Eternity Martis reflects on the challenges of being a Black university student in her first book
Eternity Martis is a Toronto-based journalist, author and senior editor at Xtra. Her work focuses on issues of race and gender and has been featured in Vice, Salon, Hazlitt, TVO.org, The Walrus, Huffington Post and CBC.
They Said This Would Be Fun is her first book. It's a memoir about the difficulty of navigating through white spaces as one of the few students of colour on campus, and asks us to confront the systemic issues that define the college experience for racialized and marginalized students.
Life in southwestern Ontario
"I'm from Toronto. It's not like Toronto is exempt from anti-Black racism at all, but I was a child when I left for London — and southwestern Ontario has always been a hotbed for white supremacy. It's very homogenous and very white Christian and conservative.
"While these things were happening to me, a lot of them were kind of funny. I think you have to keep a sense of humour in these situations. A lot of the stuff was ignorant stuff like, 'Oh you speak English so well!' There was also stuff where white men were attacking me and calling me names. Southwestern Ontario can be so charming but there's this insidious nature behind it. I felt like for me to get through it, I had to have a sense of humour.
I'm a woman of colour talking about racism, about sexual assault and about violence. People don't believe that unless there's research behind it.
"But the tone of the book is serious. It's authoritative because it has to be. I'm a woman of colour talking about racism, about sexual assault and about violence. People don't believe that unless there's research behind it. So the book is a memoir, but I'm also a journalist. A lot of it is reporting on hard facts but I still wanted to keep it fun.
"The book's title refers to the fact that it's very hard to get through it without that sense of humour."
"I've been working on the idea for about 10 years. When I got to Western, I noticed such a difference in coming from Toronto to London, from the ways that I was being perceived and the way that people were treating me. I was writing things down. First, it was like a blog post. I then wrote it as a play.
When I got to Western, I noticed such a difference in coming from Toronto to London, from the ways that I was being perceived and the way that people were treating me.
"Then in my fourth year at Western, I was doing a certificate in writing. The last part of that certificate was a major project. I thought I could start working on a book proposal to start actually writing a memoir. And so it started that way.
"I then went to Ryerson University in Toronto to do my masters in journalism. I love journalism but I wanted to write books and I wanted to write this memoir. And it was through my Ryerson connections that I had met my editor."
"For my own wellness, I like to write every day. But I also have a full-time job. What I would do is wake up around five or six, get an hour of writing, go to work and then on my lunch break, write some more. I would then go to the gym. After that, I would write from nine to 12 in the morning. That was my endless cycle for a year and a half.
"I had this overwhelming urge to get this book out in the world. There are so many things in the book that feel almost universal to students of colour. It felt like I had to do it. I wanted this for so long. I've wanted to be a writer since I was eight years old.
I had this overwhelming urge to get this book out in the world.
"Writing a book, or writing in general, is such a lonely experience. And you don't know if you're going to be published — you're just writing and hoping that one day your book is going to be published. It's just the sacrifice that you have to make."
Who I'm writing for
"While I was writing I dealt a lot with worrying about being called a sellout. I did write this for myself, in the sense that I stayed true to myself. But then I didn't want to write a book necessarily for white people and for allies. I wanted to write a book that I needed when I was a student. I wanted to write the book that everyone else around me needed.
"It felt like [myself and other students of colour] were crumbling, our mental health was going down. It was a bad time. I wanted to write something that could act as a companion or a warm hug for people like me. People who are going through it now or went through it 20 years ago, but need to know what had happened and make sense of it.
I wanted to write a book that I needed when I was a student. I wanted to write the book that everyone else around me needed.
"On the other hand, I was writing it for people who could be allies. My own family, for example, when I would come back and tell them things they didn't really understand what I was going through. I wanted to write a book where it was for people like me. But it's also for people to understand how bad the situation is — because we don't talk about students and we don't talk about race in the institution of education."
Eternity Martis's comments have been edited for length and clarity.