Dr. Cheryl Thompson
Dr. Cheryl Thompson is an Assistant Professor in Creative Industries at The Creative School. She is the author of Uncle: Race, Nostalgia, and the Politics of Loyalty (2021) and Beauty in a Box: Detangling the Roots of Canada’s Black Beauty Culture (2019). Dr. Thompson is currently working on her third book on Canada’s history of blackface as performance and anti-Black racism. This book is based on research conducted with the assistance of multiple Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grants. The first, funded through an Insight Development Grant (2019-22), will produce an open-source resource website and video series. The second, funded through a Connection Grant (2020-22), is in collaboration with Toronto-based film company Pink Moon Studio. Together, we are co-producing a feature documentary film on Canadian blackface. In 2021, Dr. Thompson was a recipient of an Ontario Early Researcher Award (2021-26) titled, “Mapping Ontario’s Black Archives Through Storytelling,” this project aims to catalogue Ontario’s Black archival collections, and through ethnographic interviews with the province’s creative community, collect stories about the collections that will culminate with a public exhibition curated by Dr. Thompson and her research team, which includes postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Karen Cyrus. In addition to publishing in academic journals, magazines, and newspapers, Dr. Thompson has also appeared on numerous podcasts and media platforms in Canada and internationally. Dr. Thompson holds a PhD in Communication Studies from McGill University. She previously held a Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Theatre, Drama & Performance Studies, and the University of Toronto Mississauga’s Department of English & Drama. In 2021, Dr. Thompson was named to the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists.
|Communication Studies, McGill University, 2015||PhD|
|Communication and Culture, Ryerson University & York University, 2007||MA|
|B.A. (Honours), Criminology, University of Windsor, 2001||BA|
African American History
Nineteenth-Century Print Culture
Black Canadian Studies
Theatre and Performance Studies
Beauty Culture History
Uncle: Race, Nostalgia, and the Politics of Loyalty., external link, opens in new window Toronto: Coach House Books, 2021.
"From Venus to 'Black Venus': Beyonce's I Have Three Hearts, Fashion and Limits of Visual Culture." Fashion Studies, external link, opens in new window (3) 1 (2020): 1-24.
"Black Canada and Why the Archival Logic of Memory Needs Reform." PDF fileLes Ateliers de l'ethique/Ethics Forum, special issue The Ethical Challenges of Recovering Historial Memory, external link, opens in new window (14) 2 (2020): 76-106.
(2019) “Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site and Creolization: The Material and Visual Culture of Archival Memory,” African and Black Diaspora: An International Journal, DOI: 10.1080/17528631.2019.1611325., external link, opens in new window
(2019) “Locating ‘Dixie’ in Newspaper Discourse and Theatrical Performance in Toronto, 1880s to 1920s.” Canadian Review of American Studies (49) 2, 205-25. DOI: 10.3138/cras.2017-032., external link, opens in new window
(2019) “Rethinking the Archive in the Public Sphere.” Roundtable on History for Non-Historians, Canadian Journal of History / Annales canadiennes d’histoire 54 (1-2), 32-8, DOI: 10.3138/cjh.ach.54.1-2.04.
(2019) “My Ten-Year Dreadlock Journey: Why I Love the ‘kink’ in My Hair… Today.” In Body Battlegrounds: Transgressions, Tensions, and Transformations. Samantha Kwan and Chris Bobel, Eds., pp. 54-55. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press.
(2019) “An Intersectional Analysis of Controlling Images and Neoliberal Meritocracy on Scandal and Empire.” In Neoliberalism and the U.S. Media. Marian Joanne Meyers, Ed., pp. 176-91. New York: Routledge.
(2018) “Come One, Come All’: Blackface Minstrelsy as a Canadian Tradition and Early Form of Popular Culture.” In Towards an African-Canadian Art History: Art, Memory, and Resistance. Charmaine Nelson, Ed., pp. 95-121. Concord, Ontario: Captus Press.
(2018) “The New Afro in a Postfeminist Media Culture: Rachel Dolezal, Beyoncé’s ‘Formation,’ and the Politics of Choice.” In Emergent Feminisms: Challenging a Post-Feminist Media Culture. Jessalynn Keller and Maureen Ryan, Eds., 161-175. New York: Routledge.
(2018) “Searching for Black Voices in Canada’s Archives: The Invisibility of a ‘Visible’ Minority.” PUBLIC: Art/Culture/Ideas, Special Issue on Archive/Anarchive/Counter-Archive. Shawn Newman, Ed., pp. 82-89. Toronto: York University.
(2018) “Remembering Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” In The Ward Uncovered: The Archeology of Everyday Life. Michael McClelland, Holly Martelle, Tatum Taylor and John Lorinc, (Eds.), pp. 156-162. Toronto: Coach House Books/Alana Wilcox.
