Racism reeducation book #4 – Eternity Martis’ They Said This Would be Fun

racismThey Said This Would be Fun is one of eight books I’m reading as part of my overdue reeducation on racism. I’ve reviewed more than 500 business books for The Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations for 27 years.

Three racists walk into a bar.

They’ve used Halloween as an excuse to wear blackface. They’re dressed as cotton pickers.

They cut through the crowd at an off-campus bar to get in the face of second-year university student Eternity Martis.  They smirk and leer in silence.

book fun“Drunken bar patrons pushed past me and into the crowd,” writes Eternity in They Said This Would Be Fun. “So many bodies around me – witnesses – yet no one stopped to help. All I could hear was my own voice screaming at these smiling white kids, with their black faces, to speak. They looked back at me, composed, still smiling, daring me to lose my mind. Then, still smiling, they turned their black, painted faces and slowly disappeared into the crowd.”

Racist acts and comments would be unrelenting during Eternity’s four years studying at Western University and living in London, Ontario (my alma mater and hometown).

Strangers would ask Eternity if she was born and raised in the country (not continent) of Africa or on an island in the Caribbean. When drunk or angry at the world, strangers would yell at Eternity to go back to her own country (that would be Canada). Eternity would be asked if she was related to the only other Black person waiting for, or riding on, the bus. She’d be told that Canadian winters were cold and warned that there’d be snow.

Classmates would touch her hair and sometimes ask permission first. White boys she’d never met would tell her that they’d never talked to, danced with, kissed, dated or slept with a Black woman.

She’d be followed in stores and told the discount racks were at the back of the shop.

On campus, Eternity was desperate to connect with other Black students. Yet the first Black student she ran into refused to look up and kept on walking. “A few weeks later, I saw another Black person on campus. I made eye contact and it happened again; eyes and head down, no acknowledgement. And then again. And again. It was if they didn’t want to be seen at all.”

Instead of strength in numbers, there’s suspicion and unwanted attention when Black people get together says Eternity.

“You’ll count how many Black people you see on campus. And if you are lucky enough to find others, you and your group of friends will be stared at with fear and loathing for daring to even laugh simultaneously.

“We know that our bodies and our behavior are always being policed. We don’t get an automatic welcome to the party – we are constantly having to prove that we deserve an invitation. Even then, we know it can be revoked at the first slip up.”

White students can get together whenever and wherever. They’re not drunk, loud and obnoxious – they’re just having fun and finding themselves. It’s a right of passage. If they screw up, they get their wrists slapped along with a second or third chance to do better.

“When white people behave badly, it’s an individual trait. When people of colour misbehave, it’s a problem with the entire race. White people get the green light to be hedonistic, carefree, flawed. We know we’re not afforded that privilege.”

While her time at Western and living in London was anything but fun, Eternity discovered V-Day, enrolled in a Black Women’s History in Canada elective and found her voice as a writer. She went on to earn a master’s in journalism from Ryerson and is now an award-winning journalist and senior editor at Xtra.

Anyone working in postsecondary education should read Eternity’s memoir. You’ll get a better, and sobering, understanding of what Black and Indigenous students experience day-in and day-out both on-campus and in the community.

At a minimum, we’ll know what to do if we ever see three racists in blackface walk into a crowded bar to terrorize a 19-year-old.

Racism reeducation book #3: Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race

racismSo You Want to Talk About Race is one of eight books I’ll be reading and reviewing as part of my overdue reeducation on racism. I’ve reviewed more than 500 business books for The Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations for 27 years.

I did what Ijeoma Oluo says we shouldn’t do.

I reviewed a business book about diversity and inclusion for the Hamilton Spectator back in June.

I emailed a draft of the review to a pair of Black colleagues.

I said I was looking for feedback. But maybe a part of me was also seeking absolution.

As our organizations start to have hard and honest conversations about racism at work and what to do about it, Ijeoma cautions against leaning on our Black colleagues.

book raceIjeoma wrote the New York Times bestseller So You Want to Talk About Race and received the 2018 Feminist Humanist Award from the American Humanist Society.

“I’ve seen the look of trepidation on the faces of people of color when they are told that their organization or workplace will be reading this book together,” says Ijeoma.

“They immediately envision the burden that will likely be placed on them; they know they will be treated as the walking racial Google of the group to explain every term or nuance that escapes their white peers; or as the unpaid therapist to help their white peers process their emotions in realizing that perhaps they aren’t he anti-racist heroes they thought they were, all while ignoring the deep strain and trauma they are inflicting on the few people of color in their midst.”

