By Kathleen Adamson August 31, 2021
They Said This Would Be Fun: Race, Campus Life, and Growing Up, Eternity Martis, Random House of Canada, March 15, 2020, 256 pp., $25.00
As students across the globe prepare to begin university terms, it is an excellent time to review Eternity Martis’ memoir, They said this would be fun. As a Black university student in London, Ontario, she deals with sexual assault, abusive relationships, evolving friendships, difficult family dynamics, and, of course, racism, which affects every part of her life. Here, she describes the experience in uncompromising terms, with clarity, force, and wit.
Martis’ reflections on her time in university are woven in with statistics and events from the news. She knits her own experiences together with broader trends clearly and masterfully, and captures moments where pop culture history overlaps with, and influences her relationships. The way that the news of Chris Brown’s assault on Rhianna sparked an argument between Martis and a high school boyfriend who would himself become abusive, for example. Campus life is described in detail, along with its histrionic, alcohol-fuelled dynamics that allow racist and sexual abuse to flourish.
The memoir is a perfect example of intersectionality at work. The story of Martis’ academic career is coloured by rape culture, racist behaviour from white students, higher standards from Black professors, the psychology of addiction and alcohol, and many other dynamics. The book-length format is crucial here. Martis doesn’t mince words or skip over difficult topics, and it gives readers the chance (and the responsibility) to think on what she’s saying. Many readers will recognize themselves in Martis, but many readers will also recognize themselves in her tormentors, as well as in the system they represent.
As Eternity Martis says, universities have been among the most revolutionary institutional spaces. It’s crucial, then, that the atmospheres and social politics that universities enforce be held accountable for unfair practices. The fight is ongoing.
“Speak up. Rage. Because the time for silence has passed.” Those of us returning to an academic environment this September would do well to remember Martis’ closing words.
Kathleen Adamson is a musician, composer, academic, and community activist based in Montreal, Canada.
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