Showing Grit – Showboating North of the 44th Parallel

In the Introduction NourbeSe Philip describes why she wrote this book:

I wrote Showing Grit in an attempt to clarify for myself and, I hope, for others the wealth of issues the Toronto production of Show Boat has generated. It is my wish that it contribute to increased knowledge on the part of everyone, particularly young African Canadians, about the experiences of Africans in the New World. It is my desire that those in the front line of the effort to stop this production use this work as a weapon in their struggle: it was given to me, and I wrote it, in that spirit. The very same spirit of our foremothcrs and forefathers who used everything at their disposal to resist those who would grind them into dust and scatter the residue to the winds.

(p.4) ©M.Nourbese Philip 1993

She goes on to describe each of the three sections of the book: Part I gives a historical background to American racism, and provides a detailed analysis of the book, Show Boat, the musical and its film versions.
Part II contains the argument about the role of culture and the significance of Show Boat to Canada at this particular time.
Part III explores a number of critical issues such as the failure or refusal of former slave-holding countries to recognize slavery as the holocaust and genocide it has been; language and its relationship to knowledge and power, and Black / Jewish relations.

(p.5) ©M.Nourbese Philip 1993

Two additional quotes from the book highlight why this is such an important issue:

The affront at the heart of Show Boat is still very alive today. It begins with the book and its negative and one-dimensional images of Black people, and continues on through the colossal and deliberate omission of the Black experience, including the pain of a people traumatized by four centuries of attempted genocide and exploitation. Not to mention the appropriation of Black music for the profit of the very people who oppressed Blacks and Africans. All this continues to offend deeply. The ‘ol’ man river of racism continues to run through the history of these productions and is very much part of this (Toronto) production. It is part of the overwhelming need of white Americans and white Canadians to convince themselves of our inferiority — that our demands don’t represent a challenge to them, their privilege and their superiority.

(p.59) ©M.Nourbese Philip 1993

In its essence, the struggle around Show Boat is not about Jews versus Blacks, but about Blacks and Africans and Jews, and South Asians and East Asians and First Nations people and committed whites working, sometimes together, sometimes separately to resist systems of domination and humiliation. More than this, it is about all these groups envisioning and building the kind of society we wish to be a part of. We, whom History has ambushed and not forgotten, let us cherish our dead, with our breaths let us blow into flames the still warm ashes of our memories and reach out and struggle with those who want to struggle with us toward a new beginning. In Toronto. In Ontario. In Canada.

(p.95) ©M.Nourbese Philip 1993