1. African Heritage Month
It’s African Heritage Month, and in Nova Scotia the month is dedicated to the No. 2 Construction Battalion.
Every year, there is a discussion around the purpose of Black History month. I’m not talking here about the “why is there no white history month” crowd here, but the broader question of whether Black History Month helps organize the community around urgent social and political issues affecting us now, or whether it becomes a “celebration” that avoids confrontation with the realities of racism.
Artists jokingly call the month Black Employment Month, because it’s the month we can be sure of being invited to perform. And as is often observed about the month in general, Black history and presence and voices should be taught and welcomed and given credit all year round. I could point out here that Black artists are less likely to be able to access grants, are frequently expected to do free work, and particularly if we work in Black art forms or choose subject matter that is Black-focused, are much more likely to have our work marginalized, considered “not artistic,” and to therefore be generally devalued. Which illustrates the point that even as Black History Month provides a limited benefit – a month where we can actually expect to pay our bills – it also should cause us to think about why Black artists are invisible, uninvited and unpaid the rest of the time. I’ve had schools ask me, for example, if I have poems about bullying or if I can recommend a poet who does. “I have poems about racism,” I point out, and find myself not invited.
(image from Hilary Beaumont)
Blackness should not be cordoned off into one month, and there isn’t really a Blackness penance where if you invite a speaker for Black History Month you’ve paid off your racism debt for the rest of the year. Black Lives Matter isn’t accompanied by a disclaimer, “in February!” And often organizations and institutions use the cover of a Black History Month event to pass over the question of why they need to import Blackness, and why they aren’t doing work the rest of the time to make sure Black people are present. Or, Black people are present, and when they raise issues in their own workplace or university or organization or company about racism they are hurt in their careers, and labeled as troublemakers, and then watch as a Black speaker brought in for one event is clapped for talking about the same issues they are attacked for. I’ve also been that imported voice, and had people who work in the place I’m speaking at that the person who so enthusiastically introduced me is responsible for causing them misery.
But beyond that issue, there is the question of with what role this month has in organizing the community. We believe there is a good in representation – that, for example, students who see the Black History Month posters will see the faces of people who look like them and see themselves recognized and honoured. And, actually, if the month did nothing but celebrate, even if all the events were, as we sometimes call it “food, fun, and fashion,” there is still an argument to be made that Black people getting together and just having a good time is important. To go back to the idea of Black Lives Matter, our lives also matter in our right to enjoy what other people enjoy and in our right to be allowed to be fully human. So even if we are only getting in a room and dancing, to be able to just be around other Black people and have fun and laugh and get a break from all the struggles caused by racism is a good and necessary thing in itself.
(image from bccnsweb.com)
Politically though, we have to ask how the celebration, or honouring, or stories, or presence of Black people in Black History Month translates into wider action. Last week, for example, Tina Roberts-Jeffers addressed the Halifax Regional School Board about the large numbers of African Nova Scotian students on IPPs. The same schools that celebrate Black History Month and put the posters on the walls are also engaged in marginalizing Black students from education. The corporations and organizations that fund events (such as banks) are engaged in practices that economically affect Black communities. Governments celebrate the opening of Black History/African Heritage month and then pursue gentrification policies in our neighbourhoods. And the very fact that we require money from these sources to even stage events shows how little progress we have made as communities in becoming economically self-sufficient (when the same state that celebrates Black History Month pursues policies in education, employment, housing, etc. that deliberately prevent Black people from working towards self-determination.)
And beyond that, we frequently celebrate dead Black radical thinkers and activists, while sanitizing Black History Month events to ignore the current issues of things like mass incarceration that Black activists are currently being attacked for fighting against. There is a danger of consigning Black struggle to a comfortable past while still believing in the myth of a present where anti-Black racism is “solved,” where progress has been made, and where “things are so much better now.” As Ajamu Nangwaya observes:
Black History Month started out as Negro History and Literature Week in 1920 by the fraternity Omega Psi Phi. Carter G. Woodson was the guiding influence behind this development and he changed the name to Negro History Week in 1926. That year is generally acknowledged as the official start of this political observance.
