The Long Road Home with Debra Thompson

Dr. Debra Thompson (@debthompsonphd), talks about her poignant, profound and powerful book, The Long Road Home: On Blackness and Belonging, about her journey back home. She weaves together insights on the politics of race and racialization and Black identity while discussing family history, growing up in Oshawa, and her experiences, in academic spaces in Chicago, in Ohio, in Portland, and in Canada.

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Transcript
Ethel Tungohan:

I'm Dr. Ethel Tungohan, an Associate Professor of Politics at York University. This is Academic Aunties.

Ethel Tungohan:

This week our guest knows all too well about the need to be a subversive in the academy. Dr. Debra Thompson or Auntie Deb has been one of my truest friends in this world. And she's just written a really poignant, profound and powerful book about her journey back home.

Ethel Tungohan:

She weaves together insights on the politics of race and racialization and Black identity while discussing family history, growing up in Oshawa, and her experiences, in academic spaces in Chicago, in Ohio, in Portland, and in Canada. I really enjoyed this conversation and I know you will too.

Ethel Tungohan:

I am so excited to have Professor Debra Thompson, Auntie Deb, good friend Deb, who's also been on Academic Aunties before, with us today to talk about her book, which is now out, The Long Road Home: On Blackness and Belonging.

Ethel Tungohan:

Hello, Auntie Deb.

Debra Thompson:

Hi Ethel. I am so happy to be our like repeat guest on Academic Aunties. It makes me so happy.

Ethel Tungohan:

I am so jazzed that you're here right now. I can't wait to talk about the book. And I think the book itself is fantastic and I think it should be required reading. Honestly, you should be super proud of this accomplishment.

Ethel Tungohan:

I read it twice, right?

Debra Thompson:

Thank you. Thanks. It's terrifying that it's out in the world. It's 'cause it I've been working on it for a long time. And as you know it's deeply personal. People keep calling it that. And I was like, oh, I didn't know it was deeply personal.

Debra Thompson:

Um, but now people know my dog's name. So I guess it is.

Ethel Tungohan:

Well, I have a few book related questions, but I also wanted to talk to you first about writing and about the process that you followed. And so, yeah, let's just talk about the deeply personal description that people are using. Why does that unnverve you, and why does it feel different based on kind of the cues you're sending me from putting your academic writing out there?

Debra Thompson:

Yeah, so there's a couple of reasons. One is at the most basic answer is that I am actually a very, very private person. And you know, like, you know, me well. We've known each other for 20 years. I live a lot in my head, and I've moved around a lot. And so kind of as a result of that, like I have to, I start over when I, whenever I move somewhere new.

Debra Thompson:

And so people get the version of me that exists now and don't know the version of me that existed 10, 20, 30 years ago. There's some good things in that. Like I get to reinvent myself every few years and that's kind of great. The problem is that no one really gets to know you well other than people who've been with you for your entire life or for years like you and some of our friends from the PhD and obviously my siblings. So I'm, deeply private. I really value that. And telling these stories in the context of a book goes against a lot of the norms that we have in political science, right?

Debra Thompson:

Like we are told, how many times have you been told, like it's research, not me-search. And it's said with this disdain, right? That the experiences we have aren't relevant to anything that we do in the academy. And it's just such bullshit, right? There is no such thing as neutrality or objectivity.

Debra Thompson:

I do believe in social sciences. Like, I believe that we can take evidence and create generalizable theories and then test those theories. But I also believe that personal experience is how we create better questions. Right? And how we should seek to find answers about the way in which democracy is experienced and people live their lives.

Debra Thompson:

That's also quite important to me. And so writing something that was, I guess it's almost autoethnographic. You know, it was quite a departure from what I've done before in some ways. But in other ways it was also, it was really like writing lectures, to be honest.

Debra Thompson:

That's the closest thing that I can think of for those of you who write lectures, you know, for a three hour class once a week, and you have to get up there and introduce a topic and then introduce concepts and define them and then talk about how they play out in the real world and give examples and tell a story along the way and get feedback.

Debra Thompson:

It was like writing seven or eight different really long lectures. And the style of the book you know, it's meant to be a teaching tool. It's meant to be pedagogical. It's meant to help people learn something and hopefully take lessons away once they finish the book.

Ethel Tungohan:

A hundred percent. And one thing that I noted when reading this book is that, you know, you are very good at merging together personal narrative with historical and political research. Right? And I thought that was done incredibly well. I guess my question to you is, a lot of academic writing is so stilted and boring. Honestly, if I can just be a hundred percent honest here. Out of all of your articles and your other book, which I've read too.

Ethel Tungohan:

Right? I like this the best I was like...

