Books·Canadian

The Long Road Home by Debra Thompson

A nonfiction book that explores anti-Black racism in North America.

A nonfiction book that explores anti-Black racism in North America

When Debra Thompson moved to the United States in 2010, she felt like she was returning to the land of her ancestors, those who had escaped to Canada via the Underground Railroad. For them, Canada was The Promised Land, a refuge from American slavery, a chance to make lives for themselves and their children. For Debra, the United States was the birthplace of the struggle against racism, the geographic core of Black cultural identity, and the originator of a blood debt owed to her kinfolk for generations of bondage. The truth about both nations would reveal itself over a century and a half.

In The Long Road Home, Thompson follows the roots of Black identities in North America and the routes taken by those who have crisscrossed the world's longest undefended border in search of freedom and belonging. She begins in Shrewsbury, Ontario, one of the termini of the Underground Railroad and the place where the formerly enslaved, including members of her own family, found freedom. More than a century later, Thompson is the embodiment of her ancestors' dreams. Yet she describes the confusion she felt and the racism she experienced growing up the Only One —the only Black person in so many white spaces — in a country that perpetuates the national mythology of multiculturalism.

Then she revisits her four American homes, each of which reveals something peculiar about the relationship between American racism and democracy: Boston, Massachusetts, the birthplace of the American Revolution; Athens, Ohio, in the foothills of the Appalachia, where the white working class and the white liberal meet; Chicago, Illinois, the great Black metropolis; and Eugene, Oregon, the western frontier. Throughout her decade in the United States, she describes the emergence of Black Lives Matter, the racial backlash that shaped the 2016 US Election, and the racial politics of the Trump era, before transiting across the US-Canada border during a global pandemic, uprisings against police brutality, and the curtailment of many forms of legal immigration to the United States. She then settles in Montreal, a unique city with a long history of transnational Black activism, but one that does not easily accept the unfamiliar and the foreign into the fold. Her journey, through time and place, asks: where is home, and what is belonging?

The Long Road Home is a moving personal story comprising family history and memoir and also a vital examination of the peculiar nuances of racism in the United States and Canada. Above all, it is about the power of freedom and the dreams that link and inspire Black people across national borders from the perspective of one who has deep ties and loyalties to, critiques of and hope for, both countries. (From Scribner Canada)

The Long Road Home is a finalist for the 2022 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction. The winner will be announced on Nov. 2, 2022.

Weston Prize jury citation: "Through direct and evocative prose, Debra Thompson skillfully leads the reader into a rare perspective on the world of Canadian and American Black life. Navigating the space between her father's ancestors who fled enslavement and her own life as one of very few Black women working in the field of political science, Thompson breaks ground in both countries. Engagingly personal and crisply political, The Long Road Home illuminates how the experience of Blackness cannot be explained by drawing a line at the 49th parallel."

Through direct and evocative prose, Debra Thompson skillfully leads the reader into a rare perspective on the world of Canadian and American Black life.- 2022 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction jury

Dr. Debra Thompson is a Canadian associate professor of political science at McGill University in Montreal, and one of only five Black women academics in a political science department in the country. She is also the Canada Research Chair in Racial Inequality in Democratic Societies and a leading scholar of the comparative politics of race.

Why Debra Thompson wrote The Long Road Home

"The book is quite personal... but I felt like that it was important to have those concrete experiences in the book. I'm a teacher and one of the things I have learned being a teacher is that abstract ideas, like democracy and justice, are hard to grasp. The more specific and concrete you can be with your writing, the more resonant it is with your audience. That's what I was after — something that would resonate and would be a great teaching tool for people who want to know more about racial justice.

That's what I was after — something that would resonate and would be a great teaching tool for people who want to know more about racial justice.- Debra Thompson

"There is a sense in the air that things need to change. That's quite important, but racial progress is always marked by disproportionate backlash and I think that's the moment we are in right now. The question revolves around if we can retain a sustained sense that something needs to be done and that if the democracy we want to build for ourselves and our children is one that is just and equal."

Listen to the full interview on CBC Radio's Let's Go.

Interviews with Debra Thompson

'The Long Road Home: on Blackness and Belonging' is a new book by University Professor Debra Thompson. It's part memoir and chronicles her journey across the USA and Canada to learn about her family history, and explores what it is to be Black in North America. Gill Deacon spoke with Debra Thompson.
Debra Thompson just published a memoir titled, 'The Long Road Home: on Blackness and Belonging'. She tells Sabrina about it.
When it comes to anti-Black racism, it's easy to point to the obvious. Empires and oppressors. Slavery and segregation. But political scientist Debra Thompson says we need to make space for nuance. Especially when we talk about racism in Canada. In her new book, The Long Road Home: On Blackness and Belonging, Thompson weaves her political science scholarship with personal narrative to have an honest conversation with Chattopadhyay about how race and anti-Black racism operate in Canada and the U.S.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

now