“Nova Scotia’s Rosa Parks” gets apology

This is a neat story.

Nova Scotia has apologized and granted a pardon to Viola Desmond, a black woman who was convicted for sitting in a whites-only section of a movie theatre in 1946. Premier Darrell Dexter apologized to Desmond’s family and to all black Nova Scotians for the institutional racism of the past.

I have to confess I’d never heard of Viola Desmond before this story. It’s an important part of my heritage, both as a black man and as a Canadian. I think sometimes we forget that racism was alive and well in Canada, and continues to this day. Obviously, the maritime provinces have been reminded of that fact recently. This apology is more than simply acknowledging the culpability of the government and people of Nova Scotia (although that’s an important and positive step); it is also bringing an important story to the surface. It serves to remind us that segregation and officially-sponsored racism isn’t a problem of hundreds of years ago, or something that only happened in the South. 1946 is in the living memory of many people.

Of course if you flip through the comments (which I do, because I am a goddamn addict) you’ll see the usual knee-jerk response of “why live in the past? We have to move on and let things go.” It’s a nice fantasy to think that we can just ‘get over it’, but denying history is not the path to progress. The apology should not serve (and I sincerely hope it doesn’t) to make white people feel guilty for being born white. As Canadians, we should all be aware of both our strengths as a country and, in this case, our weaknesses and mistakes.


  1. bert says

    Only people who aren’t subject to racism (like we white folk in this neck of the global woods) say things like ‘why live in the past.’ There’s a shitload of ignorance contributing to that. If you have even a passing acquaintance with that nearly extinct creature almost formerly known as a newspaper, I don’t know how you can forget that racism is alive and well, notwithstanding even the recent events in Nova Scotia. From skinheads to n-words and white pride worldwide, congressmen in the U.S. being called the n-word (and f-word) and (the one that aggravates me unendingly) that ‘drunk native guy’ which seems to be the bona fide stereotype de jour in some parts of the country today-it’s everywhere.

    Wanda Robson is Violas Desmond’s sister. I had the pleasure of going to University with her where she told me story of the theatre and others. These and other story’s need to be told for the same reason we should “never forget” other events. The Texas board of education recently made changes to textbook curriculum “seek(ing) to reduce or elide discussion of slavery…A reference to the Atlantic slave trade is dropped in favor of ‘Triangular Trade'”

    (see http://www.thenation.com/doc/20100405/foner)

    And this is particularly instructive http://www.thenation.com/doc/20100405/harris-lacewell

    Ian, I think you would really find these articles interesting.

    And, by the way, the family who had the cross burned on their lawn just had their car firebombed a few days ago. A few weeks ago I watched a news report on cbc interviewing a lady who wrote a book titled “Nova Scotia: The Mississippi of the North.” Unfortunately, the Nova Scotia (and Canada) I believed existed growing up turned out to be a little different.

  2. says

    I had indeed seen that their car was torched. I was disheartened to see it, and a little surprised. Then again, I was surprised about the cross burning too. That’s a level of violence that is very rarely seen in Canada.

    That thing about the Georgia Right to Life is sad, but I’ve learned not to rule anything out when it comes to the South. It’s possibly the worst place in the hemisphere. The disparity between the ridiculous level of regional pride and the abhorrent lack of education, sophistication and general decency that is displayed every day from the South is deeply saddening.

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