(2015). “I’s in Town, Honey’: Reading Aunt Jemima Advertising in Canadian Print Media, 1919 to 1962.” Journal of Canadian Studies 49 (1), 205-37. DOI: 10.3138/jcs.49.1.205., external link, opens in new window
(2015). “Cultivating Narratives of Race, Faith, and Community: The Dawn of Tomorrow, 1923–1971.” Canadian Journal of History / Annales canadiennes d’histoire 50 (1), 30-67.
In 2018, Dr. Cheryl Thompson joined the School of Creative Industries as Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Communication & Design at Ryerson University. She earned her PhD in Communication Studies from McGill University under the co-supervision of Dr. Will Straw and Dr. Charmaine Nelson. Her first book, Beauty in a Box: Detangling the Roots of Canada’s Black Beauty Culture was published with Wilfrid Laurier Press in 2019. Based on her dissertation research, this book is one of the first transnational, feminist studies of Canada’s black beauty culture and the role that media, retail, and consumers have played in its development. The book analyzes advertisements and articles from media – newspapers, advertisements, television, and other sources – that focus on black communities in Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, and Calgary. Dr. Thompson’s book also explains the role local black community media, such The Dawn of Tomorrow, The Clarion, Contrast, and Share magazine have played in the promotion of African American-owned beauty products; how the segmentation of beauty culture (i.e., the sale of black beauty products on store shelves labelled “ethnic hair care”) occurred in Canada; and how black beauty culture, which was generally seen as a small niche market before the 1970s, entered Canada’s mainstream by way of department stores, drugstores, and big-box retailers.
Prior to her position at Ryerson, Dr. Thompson was a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow (2016-2018) at the University of Toronto and the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) at the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies and in the Department of English and Drama. Her project aimed to elucidate the system of meaning in blackface minstrelsy’s theatrical playbills, portraits, photographs, illustrations, and visual ephemera outside the traditional theatre in the spaces and places of nation-building during Canada’s modern period, 1890s to 1950s. This work was an extension of earlier work Dr. Thompson did as a PhD Candidate when she was the recipient of the McGill Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas’ (IPLAI) Fred and Betty Price Award and the Max Stern-McCord Museum Fellowship in 2012-2013. Dr. Thompson was also an instructor at the University of Toronto and UTM, teaching courses on Black Canadian Studies, visual culture, consumer culture, celebrity and promotional culture. Her current SSHRC-funded research explores how Toronto’s newspapers editorialized about theatres where blackface minstrelsy was performed between the 1870s and 1930s. By using an interdisciplinary, transhistorical framework, the project will explain the interrelationship between newspapers, touring American minstrelsy, black choral performance, and the theatre in Toronto.
During her undergraduate studies, Dr. Thompson spent two years in the United States playing NCAA Div. I and III soccer. While at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, she threw the Javelin. In 1998, her women’s team won the NCAA-Div. I Southern Conference. When Dr. Thompson returned to Canada, she attended the University of Windsor, earning an Honours B.A. in Criminology. She then worked professionally as an insurance claims adjuster, as a conference producer, and for several years, she was a financial news journalist. Dr. Thompson has been a freelance writer since the early 2000s, writing live show reviews, book and film reviews, album reviews, interviews and editorials for such sites as ViveleCanada, Exclaim!, and the former Chart Attack.
In 2015, Dr. Thompson won the CJH/ACH’s Graduate Essay Prize. In 2017, Dr. Thompson gave a TEDx Talk at the University of Toronto Scarborough, titled “Why Positive Thinking is Not Enough.” Her academic essays have appeared in Emergent Feminisms: Challenging a Post-Feminist Media Culture; Body Battlegrounds: Transgressions, Tensions, and Transformations; Neoliberalism and the U.S. Media; PUBLIC: Art/Culture/Ideas; African and Black Diaspora: An International Journal; Canadian Review of American Studies; the Journal of Canadian Studies; Canadian Journal of History Annales canadiennes d'histoire (CJH/ACH); and Feminist Media Studies. Dr. Thompson was also a contributor to The Ward Uncovered: The Archaeology of Everyday Life (Coach House Books). In addition to her academic writing, Dr. Thompson is a frequent contributor to The Conversation, Spacing.ca, and Herizons and has published articles in the Canadian Theatre Review, Rabble.ca, Toronto Star, Halifax Coast, Montreal Gazette, GUTS Magazine, and ByBlacks.com. She grew up in Scarborough, and currently resides in Toronto.
Dr. Thompson's most recent work has appeared in the New York Times, which you can read for yourself by clicking the button below.
Uncle: Race, Nostalgia and the Politics of Loyalty
From martyr to insult, how “Uncle Tom” has influenced two centuries of racial politics.