Debra Thompson:

Me too.

Ethel Tungohan:

Right.

Debra Thompson:

With the exception that I once wrote a chapter on Black diaspora in Black Panther.

Ethel Tungohan:

Oh?

Debra Thompson:

In a volume on like political science fiction. And that's I think the favorite that's my, the favorite thing like that I've ever written is Black diasporic thought in, in Black Panther.

Debra Thompson:

But besides that, this is my favorite.

Ethel Tungohan:

Right. Send me the link for that. And I'll put it in our show notes, but yeah. So what was the process like in writing this though? So you said you were writing this as mini lectures, but I almost felt like when you were writing this you felt freer because you didn't have to abide by some of the ways we're taught to write in political science, right? Where you reference everything. Where you of have to make sure that you hit the mark when it comes to the tone of political science writing.

Debra Thompson:

Yeah. So the model that I was using was actually the work of Saidiya Hartman. If you read Lose Your Mother, even her new Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments. Like her, what one is like, she's brilliant obviously. Um, and Lose your Mother in particular was a book that I encountered like pretty, pretty late, you know, should have read it sooner.

Debra Thompson:

Um, and she does the same thing, right? She's in the narrative, she's telling the story about her journey you know, to Africa to retrace the route of the slave trade. And she kind of like pops in and out of the narrative. Sometimes she disappears for entire chapters and sometimes entire chapters are just about her and her experiences.

Debra Thompson:

But I found that like really inspirational in part, because it was so compelling and still able to talk about this really, really hard traumatic topic in a way that was like complicated and nuanced and still quite, quite personal. So I was, it was using her writing as a model. But you know, make no mistake. The end result of this book was a lot of back and forth between like me and my editors who are amazing.

Debra Thompson:

My editors at Simon and Schuster were incredible. And they always wanted more me and I always wanted less me, you know. Like tell us the personal, tell us stories, tell us about your experiences. And I was always more, let's talk about the American constitution and the three fifths compromise.

Debra Thompson:up in Oshawa, Ontario in the:Debra Thompson:

And now it's like my favorite chapter actually. The Oshawa chapter I think it does a lot of things. And I was really like, quite, quite proud of it when I finished writing it.

Ethel Tungohan:

I really like that chapter, because I felt like you really dove into kind of these formative experiences that enshrined your idea of who you were. So I love in particular how, you know, I mean, a recurring theme in this book, and maybe we can just jump into the content, is the role of sympathetic power brokers who use their power for good.

Ethel Tungohan:

Right. And so in the Oshawa chapter, and this is like a light spoiler listener. So I don't think. You know, but it doesn't completely spoil it. Right? Like one of the figures you cite was your dad's friend, the principal who actually intervened. And you also later cited Joe and Jenny, Joe Carens my PhD supervisor, Jenny Nedelsky, your PhD supervisor, who's also been a mentor to me and to, to many of us, people of color in the academy. And then you also cite Richard Iton. So can you talk a little bit about the role of mentors in this book and why, you know, it's almost like you were writing a love letter to Richard, I felt when book.

Debra Thompson:

Yeah. The role of mentors is so important. And so part of what I was trying to do, especially in that chapter on, on the only one and in subsequent chapters is show how contingent my life has been. Like how full of happenstance. It's easy to look at me and look at like the successes I've had and be like, you know, yeah. Like she's smart or talented or worked hard or whatever. And like, yeah. And no. There are lots of people who are smart and talented and work hard. And are not in the position that I'm in. Right? And the reason I'm in this position is a lot of luck. A lot of being in the right place at the right time, a lot of white allies or like power brokers who use their position of power to either protect me or to open doors for me, or to help me find redress. Or to shut things down when they went wrong.

Debra Thompson:

You know, those people who have used their social capital in that way have been instrumental in my life. And I also in that chapter wanted to say like, the reason I am here is not because of like Canadian multiculturalism. You know, It's not because Canada's so multicultural and so diverse, and so not racist. I'm here in spite of the fact that Canada has these claims. You know, one of the other themes is like people literally are trying to like sabotage my career because they didn't like that I have had some of the successes that I've had. So I didn't want it to be this story of you know, Black talent. You know, I didn't want it to be this story of rugged individualism or like neoliberalism. I didn't want it to be the story of individual triumph, 'cause it's not. It's a story of a lot of structural racism that I had to deal with that people helped me mitigate.

Debra Thompson:

And also the ways in which I benefited from, I don't know, like universal healthcare. Kind of, you know. The dealing with some health issues now and the universality of our healthcare is an open question friends, um, or like the social safety net. You know, I think I write in the book that like one of the reasons I am where I am is because like my, my father has had several strokes and my family is not bankrupt, you know, because we, because he has had been able to access medical care and we have not had to pay tens of thousands of dollars to ensure that we could save his life.