You can spare your colleagues the strain and trauma by making Ijeoma’s book your pre-conversation homework assignment.

She answers 17 questions, from what is racism, intersectionality and microaggressions to cultural appropriation, the school-to-prison pipeline and what to do if you’ve been called a racist.

Ijeoma defines racism as “a prejudice against someone based on race, when those prejudices are reinforced by systems of power”. It’s the back half of the sentence that we need to wrestle with.

“The impotent hatred of the virulent racist was built and nurtured by a system that has much more insidiously woven a quieter, yet no less violent, version of those same oppressive beliefs into the fabric of our society. The truth is, you don’t even have to ‘be racist’ to be a part of the racist system.”

Ijeoma’s conversation guide will help you come to terms with that system and the role each of us can play in making overdue changes.

It’s good that our organizations are talking about racism and ways for creating workplaces where everyone feels welcome. But Ijeoma says we need to do more than just talk amongst ourselves.

“We cannot understand race and racial oppression if we cannot talk about it,” says Ijeoma. “Talk. Please talk and talk and talk some more.

“But also act. Act now, because people are dying now in this unjust system. Act and talk and learn and fuck up and learn some more and act again and do better. We have to do this all at once. We have to learn and fight at the same time. Because people have been waiting far too long for their chance to live as equals in this society.”

My summary of Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy is posted here.

My summary of Robin Diagnelo’s White Fragility is posted here.

Losing your job in a global pandemic is a lifequake. Here’s how to recover (review of Life is in the Transitions)

transitionHere’s hoping you don’t personally know anyone who’s lost their life to COVID-19.

But you likely know more than a few people who’ve lost their livelihoods during the pandemic. Maybe you’re among the millions of Canadians who’ve been laid off, let go or had to shutter their business over the last five months.

“It’s a recession when your neighbor loses his job,” President Harry Truman once said. “It’s a depression when you lose your own.”

It also qualifies as a life-disrupting, dream-shattering and confidence-puncturing lifequake. Bruce Feiler, author of Life is in the Transitions: Managing Change at Any Age,  coined the term after spending three years collecting 225 life stories from everyday people.

transitionFeiler sorted through life’s high, low and turning points to come up with a full deck of 52 disruptors. These breaches in our daily routine can be positive or negative, voluntary or dropped on us without warning.

The most disorienting and destabilizing disruptors are lifequakes. When a lifequake hits, our life story now comes with a turning point that leaves a clearly delineated before and after.  Our life was headed in one direction and is now going somewhere else entirely.

“The carnage they cause can be devastating, they’re higher on the Richter scale of consequence and their aftershocks can last for years,” says Feiler about lifequakes.

First, the bad news. On average, those aftershocks last five years.  We’ll work our way through a long goodbye, a messy middle and an eventual new beginning. We can expect three to five of these massive transitions during our lifetime.

But here’s the good news. While lifequakes last longer than we think, they don’t last any longer than we need. Also, reimagining and reconstructing our personal stories is vital to living a fulfilling life, says Feiler.

An existential crisis can deliver an existential solution.  If we’re ignoring the expiration date that’s long passed in a job, career or relationship, a lifequake can get us unstuck and help us rediscover the plot and point of our lives. It’s in the chaos of a head-spinning and heartrending transition that we can separate signal from noise.

Try hard not to resist, balk, deny, wallow and be resentful when hit with a lifequake. “The initial jolt can be voluntary or involuntary, but the transition must be voluntary. You have to make your own meaning. The key to benefiting from them is to not turn away. Don’t shield your eyes when the scary parts start; that’s when the heroes are made.”

Based on lessons learned from the people he interviewed, Feiler’s come up with a seven-step toolkit for navigating transitions. “I expected that how people handled crises in their personal lives or work lives or spiritual lives would be quite different from one another. What I found was far more similarities – and a far more unified toolkit – than I ever would have imagined.”

Here’s Feiler’s transition toolkit:

Accept what you’re going through.

Mark the transition by ritualizing the change.

Shed it by giving up old mindsets, routines, dreams and delusions.

Create a new life by trying new things.

Share it by seeking wisdom from others and getting the feedback you most need to hear at exactly the moment you need it most.

Launch it by unveiling your new self.

