Shame on Me
"Tessa McWatt has been called Susie Wong, Pocahontas and "black bitch," and has been judged not black enough by people who assume she straightens her hair. Now, through a close examination of her own body — nose, lips, hair, skin, eyes, ass, bones and blood — which holds up a mirror to the way culture reads all bodies, she asks why we persist in thinking in terms of race today when racism is killing us.
Her grandmother's family fled southern China for British Guiana after her great uncle was shot in his own dentist's chair during the First Sino-Japanese War. McWatt is made of this woman and more: those who arrived in British Guiana from India as indentured labour and those who were brought from Africa as cargo to work on the sugar plantations; colonists and those whom colonialism displaced. How do you tick a box on a census form or job application when your ancestry is Scottish, English, French, Portuguese, Indian, Amerindian, African and Chinese? How do you finally answer a question first posed to you in grade school: "What are you?" And where do you find a sense of belonging in a supposedly "post-racial" world where shadism, fear of blackness, identity politics and call-out culture vie with each other noisily, relentlessly and still lethally?
Shame on Me is a personal and powerful exploration of history and identity, colour and desire from a writer who, having been plagued with confusion about her race all her life, has at last found kinship and solidarity in story." (From Random House Canada)
Shame on Me was on the shortlist for the 2020 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction.
McWatt is the author of several works of fiction. Her novels include Dragons Cry, Vital Signs and Higher Ed. She is also the co-editor of the anthology Luminous Ink: Writers on Writing in Canada. Shame on Me is her first work of nonfiction.
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"In 2016, Trump got elected, Brexit happened, and the whole world seemed dominated by people who wanted more division, more cages, more refugee camps. I've been writing about race and belonging my whole career. That was through fiction.
"I decided that I had to bring myself into [writing nonfiction] as a way of managing my own anger. So I decided to talk about myself through my body; the structure of the book is through body parts. Then I decided that I wanted to unpack what race was through body parts.
Race is a construct whereas racism is the reality every day — on the street, in the classroom, within the boardroom et cetera.- Tessa McWatt
"I was looking at my own multiracial heritage and trying to understand racism. as opposed to race. Race is a construct whereas racism is the reality every day — on the street, in the classroom, within the boardroom et cetera. I wanted to break it down so that I could undermine the biological notion of what race is — because I have a body that conforms and doesn't conform to stereotypes of all my multiracial backgrounds.
"It became a science experiment: I was going to dissect what race was and dissect my body in order to bring up these other issues."