Ob­vi­ous racism easy to con­demn

Cape Breton Post - - COMMENT -

Two episodes of racism have played promi­nently in the news in Nova Sco­tia over the last week. One is con­tem­po­rary and one his­tor­i­cal, but in a sense th­ese la­bels are in­verted.

The con­tem­po­rary episode is the burn­ing cross placed on the lawn of an in­ter­ra­cial cou­ple in Po­plar Grove, Hants County. A man shout­ing racial ep­i­thets ran off into the night. Po­lice have ar­rested two broth­ers from a nearby com­mu­nity who are spending this week­end in jail while fac­ing charges that in­clude pub­lic in­cite­ment of ha­tred.

Though this is a cur­rent story it’s also an anachro­nism, a thing out of time and also place. Cross-burn­ings, lynch­ings and that sort of thing find their cul­tural ref­er­ence in the Amer­i­can South, post-Civil War. Th­ese im­ported trap­pings are dated in an­other way as well be­cause they evoke an overt kind of racial ex­trem­ism that is no longer tol­er­ated any­where near main­stream Cana­dian so­ci­ety.

The cross-burn­ing was im­me­di­ately con­demned by pub­lic of­fi­cials and the com­mu­nity, and a rally is sched­uled for to­day in Wind­sor in sup­port of the tar­geted cou­ple – Shayne Howe, a black man, and his wife Michelle Lyon, who is white.

The other racial story of the week is about the forced re­lo­ca­tion of a black com­mu­nity, os­ten­si­bly for its own good. Though the de­struc­tion of Africville, on the shore of Hal­i­fax’s Bed­ford Basin, occurred nearly a half-cen­tury ago, it feels in some ways more con­tem­po­rary and rel­e­vant than the cross-burn­ing a week ago be­cause the mo­ti­vat­ing at­ti­tudes are more in­sid­i­ous and per­sis­tent.

Ear­lier in the last cen­tury Syd­ney pro­duced a sim­i­lar re­lo­ca­tion on a smaller scale when some 20 Mi’kmaq fam­i­lies, af­ter years of of­fi­cial pres­sure, aban­doned the Kings Road re­serve for the new ter­ri­tory of Mem­ber­tou. De­scen­dants got an of­fi­cial apol­ogy in 1999 from the then mayor of the Cape Bre­ton Re­gional Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, David Muise, for the City of Syd­ney’s role in forc­ing the re­lo­ca­tion. Hal­i­fax Mayor Peter Kelly this week apol­o­gized to for­mer res­i­dents of Africville and their de­scen­dants as plans for a per­ma­nent memo­rial to the com­mu­nity were un­veiled.

Purely ma­li­cious racism such as cross-burn­ing is easy to iden­tify and con­demn; it ad­ver­tises it­self and the ig­no­rance that un­der­lies it. A trick­ier propo­si­tion is the pa­tron­iz­ing ef­forts of some­times well-mean­ing peo­ple to tell racially or eth­ni­cally dis­tinct com­mu­ni­ties how – and in some cases even where – they should live. And sub­tler still are the of­ten in­vis­i­ble at­ti­tudes that do not overtly co­erce or dis­crim­i­nate against racial mi­nori­ties but nev­er­the­less re­sult in their ef­fec­tive marginal­iza­tion.

So while it’s fine to feel a bit of self-sat­is­fac­tion in Nova Sco­tia’s una­nim­ity against cross-burn­ers and to cel­e­brate the mea­sure of clo­sure achieved through mod­ern-day apolo­gies for past wrongs, it should be with the re­al­iza­tion that it’s eas­i­est to con­front with what’s eas­i­est to see. None of this means the work is done and ev­ery­thing’s OK.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.