Debra Thompson:

Right. And so, like these structural factors are part of the story. I hate the stories of singular triumph. It's just not accurate in any way.

Ethel Tungohan:

A hundred percent. And I think one of the things I really loved about this is you do weave in the structural racism and the structural constraints that you face alongside what Luin Goldring and Patricia Landolt call about kind of the chutes and ladders of precarity and so the role of gatekeepers and power brokers are so important in this journey as well.

Ethel Tungohan:

One thing I wanted to push you on a little bit, and we've had like sidebar conversations about this. You kind of just said it in a throwaway, you know, whatever, like, oh, multiculturalism I'm here in spite of multiculturalism.

Ethel Tungohan:

What do you mean by that?

Debra Thompson:up in the House of Commons in:Debra Thompson:

Um, one. You know, multiculturalism is created to shut down some of the claims around sovereignty and like the separatist movement that's growing in Quebec. Right? That's the origin of multiculturalism is very much tied up with Quebec nationalism as a way to counter that movement. And secondly, you know, Pierre Elliot Trudeau declares Canada to be multicultural when it is like 98% white.

Debra Thompson:

Right? So multiculturalism is a policy that's created largely by and for white ethnic groups, and was never meant to promote or adhere to the kind of racial diversity that we now associate with Canadian multiculturalism. And for most of the history of Canadian multiculturalism, it has done a very poor job at being anti-racist in any way.

Debra Thompson:

Like we have the Charter. The Charter's a powerful, powerful tool. Section 15 is a powerful tool of the Charter because it's constitutionalized right? The multiculturalism policy more often than not has been, first of all, the budgets have always been tiny.

Debra Thompson:

Secondly, you know, it's gone through various periods and, you know, like of course Abby Bakken and Yasmeen Abu-Laben write about this. It's gone through periods of having kind of more like antidiscrimination protocols attached to it. But largely it's, in my mind, about the rhetoric. Right. And look, ideas are powerful. They're worthwhile, symbols are powerful. And yet what Canadian multiculturalism has enabled white Canadians to do is absolve themselves for the responsibility of maintaining systems of white supremacy at every turn, in every Canadian political, economic, and social institution.

Debra Thompson:

It's like that denial, like the, the, the Canadian denial that racism exists in this country. And I truly believe that multiculturalism plays a part in Canadians' ability to just not talk about race. You know, like how many times have you heard but we're so multicultural as a response to like police brutality.

Ethel Tungohan:

Yeah. All the time, you know, you know, like in my research, but also in my lived experience. Right. Which is what you do so powerfully in the book. So let's dive into that. It was interesting reading the UofT chapter or the Toronto chapter, 'cause I'm like...

Debra Thompson:

U of T being University of Toronto, not University of Texas for any Americans who are listening...

Ethel Tungohan:

Good clarification. One thing that was really interesting reading this was hearing you reflect about your time there, like years later was interesting to me because the Deb I knew then isn't the Deb I know now. Right? And so, you know, one, one thing that kind of struck me was it seemed as though in the book, you're saying that you've had to fight back against peers who, say that your research is irrelevant because you're talking about race. Why talk about race. Canada's multicultural.

Ethel Tungohan:

So on the one hand, there's like resistance when it came to your research topic, but also resistance when it came to your presence. So how do you square both realities and how on reflection do you think you've changed your perception with respect to academic success, right? Like you said, in the book that you've shifted a little bit, like you realize now that you know, it's not, it's, it's, it's facile to say, oh, you have to work twice as hard to, to earn half as much.

Ethel Tungohan:

That that actually was the wrong mentality.

Debra Thompson:

Yeah. Yeah. I don't believe in that anymore. You know, like when we were at Toronto, you know, there was look at the time, you know, things were different. On the one hand, it was so clear how far we have to go in terms of like actually achieving racial justice in this country or others.

Debra Thompson:PhD... so I started my PhD in:Ethel Tungohan:

Oh, the backpack.

Debra Thompson:

In '88.

Debra Thompson:

But like white privilege was not a concept that people were talking about in any way. Um, so, and people certainly weren't writing about race in Canada. You know, Indigenous scholars obviously were writing about settler colonialism, and that was as I write in the book, so instrumental to my education on these issues.

Debra Thompson:

But people weren't writing about race in Canada in a way that, that I wanted to think about it. I think there were people writing about like ethnicity. Like I remember, yeah. I remember showing up in a sociology class, I won't say who was teaching it, but I remember the first day of class trying to talk about race and the professor just like shut me down and was like, we don't talk about that here.

