By Sheri DeCarlo
Malcolm Gladwell, the award-winning journalist and writer, was interviewed by CBC’s Eleanor Wachtel before a sold-out crowd at The Bram & Bluma Appel Salon at Toronto Reference Library on May 28, 2012.
Appearing as part of the Jamaica 50 Arts and Literature Series, which celebrates the anniversary of Jamaica’s independence and showcases the creativity of Jamaican-origin writers in Canada, Gladwell is as multi-cultural as Canada itself. His mother is Jamaican; his father is English; he was raised and educated in Canada; and now lives in the United States.
“Malcolm Gladwell doesn’t tour much, so this was a rare chance to meet one of North America’s most interesting thinkers. The demand was so great, we had to have overflow seating in the atrium downstairs. He didn’t disappoint — he was smart and funny and 100% engaging,” says Tina Srebotnjak, Manager, Cultural and Special Events Programming, Toronto Public Library.
He shared a story that appears in his mother’s memoir—yes, his mother is also a published author. As a student, his mother was at a reception when a lady ran her hand across her cheek and said, “I wanted to see whether it came off.”
“I think she had never seen a black person before and if you’re seeing one for the first time, maybe she thought it was some manner of make-up. Who knows? It’s an odd thing to be in one of the first waves of difference,” Gladwell says.
“America had the one drop rule: If they could find even a smigen of blackness in you, they wanted to call you black whereas in Jamaica, it was reversed because there was a shortage of white people. When there is a shortage of white people, the bar for whiteness starts to fall,” Gladwell says.
Recently, Gladwell says that while he was visiting Scotland, he was reminded of Canada: “Scots are the funny ones—just like the Canadians are—they play football that is not dissimilar to the way Canadians play hockey and lead with their heads.”
Mixed race was not an issue in Canada for Gladwell. He grew up in Elmira, Ontario, an open-minded Mennonite community, and attended the University of Toronto’s Trinity College. Interestedly, he says people came from all over the globe and noted that there didn’t seem to be racial or class differences. In fact, three of the only public school classmates in his hall were Nigel Wright, Chief of Staff for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Jim Balsillie, former co-CEO of Research in Motion, and he.
On the subject of new media and blogging, he says, “The thing about new media is that it doesn’t replace media, but gives it options—opportunities to follow the thinking of others who would never be published. Blogs will not thrive by duplicating, but if they can bring new voices to the Internet—that’s a win.”
Video of the Malcolm Gladwell Toronto Reference Library event is available here courtesy of the Toronto Public Library.