifted to me on a trip to Toronto

Migration Nation is a highly topical book about multicultural marketing today. Canada, which has an aging demographic, low birth rates and labour shortages, welcomes around 300,000 new immigrants each year and this intake is only projected to rise as capital moves rapidly across continents with Canada’s new migrants bringing in new commerce and transcontinental networks that are fast shaping the cultural and business landscape in this country. [1] Diversity and diaspora are thus key facets of the Migration Nation. New Canadians are the pulse of Migration Nation, where every one in five Canadians is foreign-born. Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Global Public Affairs and author of The Big Shift often talks about how power is shifting in favour of talented, highly skilled migrants in a borderless world, where authors Kathy Cheng and Robin Brown reminisce over the joke that “free Wifi” is the new low in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs [2].

The rise of Asian millennials in Canada’s demographic make-up signals a “Big shift” for marketers, particularly in two of Canada’s three largest cities

The rise of Asian millennials in Canada’s demographic make-up signals a “Big shift” for marketers, particularly in two of Canada’s three largest cities

The authors of Migration Nation and researchers at the Environics Research Group, Robin Brown and Kathy Cheng provide comprehensive insights into the consumer behavior of New Canadians. The authors segment New Canadians based on their settlement experience and ethnicity to contextualize their consumer behavior. The authors advise on how to appeal to the experiences of immigrants with brands that may be established in their home countries, or with newer brands by triggering old associations with pre-migration experiences. [3]  Consumers cling to old brands and while this poses challenges for marketers, recognizing ethnic patterns and gaps in purchasing habits would be advantageous for marketers. The marketing challenge in Canada today is this: “In a more homogenous, less mobile, less connected society, understanding your market was easier. Leaders didn’t need to stretch their imaginations to speculate about the tastes and desires of the Canadian population.” [4] Today, New Canadians are connecting with families and friends in distant homelands via social networks. Hyperconnectivity, hyperdiversity, changing attitudes towards minorities, as well as the rise in fortunes of home countries of migrants are all defining Canadian diversity today, creating complex new markets and sub-markets to conduct business in.

Prime examples of the failure of understanding certain markets is shown by South Asians’ fondness for atta or flour and Chinese groups’ love for soups not translating into equal love for Canadian branded flour (Robin Hood) or canned soups (Campbell). [5] Ever since I have moved to Canada I have avoided the roti because frankly, I am unwilling to accommodate a substitute for the staple. This book sent me running to the grocery store, to take conscious stock of what I bought and to look at how the world around me shopped. How much stock was offered in mainstream stores versus specialty stores that served ethnic markets? Had the ethnic offerings been carefully amalgamated in the mainstream or were niche consumer preferences still marketed separately? The authors point out that dominant brands in home countries influence migrants’ choices. Attachment to Cadburys in South Asia for instance, is paralleled by brand loyalty for Ferrero Rocher in China. [6]

This is a post-national, multi-cultural Canada. As a young graduate from a Canadian marketing research and business intelligence program, of South Asian descent and Indian nationality on a temporary resident status in Canada, this book served as a guide to understanding the cultural and business landscape that is shaping Canada today. The illuminating statistics helped me compare my own consumer behavior with others. Navigating between multicultural (and often multi-lingual) identities is what powers Canada’s millennial consumers today as they pick and choose between cultures they grew up with, adopted, and were influenced by. [7] Even while targeting ethnic groups or immigrants, marketers should be sensitive to the differences between immigrants. Not only does when they immigrated to Canada matter, but also, how much of their pre-migration experience was spent in their country of origin. [8] First generation immigrants (or the “1 generation”) are different from those who moved here with their parents and families (the “1.5 generation”) and marketers must be attentive to these similarities and differences. Brown and Cheng define multicultural marketing as not just a way of targeting different ethnic pockets, but of mastering the “cultural competence” or intercultural skills to navigate values of different communities and appealing to them as part of the mainstream. Looking through the cultural lens of certain groups can lead to insights that drive marketing strategy. However, the challenge of achieving a balance between standardization and customization of products or services always remains. The authors argue that erring on the side of the authentic has been a successful approach for advertisers who capitalize on ethnic insights while appealing to the mainstream. [9]

Multicultural marketing is not just for Canadians: the British do it, the Americans do it, and many regions in the Middle East and Asia have done so for many years. What’s specific—or special—about Canadian multiculturalism, however, is the projected or potential newcomers (spiraling over the last few decades), temporary residents (like myself) or globalized workers who opt to spend a large portion of their working lives in this country at their convenience. Canada’s migrants are accelerating this country’s diversity and progress with their contribution to society, economy and other Canadians. It is important to be aware of opportunities in this new environment; marketers must adapt to these new narratives quickly. Migration Nation should be recommended reading for all research analyst / market research programs in Canada and the U.S.

BOOK ISBN: 9780986610417

TITLE: Migration Nation: A Practical Guide to Doing Business in Globalized Canada

PUBLISHER: Environics Publishing, 2014

PRICE: $28.95

Available at www.migrationnation.ca


  1. Brown, Robin, and Kathy Cheng. Migration Nation: A Practical Guide to Doing Business in Globalized Canada. Toronto: Environics, 2014. Print.
  2. ibid
  3. ibid
  4. ibid
  5. ibid
  6. ibid
  7. Brown, R., & Cheng, K. (2015, July 25). Meet The Multicultural Millennials: An Environics Live Event. Retrieved August 10, 2015, from http://environicsresearch.com/insights/ multicultural-millennials-environics-live-stream/
  8. Brown, Robin, and Kathy Cheng. Migration Nation: A Practical Guide to Doing Business in Globalized Canada. Toronto: Environics, 2014. Print
  9. Ibid. Examples the authors quote include: Heineken’s “Open Your World” global campaign and Coca Cola’s “America the Beautiful” Super Bowl commercial

The Outside Circle was a trot into the archives of a less talked about history


This graphic novel published by The House of Anansi (2015) was an educative read. The art was moving, and the story brave and simple. The Outside circle stands for the warriors who protect their clan from the circumference, the vanguards. The story is about two Aboriginal brothers coping with the trauma of their past and making peace with it; rehabilitating with others (through healing ceremonies) to forge positive futures.  This work comes from the research of a Metis woman who has spent 20 years researching traumatised natives, incarcerated for a range of crimes including gang violence and drug induced crimes. This book in all its artistry and truthtelling is a blessing.