Debra Thompson:

And I was like, see ya, like. Nice. Nice to have, have talked to you very briefly. Um, you know, so no one was talking about that. And so as a result, I had a lot of folks, even like in our department who were kind of like, like, I don't think you're in the right department. Like, I don't think this is political.

Debra Thompson:

I wrote an article in response called Is Race Political for that reason. And like, to be clear, I had a bunch of advocates in the department as well. Like the only reason that article was published was I wrote it for the Canadian politics pro seminar that Linda White was teaching. And she was like, I think you should submit this to CJPS.

Debra Thompson:

And I was like, okay, Linda, you know, and I did. And that's why, you know, and I would never have dreamed of doing that. This is what I mean by like these interlocutors who have been very helpful, uh, in my career.

Debra Thompson:, I went on the job market in:Debra Thompson:

But I say most because like, I think like Black people and Indigenous people and other people of color were like, no. Like, wait for it. We could see it. You could see the antecedents in, in the Tea Party. Right.

Debra Thompson:

You could see, you could see Trump coming. We saw Trump coming. You know, like all that literature about like political science failed to predict like the rise of Trump. Like, no, no, no, no. Some political science knew this would happen. You know, very clearly it's just that, you know, nobody listens to us.

Ethel Tungohan:t like, you know, you started:Ethel Tungohan:o weird to talk about this in:Ethel Tungohan:

And I'm like, what, what. So like how did you, and I'm just using my friend privilege asking you this now, 'cause I never asked you about this. Way back in the day, like, you know... first tell our listeners about how people in our department, some people, some mediocre white men would react when you said you were doing research on race.

Debra Thompson:

Yeah, I have like a, a super clear memory of this. Like we are in the, the GSU, the Graduate Student Union drinking terrible beer. And I we'd be talking about like studying race or my research on race. And the white boys in our department would be like, you know, Deb, if you really wanted to know about race, you should just watch The Wire. And I was like, you should watch The Wire, you know, like, you know. Like I'm not the one who needs to watch The Wire dude. This is my life. This is my life. Like, do you think I didn't get this shit kicked outta me as a child? Because like the white children in my neighborhood terrorized us. I'm not the one who needs to learn about racism.

Debra Thompson:

You know, I'm not the one and I'm not the one who should be doing the labor of learning about racism. So like good for you for watching The Wire. Let me recommend you also read W. E. B. Du Bois, you know, like, so there's that kind of like dismissiveness too, that like I've watched a television show.

Ethel Tungohan:

Yeah. And the arrogance too. So one, what I wanted to ask you was, you know, reading through this and with the benefit of hindsight, how did you even, why did you even stay, right? Like,

Debra Thompson:

In the academy?

Ethel Tungohan:

Yeah, because these things kept happening right. To you. Um, well, to people of color it's, it's like these microaggressions, not even microaggressions, actual aggression, aggressions.

Ethel Tungohan:

Like I remember at one point you got a job offer for a lot of money to go back to the government and, and you were considering it. You, you had talked to a bunch of us, you were like, oh my gosh, honestly, like this presents economic stability, but yet you stayed. So, you know, what, what led you to stay?

Debra Thompson:

That is a great question. So one of the things I like about the book is that, it is the book that I wish I had. You know, it's a book that wish I had as a young person, maybe like a, a 18 year old, maybe like in high school or the beginning of my undergrad.

Debra Thompson:

Because I didn't know what... like, I didn't have the vocabulary, even as race was something like I studied, right. Like I didn't have the vocabulary. I didn't know racist things were happening to me until they had happened. If that makes sense. You know what I mean? Like I, like, I kind of, I was always like wary of power.

Debra Thompson:

I was always wary of, of institutions and structures. But for the most part, when things went badly and they frequently did. Things frequently went like very, very badly for me and in traumatizing, terrible ways. And it wasn't until things got really bad that I looked back and could see like the kind of in hindsight, like the long lead up and like all the moments of like microaggressions, the moments where I was treated unfairly, the things were like, I was kind of like, huh. That's odd, you know. And one of the things I I've I've said to, to folks even recently is when racist things happen to you, there's part of your brain, that's like, huh? That seems racist. And then there's part of your brain. That's like, was that racist? Or do people just not like me. You know, like really, right. Like when things happen, like, especially we're gonna talk about like Ohio university and like, that was a, a central question was like, like maybe people, just, maybe people just don't like me because like, I'm a bitch.

Debra Thompson:

Like maybe?

Ethel Tungohan:

Oh my God,

Debra Thompson:

Maybe people don't, maybe people call me outspoken because I am in fact outspoken, like, you know, so like actually piecing apart and being like, oh no, wait, this is something that happens only to women of color. You know, this is something that's super gendered, super racialized.

