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[This post was originally published as part of McMaster University’s Institute on Globalization and the Human Condition (IGHC) Working Paper Series ‘Covid-19 Urgent Responses‘.]

The virus doesn’t discriminate. It’s the great equalizer. We’re all in this together. These are refrains that can be heard around the world as a chorus of government leaders, health practitioners, celebrities, and social media influencers construct a mainstream discourse around COVID-19. With every corner of the globe experiencing the health and economic effects of the virus, and affluent and powerful people like Tom Hanks and Boris Johnson among those unfortunate enough to contract it, there is certainly an unparalleled shared experience that will be a defining feature of this time in global history. This elusive and volatile virus has also served as a common enemy, inspiring incredible feats of solidarity and collaboration across national, cultural, class, disciplinary, and political boundaries. These are indeed important stories to tell.

However, the sociopolitical cleavages of our pre-COVID world are still quite visible through this veil of social change and good will. In fact, there is good reason to believe that these societal distinctions will become further entrenched and increasingly divisive in the time of extreme uncertainty, scarcity, and paranoia that we are currently in. Time, experience and research will tell how these dynamics will ultimately unfold. In the meantime, however, it is important that researchers keep an eye to the ground and begin to ask questions about how COVID-19 is being experienced by different communities – particularly racialized and marginalized groups. When we look closely at the Black and African diaspora in North America[1], we begin to see how the intersections of factors such as race, migration, economics, and structural environment are creating a unique set of challenges that these communities are both confronting and responding to.

Read the rest of this entry »

Image: Marvel Studios

… that’s certainly the hopeful message we’re left with at the end of the epochal film Black Panther. But I think it’s worth some deeper thought.

I finally watched, and thankfully loved, Black Panther this week. I was willfully swept up in all the magic and hype of the film. Was it perfect? No. Did it need to be perfect for me to enjoy it? No. As Trevor Noah put it, it was a great film — period — it was just extra special for much of the Black audience.

There is much to unpack in the film, and frankly, many people far more eloquent and informed than I are doing just that. But what I couldn’t resist, was the opportunity to think out loud about the possibilities for Black liberation both imagined and missed through the film.

As a person of Ethiopian descent, born and raised in North America, I was touched and inspired by the way that the film connected the histories and struggles of Black people both on the Continent and throughout the world. Equally important is the way that we can see the complexities and cleavages within these communities, which is most poignantly explored through the storyline of Erik Kilmonger (everyone’s favourite anti-villain).


Image: Marvel Studios

Through Erik, the film explores how colonization, slavery, migration, and geopolitical forces differentiate, and often alienate, global Black populations from each other. This was an important balance to the pan-Africanist themes, because a Pollyanna-esque ‘we’re all the same people’ would have been far less interesting and intellectually useful in my opinion. Read the rest of this entry »

A version of this piece was first published on the Wellesley Institute blog on November 7, 2017, and can be accessed here.

Statistics Canada recently released a series of reports analyzing key results from the 2016 Census, including figures on immigration and ethnocultural diversity. The data paints a familiar picture of the Canadian social landscape – a landscape that is increasingly defined by culturally diverse peoples and communities.

The census brief on “Children with an immigrant background: Bridging cultures” captures important data that should prompt us to think critically about the live experiences of this large population segment, as well as its implications for Canadian social, political and economic life.

There were many interesting trends and figures highlighted in the report, including the number of people with foreign born parents, shifts in origin country demographics, family and household dynamics, and linguistic and cultural practices.

For example, in 2016, close to 2.2 million children under the age of 15, or 37.5 percent of the total population of children, had at least one foreign-born parent. The report also notes that children with an immigrant background could represent between 39 percent and 49 percent of the total population of children by 2036.

Further, most people with an immigrant ancestry that were younger in age (under 30s) had origins in Asia and Africa, whereas the older cohort of Canadians with immigrant ancestry (over 30s) tended to trace their origins to Europe and the Americas. This a reflection of shifting immigration trends in Canada over the years.

There were other insights capturing immigration dynamics at the household level. Children born in Canada to at least one foreign-born parent were most likely to live in a multigenerational household, with grandparents, parents, and children under the same roof. In the report, they were interested in how this might affect and drive the transmission of origin-country language and culture.

