Frontiers – selected essays and writings on racism and culture 1984-1992

This collection of essays consists of selected writings from Guggenheim Fellow Marlene Nourbese Philip’s wide-ranging appearances in magazines, newspapers, and journals. Biting, elegant, by turns fiercely questioning, magically lyrical, and gently probing, Philip’s examination of contemporary issues of race and culture is always eloquent and commanding.

Editorial review -Amazon 

Additional reviews



Introduction: Echoes in a Stranger Land
Who’s Listening, artists, audiences & language
Hurrying On Up
Massa and the Provincial Kitchens
A Long-Memoried Woman
Journal Entries Against Reaction: Damned If We Do and Damned if We Don’t
Women and Theft
The Sick Butterfly: South Africa’s War Against Children
Better: January, 1989– How Do You Explain?
Social Barbarism and the Spoils of Modernism
Museum Could Have Avoided Culture Clash
Letter:January, 1990
The “Multicultural” Whitewash: Racism in Ontario’s Arts Funding System
Disturbing he Peace
Letter: September, 199I – Am I a Nigger! (Incident at Congress)
The 6% Solution
Publish & Be Damned
The New Jerusalem– In two and a half minutes
68 Why Multiculturalism Can’t End Racism
Letter: Luanne, 1991–James Baldwin
3086: The Colour Purple: A Site Report
Gut issues in Babylon: Racism & Anti-Racism in the Arts
There Will Be No Peace 249
Letter: July, 1990 Conversations Across Borders
The Disappearing Debate: Or, how the discussion of racism has been taken over by the censorship issue



In her introductory essay,Echoes in a Stranger Land, NourbeSe Philip explains her preoccupation with the issue of racism in culture: Traditionally, — culture has not been a significant arena of racial contestation. Education, employment, housing, and police relations have always, and for good reason, garnered most attention- political, academic, in\investigative, and personal. This is ironic, given that the European onslaught against Africans was as much against their culture as against their persons.

(p.12) ©M.Nourbese Philip 1993

To strip a people of the gift of their culture is a double act of inhumanity – for both the victim and the perpetrator, who is also a victim. It becomes even more heinous for the perpetrators of this crime- Europeans and their descendants (in this case, white Americans and Canadians)- to condemn and blame the victims for their deculturation- their loss.

It is remarkable, in fact, to note how, after having had so much taken from them having been given nothing, Africans in the New World have created so much that is new, exceptionally beautiful and indispensable to humanity: this is, in fact, an astonishing act of survival and witness to the African genius.

(p.14) ©M.Nourbese Philip 1993

I carry a Canadian passport: I, therefore, am Canadian. …(D)oes the racism of Canadian society present an absolute barrier to those of us who are differently coloured ever belonging? Because that is, in fact, what we are speaking about- how to belong- not only in the legal and civic sense of carrying a Canadian passport, but also in another sense of feeling at “home” and at ease. It is only in belonging that we will eventually become Canadian.

How do we lose the sense of being “othered,” and how does Canada begin its m/othering of us who now live here, were born here, have given birth here- all under a darker sun! Being born elsewhere, having been fashioned in a different culture, some of us may always feel “othered,” but then there are those -our. children, nephews, nieces, grandchildren- born here, who are as Canadian as snow and ice, and yet, merely because of their darker skins, are made to feel “othered”.

(p.17) ©M.Nourbese Philip 1993

I seem, however, to be arguing out of both sides of my mouth -on the one hand saying that Africans are not accepted by the dominant culture, but also suggesting that Africans not embrace unambivalently the dominant culture. What I am, in fact, saying, is that the history of that lack of acceptance and rejection and hatred is why we cannot unambivalently embrace the dominant culture, and that the solution to racism and white supremacy is not through sameness, …. I am also arguing for a subversive role for memory, that memory is more than nostalgia -it has a potentially kinetic quality and must impel us to action.

(p.20) ©M.Nourbese Philip 1993

But since we each, individually and collectively, are equally entitled to share this land, we had better find ways of encouraging ourselves and each other to sing our songs…We all know the alternative; we witnessed it in May, 1992, in Toronto [when rioting occurred]. We will witness it again. And again. Unless all Canadians, particularly those who traditionally comprise the dominant groups -white Canadians- understand how racism fatally affects the body politic. The choice is a stark one- between a society increasingly riddled with inequalities– truly a stranger land- the haves ensconced behind burglar bars, the have-nots occupying the streets in increasing numbers, and between them both the police creating a buffer zone at best, or at worst performing the functions of an occupying army on behalf of the well-to-do; and a society which becomes a “home” where all Canadians be/long.

Whichever direction we take, it behooves us to remember that “our opponents are our co-creators, for they have something to give which we have not.” (Marion Milner) This is the challenge facing all Canadians- African, Asian, European and Native – finding out what we can offer to and accept from each other. It is the only way we will transform this place from a stranger place to one of true be/longing.

(p.25) ©M.Nourbese Philip 1993