Return: Race, Democracy, and the Boundaries of Belonging in North America

Debra Thompson | Associate Professor, McGill University

Monday, February 8, 2021 12:15 PM



In a political climate in which immigrants are often told to “go back where you came from,” this paper explores the intersections of race, immigration, and belonging in North America. It juxtaposes my deep, ancestral connections to Black America and with a parallel but at times competing national affinity with the land to which many enslaved Black Americans once fled: Canada. Using the analytical insights of black political thought, I use personal narrative to explore the boundaries of racial belonging; to identify key facets of Canadian ideas about race and racism, including the intersection of racial formations and settler colonialism; to analyze the transnational nuances and contours of the African diaspora in North America; and ultimately, to think through what it means to be in a place, but not be of that place. Tethering territorial and temporal boundaries to our contemporary understandings of race, the paper seeks to both reconsider and recalibrate ideas of home, belonging, diaspora, and the meaning of democracy. Debra Thompson is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Canada Research Chair in Racial Inequality in Democratic Societies at McGill University. Her award-winning book, The Schematic State: Race, Transnationalism, and the Politics of the Census (Cambridge University Press, 2016) is a study of the political development of racial classifications on the national censuses of the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. She is currently writing two book projects: the first explores the transnational dynamics of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the second, co-authored with Keith Banting (Queen’s University) analyzes the puzzling persistence of racial inequality in Canada.