Tell it by composing a fresh story about your life.

Feiler warns that we’re all haunted by the ghost of linearity. We shouldn’t count on our careers moving seamlessly onwards and upwards. Instead, we should expect even more disruptions as our careers increasingly come to resemble portfolios rather than paths.

“Primed to expect that our lives will follow a predictable path, we’re thrown when they don’t. We have linear expectations but nonlinear realities. The linear life is dead. The nonlinear life involves more life transitions. Life transitions are a skill we can, and must, master.”

Feiler shows how to use planned and unexpected transitions to revisit, revise and restart our life stories.

This review first ran in the July 24th edition of The Hamilton Spectator. Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Review: Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator

trust meThis review first ran in the Feb. 11 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

My Feb. 11 hour 3 interview (35 min mark) with Bill Kelly on CHML 900 is posted here.

Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator

Ryan Holiday

Portfolio / Penguin


Welcome to Diatribe Partners, Hamilton’s premier consulting shop specializing in social media smackdowns.

Got a local politician, member of the Fifth Estate, business or community leader who doesn’t share your view of the world? We’re here to help.

We custom-build campaigns to shame, silence and grind your enemies into submission. At Diatribe Partners, we don’t cast aspersions. We destroy reputations. Dissatisfaction guaranteed.

A winning combination of snark and self-righteous indignation will fire up and unleash the fury of real and fake Facebook friends and Twitter followers.

We’ll enlist the help of local hit-happy and traffic-hungry social media power users to recycle a steady diet of mis- and disinformation.

Together, we’ll blindside and bury your enemy with a barrage of well-timed tweets and posts crafted to be as viral as they are toxic.

We’ll bait your besieged and frustrated target into saying something regrettable that can and will be used against them over and over again in the court of public opinion.

We’ll manufacture online conflict and controversy that stands a good chance of generating offline coverage in the mainstream media.

And should your foe fight back, we’ll take a slight detour to the high road. We’ll claim only to be interested in having an impassioned constructive conversation and giving voice to the common people.

Here at Diatribe Partners, self-confessed media manipulator and online hit man Ryan Holiday is our patron saint. And Holiday’s expose — Trust Me, I’m Lying — is our playbook.

Holiday, who’s director of marketing for American Apparel and a freelance reputation manager, admits to having abused and misled social media to influence what wound up in the mainstream press. “I created false perceptions through blogs which led to bad conclusions and wrong decisions — real decisions in the real world that had consequences for real people.”

Those tactics and consequences can be ugly. “Online lynch mobs. Attack blogs. Smear campaigns. Snark. Cyberbullying. Trial by comment section. It is clear to me that the online media cycle is not a process for developing truth but for performing a kind of cultural catharsis,” says Holiday.

Anthropologists talk about ritualized destruction and degradation ceremonies. Colonial Massachusetts had Salem witch trials. Today, we have Twitter and Facebook. “Their purpose is to allow the public to single out and denounce one of its members,” says Holiday. “To lower their status or expel them from the group. To collectively take out our anger at them by stripping them of their dignity. It is a we-versus-you scenario with deep biological roots.”

And then there’s the predominance of snark and sarcasm in social media. People say online what they would never have the courage to say face-to-face. “There is a reason that the weak are drawn to snark while the strong simply say what they mean,” says Holiday. “Snark makes the speaker feel a strength they know deep down they do not possess. It shields their insecurity and makes the writer feel like they are in control. Snark is the ideal intellectual position. It can criticize but it cannot be criticized.

“Bloggers lie, distort and attack because it is in their interest to do so. The medium believes it is giving the people what they want when it simplifies, sensationalizes and panders. This creates countless opportunities for manipulation and influence.”

Holiday argues that you can’t have your news instantly and have it done well. That you can’t have your news reduced to 140 characters or less without losing large parts of it. And that you can’t manipulate the news and expect it won’t be manipulated against you.

The economics of the Internet have created a twisted set of incentives, says Holiday. Traffic is more important and profitable than the truth. “When we understand the logic that drives these business choices, those choices became predictable. And what is predictable can be anticipated, redirected, accelerated or controlled.”

Diatribe Partners has decided to ignore Holiday’s final words of caution. “Part of writing this book was about a controlled burn of the plays and scams I have created and used along with the best of them,” says Holiday. “Of course, I know some of you might ignore that part and use this book as an instruction manual. So be it. You will come to regret that choice, just as I have.”