Debra Thompson:

Nope. You know, my, my colleagues would never have dreamed of saying the same thing about like the, the white presenting Latina in my department who, you know, who would do similar things, but get away with them. Right. So I wasn't aware of even the things happening to me as they were happening.

Ethel Tungohan:

I think you raise such, I dunno, such a poignant point, 'cause I think, you know, frequently people think, you know, how to react when bad things are happening to you. Like when people get sexually harassed, they're like, well, why didn't you walk away? Right. Or why didn't you do this?

Ethel Tungohan:

Why didn't you do that? And you're still processing it because you're not sure that what's happening to you is, is racism. Right? And so it kind of takes an accumulation of these moments and the benefit of time for you to be like, oh, for the penny to drop, you know what I mean?

Debra Thompson:

There's this great, the, the great line, like, you know, I... my dad is throughout the book as you know, and he's like, he's a character. But like one of the things he says, and I put it in the book, is that like hindsight's 20/20, because any fool can turn around and look behind them. But like, hindsight's, it is so powerful.

Debra Thompson:

Like I look back now and I'm like, oh my God. Like they know, like, this stuff is like, clearly like both individualized and systemic racism, but at the time it was just life. It was just living, you know.

Ethel Tungohan:

And I think it was actually it, I, I knew about what was going down in Ohio. I knew what was going down with the department. I, I knew it. Right? Like you, you, you talked to me about this when this was going on, but reading about it now, I'm like, fuck.

Debra Thompson:

Yeah.

Ethel Tungohan:

'Cause when it was happening to you, it was almost like you were, and you were telling this to us verbally, right?

Ethel Tungohan:

Like I think we shared a hotel room in Vegas for a WPSA when this was going down. Right. You were almost like, matter of fact, you were like, eh, I hate them, but like clearly it's, it's still, it's still something that like you're still healing from.

Debra Thompson:

I, I, I hate them. And, uh, and like, and no, and it was, it was traumatizing. You know, like at one point I, when I, you know, I had a, I had a lawyer who like, had to, you know, intervene to shut things down, 'cause like there was so much institutional racism at the university and I had described it to her as like PTSD.

Debra Thompson:

I was like, look, I think I have PTSD. And she was like, okay. So there's a very spec specific definition of that in the law. So we can't actually say that. And I was like, okay, fine. But like, I feel traumatized. I stopped eating. I was smoking a ton of weed and cigarettes and just like, I, you know, and I was like, I have to live in this tiny town with these terrible colleagues.

Debra Thompson:

I have to go to the office every day, because that was like the culture among these vipers who are trying to destroy my career. I have to sit across from them in departmental meetings while they smile at me and pretend that they're fucking good white allies. Right. And I cannot afford to piss them off because we are still in the same discipline, you know, to this day, I still see them at conferences.

Ethel Tungohan:

A hundred percent.

Debra Thompson:

And, you know, and what, you know, we are still in, in, in some cases in the same subfield. Like my friends are their friends, right. And so it's like the stuff doesn't, it doesn't just go away as they, that's a part of thing about like racist incidents. You carry it with you, you carry it in your body.

Debra Thompson:

And this is other line in the book where I'm talking about my dad and the fact that he's had several strokes and it's like this funny kind of like throwaway line where I say like, if the racism doesn't get us heart disease does. And then there's an end note. It's a very long end note where I discuss the link between racism and heart disease and like part of the psychological and physiological weight of racism and how it ends Black lives early.

Debra Thompson:

Like not even through police violence, which is what we most commonly think. But just because of the mental and physiological stress involved in being Black in this world.

c

Ethel Tungohan:

Going back to this question of quitting and staying and why did you stay when you're experiencing all of this shit? I guess the flip side to that is to ask, what gives you joy in this work?

Ethel Tungohan:

What advice, what insights can you give our listeners who are feeling really down, and they're like why should we stay? And how can we find joy in, in what we're doing?

Debra Thompson:

Yeah. I mean like the, the, the opening bit of the book is a quote from, from Dionne Brand. You know, who, if anybody has not read A Map To The Door Of No Return, it like changed my life. Uh, it's the most beautiful book. And she wrote, you don't write about racism. You write about life. It's life you must write about. It is life you must insist on.

Debra Thompson:

And that spoke to me so much because the book is, you know, I didn't wanna write a book that was like, just about racism, you know, like it's a bummer, like, um, and so what I wanted to, to write a book about was actually like what Katherine McKittrick calls, you know, Black life and Black livingness. Like ways of being in the world as Black that are like immensely joyful. And powerful and, you know, full of like the full spectrum of what it means to be a human, right?