Jackie Robinson, President Barack Obama, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, O. J. Simpson and Christopher Darden have all been accused of being an Uncle Tom during their careers. How, why, and with what consequences for our society did Uncle Tom morph first into a servile old man and then to a racial epithet hurled at African American men deemed, by other Black people, to have betrayed their race?
Uncle Tom, the eponymous figure in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s sentimental anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was a loyal Christian who died a martyr’s death. But soon after the best-selling novel appeared, theatre troupes across North America and Europe transformed Stowe’s story into minstrel shows featuring white men in blackface. In Uncle, Cheryl Thompson traces Tom’s journey from literary character to racial trope. She explores how Uncle Tom came to be and exposes the relentless reworking of Uncle Tom into a nostalgic, racial metaphor with the power to shape how we see Black men, a distortion visible in everything from Uncle Ben and Rastus The Cream of Wheat chef to Shirley Temple and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson to Bill Cosby.
In Donald Trump’s post-truth America, where nostalgia is used as a political tool to rewrite history, Uncle makes the case for why understanding the production of racial stereotypes matters more than ever before.
White Skin, Black Masks: Canada’s Blackface Secret
In collaboration with Dr. Emilia King, co-director of Ryerson's Transmedia Zone, and her film production company, Pink Moon Studio, this 2020-2022 SSHRC-Connection Grant project aims to bring my 2019-22 SSHRC Insight Development Grant research, “Newspapers, Minstrelsy and Black Performance at the Theatre: Mapping the Spaces of Nation-Building in Toronto, 1870s to 1930s,” to a wider public audience. The documentary’s primary goal is to tell a captivating story that educates, enlightens, and mobilizes change in the public opinion around race and racism. By using blackface as the entry point, the film will move the conversation beyond the headlines and into people’s homes and communities. Two places where the story of blackface has never entered. By using film as a platform, this project will deliver content that is accessible to the general public; intriguing and thought-provoking; and will give a broad public audience the opportunity to process and understand complex and difficult issues and images. Film for this production will start in Spring, 2021.
Beauty in a Box
Dr. Thompson's first book, Beauty in a Box: Detangling the Roots of Canada's Black Beauty Culture, is one of the first transnational, feminist studies of Canada’s black beauty culture and the role that media, retail, and consumers have played in its development, Beauty in a Box widens our understanding of the politics of black hair.
The book analyzes advertisements and articles from media—newspapers, advertisements, television, and other sources—that focus on black communities in Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, and Calgary. The author explains the role local black community media has played in the promotion of African American–owned beauty products; how the segmentation of beauty culture (i. e., the sale of black beauty products on store shelves labelled “ethnic hair care”) occurred in Canada; and how black beauty culture, which was generally seen as a small niche market before the 1970s, entered Canada’s mainstream by way of department stores, drugstores, and big-box retailers.
Beauty in a Box uses an interdisciplinary framework, engaging with African American history, critical race and cultural theory, consumer culture theory, media studies, diasporic art history, black feminism, visual culture, film studies, and political economy to explore the history of black beauty culture in both Canada and the United States.
Mapping the Spaces of Nation-Building
Dr. Thompson's 2019-21 SSHRC Insight Development Grant research, “Newspapers, Minstrelsy and Black Performance at the Theatre: Mapping the Spaces of Nation-Building in Toronto, 1870s to 1930s,” aims to uncover histories of performance in Canada that have yet to be told. Historically, the fields
of communication studies, Canadian theatre and performance studies have ignored the contributions of African Canadians. This project demonstrates the capacity of media archives to intervene in historical gaps in the literature. This project will encourage the participation of the public by enabling community members to access materials that are not in the public domain. This project includes a resource website that will catalogue photographs, playbills, and newspapers editorials, creating tangible cultural outcomes for increasing access to performance repertoire (e.g., plays, actors, venues) that will widen the scope of theatre history in Canada and the US. By focusing on Toronto, the largest theatre and media centre in Canada, this research will probe how (and where) blackface and choral performance formed part of the local community.
In partnership with MLS Group, external link, opens in new window, a Toronto-based PR-led creative communications agency, I co-developed the concept for Gold Series, external link, opens in new window, a Procter & Gamble hair care product line designed for afro-textured hair that was co-created with Black scientists, stylists and dermatologists and its #MyHairMyStory, external link, opens in new window campaign. The campaign was in collaboration with Black Women in Motion, external link, opens in new window, a Toronto-based, youth-led organization that empowers and supports the advancement of black womxn and survivors of sexual violence. The campaign aims to amplify the voices of eight Black women and their personal hair journeys. Launched on January 25, 2021, the Gold Series Canadian website features my story and that of seven Toronto and Montreal-based Black women in a series of videos that deep dive into our unique relationships and experiences with our hair.
Dr. Thompson is an avid music fan and a collector of vinyl, especially '70s soul, '80s R&B and '90s hip-hop, but also '60s jazz and '80s pop/rock.