Thrillers can thrill but violence numbs

Girl onthetrain

The setting reminded me of the six-hour journey (two-way) I used to take while commuting the Oxford-London route everyday for work a few years ago. I knew the people in the story, because I saw them from my train window too.

Having just finished reading Paula Hawkins’ debut novel Girl on the Train with a good pace  and thriller-like quality, I also came away slightly nauseated from all the gore. Is there a purpose to violence in fiction? Isn’t real life hard enough, violent enough, with all the guns and violence everywhere? How much thrift should a writer expend in gore and sex? Shouldn’t there be more room for the imagination in novels? Or does more imagination translate to lower readership? Sigh, difficult choices. A hard place to be, a harder place for writers to be in. I guess, that’s my only problem with whodunnits that chill the blood in my skull. Agatha Christie somehow set a high benchmark in matters of mystery, if I remember correctly. Her focus used to be on the mental/psychological workings of the murderer (murder and murdered), and the build up and slow (cleverly engineered) postmortem, rather than the brutality of the act itself.

To know about the publishing records Paula Hawkins has broken in the UK, selling over 800,000 copies since January, please read more on the BookMachine blog.

“How Should a Person Be?”

[This review first appeared in The Ottawa Review of Books in their October issue]

It’s hard enough to live, why lose? Sheila Heti paints her professional and artistic identity in this multi-hued solitary and social quest for that quintessential peace of mind! Her journey is self-guided with a supporting cast of friends, strangers and acquaintances who impact her life immediately, remotely and indelibly. Her prose is fluent, seeking, and sometimes bullet-like. None of the mess of her inner soul spills onto these pages even if there are wine-stained napkins or tears. She’s forever eloquent and even glib about her point of life. 

Sheila tackles the question that befuddles many. How should a person be? There is no irony, no sarcasm here. This is a plain story about an intelligent (or intellectual) woman finding her footing in the traffic jam of a commerce-filled life. That she is Canadian or lives in Toronto never really gets talked about. She could be anybody (or any woman) in the first world. With a first-rate mind and manner she scatters her soul’s discontents. 

Her struggle is with finishing her play. She is a playwright, or it’s a profession she most identifies with – there is nothing in the whole book that proves her talent or success at it, but her conviction is soul-wrenching and compelling. She almost sounds like an anonymous phone caller in these revelations. She wants to finish writing her play but she also wants to finish paying attention to all the critical ingredients of her life so she can join the wagon of twenty-first century blowjob artistes only so that she can live with the times and age with grace.

Her friends Margeaux, Sholem and Israel are also her antagonists and guinea pigs. That is, they talk her through or out of life! She needs their nurture and to help her change the world with her mind shattering play, beliefs, ideals, etc. We are living with a lot of etcetera here in a plot that is structured like a five-act play and are confronted by the ambiguities and ambivalence that crowd the post-war, post-poverty, post-feminist writer’s landscape. 

Self-help has role models and Sheila too looks for precedents of successful or Important Artists because the fallback plan to everything (namely failed love or life) is to “become insanely ambitious or self-driven”! She breaks up cities by the odds of becoming important in those places based on where “Important Artists” already lived. She shortlists 16 cities where more than one Important Artist lived: “six held only two artists who were Important: Buenos Aires, Rio, Vancouver, Leipzig, Tokyo, Cologne. I eliminated those six, for the odds were too small of becoming Important there, and I was left with only nine cities, where three or more Important Artists lived: 

Glasgow 4

Dusseldorf 5

Mexico City 6

Paris 7

Amsterdam 8

Los Angeles 9

London 15

Berlin 19

New York 30

In the future, would the list say: 

Toronto 3? 

She moves to New York. 

She does not want to own the world and she does. It’s the nonchalance of a conqueror, the freedom to be, that she is really after. Personality she says is an invention of the news media and inside the body there is just temperature. You have to forget about your soul and do what you are required to do and to get lost in your soul is to miss the whole point of life, she says. She wants a simple life or “a life of undying fame that I don’t have to participate in.” She (like everyone) has no thoughts, and “no good details” to her life, and this is the quality of fame or celebrity she wants and is among the several rich monologues that fill this book. 

There are points of thought you’d agree or disagree with, but agreement is inconsequential to her message perhaps. She is just another nobody woman trying to break out of the herd-collective. “One good thing about being a woman is we haven’t too many examples yet of what a genius looks like. It could be me. There is no ideal model for how my mind should be.” She names a few men, “Mark Z., and you, Christian B. You just keep peddling your phoney-baloney genius crap, while I’m up giving blowjobs in heaven.” She does not want to be right either. She just wants to finish her play. With one fell sweep she restructures, resigning to the call of her curiosity. 

So how does a person want to be? Sheila just wants to finish her play. Is she able to do this? Pleasure is difficult business; you’ll have to read the book to experience a mere fraction of it.


Go to Sheila Heti’s book’s website

How Should a Person Be is published by Harvill Secker.