Debra Thompson:

So like if you read this book what you will find is like, you'll find a, a, you know, you know, my dad's a character, you know, you'll find like that I feel like I am a deeply awkward human being. It surprises me that I have friends most of the time, you know. Like I have siblings who are amazing and funny. I have friends who have been, you know, who I get to complain to about like the state of the world. I have children who are like the love of my life, you know? Life is this rich tapestry and like being Black in the world is it's it's full of like that the, the entire spectrum of the human experience. And we end up focusing a lot on, on Black death, you know, because that is the most violent way that, that racism manifests. But I wanna talk about is life and livingness right. And, and those experiences that make life worthwhile.

Debra Thompson:

And so we continue to do this work because it's important. It's important because like, you know, my students have never seen a Black faculty member, you know, in front of a classroom. And like, seeing me there is important. Representation's not everything as we've said, but it's something, and we continue this work because one of the things I always say about race politics in Canada is like, we have more questions than answers.

Debra Thompson:

Like, there's just like, We have more questions than people in this country, frankly. You know, like we there's so much, we don't know. And like, I think that the work that we do to uncover the nature of systemic institutional individualized racism in this country is important. And we do this so that the people who follow will not have to break this ground again.

Ethel Tungohan:

I love it. And I think one of the things that really comes across is how you take a lot of joy in teaching, in educating, in conversing with students in conversing with, you know, people at the bar. Right. Like, you know, when talking to them about, about your life, about your work, about, you know, random shit, right?

Ethel Tungohan:

Like, and I think one of my final questions to you is, as an educator, what do you hope that people will get fundamentally from this book?

Debra Thompson:

Yeah, that, that's a good question. So just a really quick word on teaching. I think I've, I know I've said this to you before, but like, I really feel like teaching is one of the only things that makes our job morally salvageable. Um, you know, in part, because like, look, we write articles that you cannot access without like institutional credentials or a lot of money.

Debra Thompson:

And so we end up talking to other elite academics in predominantly white spaces and it's, it's kind of gross, you know, it really is. And so, um, so, and teaching is a way that we, you know, I think we get to contribute to the world. Even as sometimes around grading. Grading is one of those things that I like to do...

Ethel Tungohan:

Mm-hmm mm-hmm

Debra Thompson:

I promise. Um, uh, so, you know, so like in terms of like, Like, what do I want people to, to get away from this book? Like, like I said, I think this is, I wrote the book I wish I had, you know, I, I, I really, I really do. I, um, I wanted to write a book that didn't pull punches, you know, like I wanted to write a book that was like complicated.

Debra Thompson:

And this is one of the, the, not, it wasn't a battle, but it was a lot of back and forth with my editors about tone, language and like the audience and this book is, you know, look, if you read this book, you're gonna get a great reading list out of the end. You're gonna get like a ton of, of actual, like, you know, social scientific research that you can then go read by yourself.

Debra Thompson:

You're gonna hopefully improve your vocabulary. Like the book, the book is still retains like I think it's, it's, I think it's accessible, but it's still complicated. And like, I wanted to retain that because like, this shit is complicated. Like it's racism and the way in which it operates in Canadian and American society is really complicated.

Debra Thompson:

I also wanted to bring together these strands of thought that often exist in ways that are quite siloed. You know, like we talk about reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, and you know, Americans sometimes talk about reparations for Black people, and we don't talk a whole lot about like Black- Indigenous solidarity.

Debra Thompson:

We talk about it in positive terms as though, like it's something we should do. What we don't talk about is the way in which Indigenous nations in the US owned slaves and the way that the formerly enslaved joined the American military as Buffalo soldiers and murdered Indigenous people.

Debra Thompson:

Right? So like those complications are important. Right? And so part of what the book does is like, it doesn't, doesn't pull punches. It doesn't downplay things. It's not a, you know, it's not a, a feel good story. There aren't any declarative answers, but that's okay. Because life is complicated. And sometimes sitting, I think I wrote this in the book, sitting in these complications is important.

Debra Thompson:

Sitting with them, you know, and, and, and letting them seep into your being and like being really uncomfortable that we may not have the answer to what would a racially just world look like? We don't have those answers now, but we are not gonna get them by ignoring the question.

Ethel Tungohan:

I think that definitely came across and I really, really, really adored your final chapter where you highlight ambiguity. Right. And I think one of the, one of the really honestly brilliant things about this book is that it's not like those, you know, how ever since, um, the movement for Black lives came up ways all of these like side hustles that people have, you know, listing waste not to be racist. Do you know what I mean? Do you know those books like these guidebooks? This is most definitely not about that. It's a book that complicates questions. It's a book that invites reflection. It's a book that invites the reader to think about their own narratives and also think about, you know, relationships between different communities, Indigenous communities, Black communities, settlerhood, um, being an arrivant, things like that. Right. And I, I really, and truly appreciated that. Honestly.

