Black Like Who?: Writing Black Canada. 2nd ed.


188 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-894663-40-3
DDC 305.896'071





Reviewed by Nanette Morton

Nanette Morton teaches English at McMaster University in Hamilton.


In Black Like Who?, Rinaldo Walcott uses modern Canadian literature,
music, and film to examine the complexities of black Canadian
identities. The works of writer Dionne Brand, rapper Maestro Fresh Wes,
and filmmaker Stephen Williams “are not merely national products.”
Rather, “they occupy the space of the in between, vacillating between
national borders and diasporic desires, ambitions and
disappointments.” Walcott writes that the narrator’s suppression of
his black identity in Andre Alexis’s Childhood “teaches that one of
the requirements of becoming a full citizen in a nation like Canada is
learning to forget” the past and its oppressions. However other
artists, such as Dionne Brand, locate their work “in the urban spaces
of migrant existence,” thus refiguring Canadian landscape and
identity. In Lawrence Hill’s Any Known Blood, characters cross and
re-cross the U.S.–Canadian border, making the remembering of a history
of oppression “the active process of making present the gaps and
silences in the official history of the nation.” By making “outer
national identifications” with such fluidity, black artists challenge
the national narrative that erases their existence.

This second revised edition appears to have been prompted by the
criticism of fellow critic George Elliot Clarke. Clarke argues that by
concentrating on the urban experiences of relatively recent migrants,
Walcott has neglected a much older presence in Canada. Walcott, however,
suggests that “Clarke’s mapping supposes an authentic older and
rural black Canada set against an inauthentic newer and urban black
Canada, as if the two have not always and cannot live side by side.”
Walcott writes that Clarke’s melancholic desire to belong to the
narrative of the nation—expressed by endless cataloguing of black
presence—is not useful. More useful is the recognition that the two
groups do combine with a richness that challenges the national narrative
altogether: a new “grammar for thinking blackness in Canada” that
includes “self-conscious diasporic affiliations” offers “a way out
of the mess that modern nation-states represent for black people.”
Walcott neglects to mention, however, that without Clarke’s
cataloguing, projects like his own would not be possible.


Walcott, Rinaldo., “Black Like Who?: Writing Black Canada. 2nd ed.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 21, 2024,