Hal­i­fax, Mis­sis­sippi of the north

In Toronto, the racism we en­dured was more so­phis­ti­cated and sub­lim­i­nal. In Nova Sco­tia, it’s brazen.


Grow­ing up in Toronto we all thought of Nova Sco­tia as Canada’s Black Mecca. My par­ents, like so many oth­ers, were Black im­mi­grants born ei­ther in Africa or the Car­ib­bean. They moved to Canada dur­ing the first Trudeau era—Canada’s largest city promised eco­nomic pros­per­ity, safety and in­clu­sion. How­ever, our elders had no idea what was in store for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. Hav­ing “weird” ac­cents and “funny” names meant we were never ac­cepted into Cana­dian so­ci­ety be­cause we came from cul­tures that spoke dif­fer­ent lan­guages. Our par­ents’ ad­vice was to get a qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion, be po­lite and work hard, but af­ter years of be­ing un­fairly put in spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion, de­nied em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties and be­ing street checked count­less times, we re­al­ized that no mat­ter what we did we would never be ac­cepted as “old stock” Cana­di­ans.

We felt the racism we en­dured in Toronto was be­cause we were “new” Cana­di­ans, there­fore the Indige­nous Blacks of Nova Sco­tia would be treated with dig­nity and re­spect. We fig­ured, since Blacks in­hab­ited that prov­ince for over 400 years, fought with the Bri­tish in the Amer­i­can rev­o­lu­tion­ary war and the War of 1812, and fought bravely in the first and sec­ond World Wars, not only would they have re­spect, but a so­cial and eco­nomic in­fra­struc­ture re­flect­ing their con­tri­bu­tion to so­ci­ety.

When I left Toronto for Hal­i­fax eight years ago, my fam­ily was proud, pro­claim­ing I was mov­ing to Canada’s Black Mecca. Slightly jeal­ous, they said I wouldn’t have to en­dure racial in­jus­tice, gen­tri­fi­ca­tion or po­lice ha­rass­ment any longer. On the long drive to At­lantic Canada, I day­dreamed of Black eco­nomic pros­per­ity com­pa­ra­ble to At­lanta, or even Chicago; it didn’t take long to wake up to re­al­ity.

The same prob­lems that chil­dren of African and Car­ib­bean im­mi­grants faced in Toronto were ex­pe­ri­enced by fam­i­lies that have been in Hal­i­fax for cen­turies. I’ve seen a po­lice de­part­ment bla­tantly en­force street checks on Black cit­i­zens at a hor­rific rate. I’ve seen Blacks have dif­fi­culty hail­ing cabs be­cause of the colour of their skin. I’ve seen large em­ploy­ers face civil law­suits for their treat­ment of Black em­ploy­ees. Most dis­heart­en­ing of all, I’ve seen an ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem that fil­ters young Black learn­ers into spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion, caus­ing a schools-to-prison pipe­line.

Feel­ing an obli­ga­tion to help my African Nova Sco­tian brethren, I joined 902ManUp, a group ded­i­cated to em­pow­er­ing Black youth through ed­u­ca­tion, jus­tice, em­ploy­ment and health. Through this com­mu­nity work I saw why Blacks in Nova Sco­tia are so marginal­ized. We sat in meet­ings with HRM staff and ad­vo­cated for em­ploy­ment strate­gies that would di­rectly help youth in Black com­mu­ni­ties, but were dis­missed with­out any thought. Ask­ing for a mora­to­rium on street checks was cat­e­go­rized as un­rea­son­able. We were turned down by both mu­nic­i­pal and pro­vin­cial politi­cians for help with small do­na­tions for com­mu­nity events, only to see them show up to eat the cake we served. We helped or­ga­nize whole­some com­mu­nity gath­er­ings, only to see lo­cal me­dia show up and ask about vi­o­lence.

From ed­u­ca­tion to em­ploy­ment, gov­ern­ment and me­dia, Hal­i­fax has a bla­tant cul­ture of sys­temic racism. In Toronto, the racism we en­dured was more so­phis­ti­cated and sub­lim­i­nal. In Nova Sco­tia, it’s brazen. It’s there ev­ery morn­ing to greet you and re­mind you in its own lit­tle way that even if your an­ces­tors re­built Ci­tadel Hill or died fight­ing in the fields of Nor­mandy, you are Black and Black doesn’t count. Hal­i­fax is not Black Mecca. It’s the Mis­sis­sippi of the North.


Tundé Balogun is an in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist and doc­u­men­tary film­maker. He is owner of The Ob­jec­tive News Agency, a spe­cial in­ves­tiga­tive doc­u­men­tarystyle news out­let cov­er­ing is­sues im­por­tant to Black com­mu­ni­ties that main­stream me­dia miss. Find out more at theob­jec­tive.ca.

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