Debra Thompson:

I mean, I I'm, I'm glad I, I, you know, I, this is the thing is like, I, I like this book. I like, I actually, I've been doing a lot of press lately and I, I reread it and I had set it aside because like, we, we talked a little bit about the process of writing and the thing that I didn't mention, which I think, you know, but your, you know, audience probably doesn't is like how often I was like sitting under my desk like being like, this was a terrible idea. Why did I do this? I, I, I don't know how to, how to write this paragraph. I don't know like what I'm doing and had like very good friends and, and my partner kind of be like, no, this is important. Keep going. Like, you know, you can do this.

Debra Thompson:

I did not sit down and like start in chapter one and write this book straight through. It was messy. I had, you know, there were multiple versions of it. Uh, you know, it got chopped up and put back together. I had, I had, uh, folks who would read stuff and give me feedback. And then I, you know, like it was writing is messy, messy, messy.

Debra Thompson:

So once I finished the manuscript, I kind of just like left it and didn't look at it for months. And I recently reread the book and I was like, all right, This is okay. Like, like I, I still like it. I, I, I still like it. I think it does something. Um, and, uh, I'm, I'm, I'm, I'm quite proud of it. So I, and it means a lot that like, you like it Ethel cause you're like an expert.

Debra Thompson:

I was, I, I, in particular there's a chapter on like immigration politics. Um, and I was like, I can't, I can't wait for Ethel to, to read this part, you know, like tell, tell me what I got. Tell me if I'm tell me if I'm doing it. Right. You know? Um, uh, and so like, it means a lot that like folks, folks who know this material quite well still seem to, to get something outta the book and folks who have never encountered stuff before I think will, will, will also get something out of it.

Debra Thompson:

So I'm, I'm, I'm quite proud of that.

Ethel Tungohan:

I think it's, it's an excellent book. Um, thank you so much for putting this out in the world. Honestly, I mean, I know that the writing process is messy. I mean, I remember that writing retreat, we went on with Suzanne and Kelly and you were just like, oh my God. Like, you know, 'cause

Debra Thompson:

It's like, everything is terrible. Oh, you know what the entire scene that I wrote during that writing retreat got cut.

Ethel Tungohan:

What?

Debra Thompson:

Yeah. It...

Ethel Tungohan:

No!

Debra Thompson:

Um, yeah, it was a scene about a Facebook argument that I

Ethel Tungohan:

Yeah, I remember

Debra Thompson:

Right. I was, and I, I wrote this whole scene about like this argument I had, um, with like white women on Facebook and the whole thing just got cut.

Debra Thompson:

So there you go.

Ethel Tungohan:

Can you tell our listeners what this argument was about since it got cut in the book that might be interested in like.

Debra Thompson:

God. So it was , it was after Freddie Gray was murdered by the Baltimore police and I posted on Facebook and I said something like, all of my Black and brown friends are posting about, you know, this, this, this violence, this murder, and all of my white friends are posting about cats. Which for the record was true.

Debra Thompson:

And my God, my God, there were like hundreds of comments calling me racist and saying like, how dare I. You know, how dare I accuse white people of racism? Just because they're not posting doesn't mean they don't care. How sanctimonious am I? Someone was like, there are a lot of problems in the world Deb. Lung disease is a big issue in Ontario right now.

Debra Thompson:

And I was just like, when did I call anyone racist? Um, oh, okay. You know, like it was, it was wild. And I remember like the next day I was still at Ohio at the time. And I went into like the office and my, my colleagues, like ones who don't suck or didn't suck were like, what's up with your Canadian friends? My colleagues were just like, what is like, are these your friends from high school who never went on to university?

Debra Thompson:

And I was like, no, these are university educated Canadians who do not believe that racism exists.

Ethel Tungohan:

And some of Them have PhDs, some of

Debra Thompson:

Some of them have PhDs. Some of them are very senior in the federal government, you know? And they were like, my, my, my colleagues at the time were just like, we had no idea Canadians were so vitriolic or like were so vitriolic and so adamant that they couldn't be racist.

Debra Thompson:

And they were just, they were shocked because as my friend, Brandon, who's actually a character in, in the book said, he's like, nobody gets out of American education thinking that like racism doesn't exist. Right. Even though racists know racism, racism exists. And he's like, it is astounding to me that you have friends who have bachelor degrees, who, who do not think racism, you know, is, is a concept that holds any kind of validity in Canadian society.

