I received an uncorrected proof of this book. All opinions are my own. It is available for purchase now.
Eternity Martis moves from the large and culturally diverse city of Toronto to attend Western University in London, Ontario. What she finds there is a world she was only dimly aware of previously. It’s a world where her skin makes her stand out, her hair makes her a novelty, and her every action seems constantly monitored. It’s a world where she is judged, fetishized, and assaulted.
Martis is the daughter of a Pakistani mother and a Jamaican father. While she has a complicated and distant relationship with her father, she and her mother are close and she is also raised by her loving maternal grandparents. As such, she identifies strongly with her Pakistan heritage. From the outside, however, she is seen as black. As such, her experience in the wider world is different from her closest relatives. This provides a unique perspective on how a person’s own identity and history can be negated by the perceptions of others.
Attending university in a predominantly Caucasian school and city, Martis is exposed to just how the world views her skin colour. Men want to seduce her in order to check “black girl” off their sexual conquest list. Professors ask for her permission to discuss racism in class. In one harrowing scene, she is approached by a group in blackface at a bar on Halloween. The overall feeling one gets from Martis as she details these experiences is exhaustion, followed closely by anger. But, of course, she can’t be outwardly angry lest she fall into the stereotype of the angry black woman.
Like Martis, I moved for university from a large, multicultural city to a smaller city with a largely white population. The similarities end there though because while, for me, that was a novelty for the first week or so, I quickly blended in with faces that looked like my own. I’ll be honest, this book made me uncomfortable but I think that’s exactly the reason it should be read. Like Alicia Elliott’s A Mind Spread Out on the Ground, it draws attention to the racism that is still pervasive in our country, in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Martis wants her reader (especially her white reader) to be uncomfortable because her life is made uncomfortable in too many ways simply because of who she is.
Martis tackles multiple themes – from violence to dating – but also weaves her stories artfully together so that we are given a full and nuanced look at her life over the four years she spends in London. I highly recommend this book, especially for her fellow Canadians.