As with all census data, the information gathered here is limited. While it provides a helpful snapshot and indication of how global migration trends intersect with changes in Canadian demographics, it also leads to some deeper questions that emerge that require further inquiry and debate among practitioners, policymakers, academics, immigrant communities, and young people alike.

How much do we really understand about the social and cultural practices of children of immigrants and their families? Do we account for these lived experiences in how we design programs and services, frame public discourse, and plan for the political and economic future of the country? Are we adequately leveraging the opportunities and addressing the issues presented by these transnational social landscapes? Read the rest of this entry »

Thinking about graduate school? In the midst of preparing applications? Trying to decide between programs? With all the options and opinions out there, it can get very confusing and overwhelming.

With enough time, research, and reflection you can ensure you are making a thoughtful and informed decision. Use the self-assessment tool below to help you think through your motivations, personal goals, and career trajectory.

Download the tool as a single PDF hereGrad School Self Asssment Tool

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*Many thanks to Othniel Litchmore and Young Diplomats for the discussions that helped me in developing this tool.

**Check out Othniel Litchmore’s new and FREE e-book ‘The New Side Hustle Rules: A Guide for Doing Meaningful Work Outside Your 9-5‘. Download available here:


A version of this piece was first published on the International Migration Institute blog on April 7, 2017, and can be accessed here.


In 2009, I travelled to Ethiopia with a group of nine other young people of Ethiopian descent from across North America. We were part of a loose collective of interdisciplinary artists and community activists that came together through a series of ad hoc online exchanges over the course of several years. The idea was simple and very exciting – what if we all came together in Ethiopia and participated in the large cultural festival that was scheduled to take place in the south of the country? It would be an opportunity for cultural exchange, creative collaboration, and transnational community building. The initial group on the email chain was quite large, however eventually ten of us committed to making the trip and started our respective fundraising campaigns to finance our travel expenses.

As our departure date approached, we received word that the festival in Ethiopia had been cancelled under the orders of the Ethiopian Government. The political climate in Ethiopia was very tense at the time due to upcoming elections, and any sort of large gathering was looked upon with suspicion as a legacy of the protests that followed the highly contested 2005 elections. After a series of thoughtful discussions, we decided we would still make the trip to southern Ethiopia and find other ways to make the experience meaningful and impactful. We met up in Addis Ababa, and spent some time connecting with local artists and community organisers in the city. While there were domestic flights available to our final destination in the south of the country, we decided that we wanted to see and experience the countryside, opting instead to take what was then a twelve-hour drive. It was a beautiful and enjoyable ride, which we spent sharing stories, getting to know each other, and meeting locals along the way. As one of the photographers in the group, I also spent much of my time taking pictures from the window and documenting the trip as we went.

Over the next week, we travelled through the region, meeting with local community organisers, and learning as much as we could about the people and cultures of the south. As we reflected on our experiences, we began to ask ourselves whether we should make more of an effort to give back as much as we were receiving from the communities we were visiting. After some discussion and consultation, we decided to pool our money to buy uniforms and school supplies for children in an under-resourced school in one of the towns. We travelled to the school to meet the students and presented the donation to the principal. The gifts were very much appreciated, and it felt good to have the ability to contribute despite, as young people, our own limited financial resources.

Uncertain obligations and commitments

Later that day, a debate emerged amongst our group about whether we should try to support the school on an ongoing basis after we returned to our respective hometowns across North America. A few people felt we had a moral obligation to do so, however there was strong resistance to the idea of making a commitment we might/would not be able to sustain, and some of the group questioned whether we were best placed to engage in such efforts at all, given how far removed we were from the community. Most of us were either born or primarily raised in North America, and we had a genuine interest in fostering a deeper relationship with Ethiopia as the country of our parents’ origin. However, what lingered for me from this discussion was a collective uncertainty about the terms and conditions of this relationship, and whether it was acceptable to explore and encounter the country without also giving something back.

Many of the questions that emerged in our discussion are ones that I returned to in my doctoral studies many years later. Read the rest of this entry »