Ethel Tungohan:

I remember that thread. And I remember these increasingly violent agitated responses. And I was just like, and some of these people are people that we both know in common and I'm just like, holy shit. They're like colleagues right in Canada. And I think it goes full circle back into the specter of multiculturalism and you know, much as much as like, I'm happy that you're back, obviously um, I have to say that, you know, I'm sure that it must be challenging having to go back to Canada. Trying to establish the validity of talking about race when you've been in spaces in particular, the Chicago chapter, where you felt, you seemed as though you blossomed there, right. Where you didn't even have to start at that point.

Ethel Tungohan:ink things have changed since:Ethel Tungohan:his, this conversation there.:Debra Thompson:

Yeah. I mean, I mean, I, I think like, yes and no, I. I think that we do have, we have like a long, long way to go in this country. Um, in terms of thinking about like what, what racism is, how it manifests and look, this is actually some of like the research that I'm, that I'm about to do. This is like kind of my next big research project is really thinking about what do we mean by systemic and structural racism in, in Canada?

Debra Thompson:

Because it does not manifest in the same way as it does in the US. It doesn't. it frequently manifests through discretion. I think this is part of like the, the way that this research is going is that when policy makers put discretionary power into policies that enable street level bureaucrats to make decisions, that's where that's more commonly where like racism manifests in terms of like restricted access or predatory inclusion or other kind of ways of just ensuring that you know, um, policies are applied universally and yet restricted in ways that are specific. That's like kind of my, that's my hunch. I'm gonna go out and do research and, and find out if, if, if it's right. But that's very different from the way, like systemic racism manifest in the US, which is more often these policy legacies.

Debra Thompson:

Right? Um, like, and, and the ways in which these institutions became entrenched and their consequences became entrenched. And so even though there's no more redlining, you know, and there's no more restrictive housing zoning policies that are explicitly creating, like all white suburbs, we still have all white suburbs.

Debra Thompson:

Right. So. We need a lot of information in Canada. We don't have, we don't have good information on so much in, in Canada in terms of, of racial inequality. But I do think things have changed. And the reason I think things have changed are like my students.

Ethel Tungohan:

mm.

Debra Thompson:

My students come in the classroom with a really sophisticated knowledge of racism, white supremacy, settler colonialism, and that is so different.

Debra Thompson:u know, like, like during, in:Ethel Tungohan:

Absolutely. And I really think this book will go a long way in prompting conversations among readers about race in Canada, which you're right has definitely different dynamics from race in the United States. And I'm so jazzed that you're doing this research, uh, looking at the role of discretion and I'll make sure to link Banting and Thompson in the show notes. Or Thompson and Banting um.

Debra Thompson:

No it's Banting at and Thompson.

Ethel Tungohan:

So folks can get a better sense of, um, the research trajectory that you're going on. Thank you so much Auntie Deb. This was amazing.

Debra Thompson:

Thank you. Thank you for having me and for, for promoting the book and saying all those nice things about it. I'm, I'm just like honored that you read it and it's, especially, it's especially meaningful that you read it because like, you know, y'all like Ethel knows my family and you know, my, I, I had a story in there at one point about how my, my brother replaced me in our friend group.

Debra Thompson:

Like I would be like in the US and like I'd see pictures of, of parties at Ethel's house, which used to be my house. And, uh and my brother's at a party. And I was like, did you just swap Thompsons? Like rude? Um, but you know, it means a lot because like you, you know me and, uh, and you, you read this and you still like it.

Debra Thompson:

And man, that's, that's something special.

Ethel Tungohan:

I am so proud to be your friend. And I am so proud of this book and honestly like congratulations Deb. And Jon Thompson's really cool, but I love both of you equally. Don't worry. Okay. Like just for the record. Anyway thanks, Deb.

Debra Thompson:

He's my he's my favorite brother.

Ethel Tungohan:

I really wanna thank Auntie Deb for speaking to me about her book and her experiences. If you haven't already, please go out and get this book. I promise you will love it. Seriously. Check out the show notes or our website, academicaunties.com for a link to buy The long road Home. And for all of the other books that be mentioned. If you wanna follow Auntie Deb, she's on Twitter at, @debthompsonphd.

Ethel Tungohan:

That's Academic Aunties. Follow us on Twitter at @AcademicAuntie and visit our webstie at academicaunties.com for all of the ways to support the pod.

Ethel Tungohan:

This episode was produced by myself, Wayne Chu and Dr. Nisha Nath.

Ethel Tungohan:

Tune in next time, when we talk to more academic aunties.

Ethel Tungohan:

Until then take care, be kind to yourself and don't be an asshole.