In 1976, Negro History Week was transformed into a month-long celebration and reborn as Black History Month.
Black History Month has since become more about cultural puffery than the politics of emancipation.
Trade unions, school boards, corporations and even government agencies are, for the most part, comfortable with the current toothless, non-challenging thrust of this month.
Essentially, they have been allowed to co-opt it and channel its potential for radical consciousness-raising and political involvement into celebrating “Black firsts” and “Black notables.”
Further, it serves as a platform to sell the virtues of integrating Africans into this racist, sexist and capitalist optical illusion that is the Canadian Dream.
One of the things that we have observed about the forces of exploitation is their wily manipulation and transformation of acts of resistance into harmless and empty symbols. That state of affairs is not possible without the participation of the oppressed.
All of that brings me to this year’s African Heritage Month and the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the No.2 Construction Battalion. Telling the histories of African Nova Scotians takes place in the context of ongoing erasure of our communities. Beyond “recognition,” asserting the historical presence and contributions of African Nova Scotians is an act of survival. In the case of the No. 2 Construction Battalion, those who served were denied honours, and returned to a country where the same racism that consigned them to a Black battalion continued to deny them equality. Just as they had fought for the British in the War of Independence and in the War of 1812, African Nova Scotians continued to offer service to a country that took their bodies and labour and lives, and refused them humanity in return.
So when we think of the No. 2 Construction Battalion, we can think about how these histories are buried — that in the mass commemorations of World War 1, Black soldiers were rarely mentioned. We perhaps think even less about the fears that may have prompted enthusiastic service by Black people that if they didn’t demonstrate citizenship, their communities would easily be turned on. Honouring the Battalion is not only a corrective to history, it also validates in real ways families in the communities whose ancestors’ actions were never acknowledged by Canada.
(image from cbc.ca)
At the same time, we can and should think about the contemporary military in Canada. Honouring the Construction Battalion does not also have to lead us into unquestioning celebration of the military or of war. Wallace Fowler has called for an inquiry into racism in the Canadian Armed Forces. Black service members have alleged PTSD caused by racist abuse. Our recognition of the Battalion should also include recognition of ongoing racism in the military and demands for redress for those who have experienced racism.
And as Black communities, we should also be thinking about the role the Canadian military plays in Africa. Yves Engler writes:
Canada is increasingly involved in “counterterrorist” training exercises in the Sahel region, which covers parts of Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, South Sudan, Sudan and Eritrea. The Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) has participated in Exercise Flintlock since 2011. Fifty members of CSOR and the Special Operations Aviation Squadron traveled to Senegal and Mauritania for Exercise Flintlock in 2014. The New York Times Magazine reported: “For the past three weeks, Green Berets, along with British, French and Canadian special operators, had been training 139 elite troops from Niger, Nigeria and Chad” as part of Flintlock 2014. Sponsored by the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) and directed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Flintlock takes place in a different Sahel region nation each year.
Canadian officials generally tell the media the aim of training other militaries is to help fight terror or the illicit drug trade but a closer look at military doctrine suggests broader strategic and geopolitical motivations. An important objective is to strengthen foreign militaries’ capacity to operate in tandem with Canadian and/or NATO forces. According to Canada’s Military Training Assistance Program, its “language training improves communication between NATO and other armed forces” and its “professional development and staff training enhances other countries compatibility with the CFs [Canadian Forces].” At a broader level MTAP states its training “serves to achieve influence in areas of strategic interest to Canada. … Canadian diplomatic and military representatives find it considerably easier to gain access and exert influence in countries with a core group of Canadian-trained professional military leaders.”
(image from ctvnews.ca)
We cannot assert unity or solidarity with Africa through African Heritage Month without questioning the military actions of Canada that repeatedly attack the sovereignty of African nations and the lives of African people. Many Canadians have likely forgotten the actions of the Canadian military in Somalia and the murder of sixteen year old Shidane Abukar Arone by Canadian soldiers in 1993.
In Halifax, the militarization of the city also affects Black residents and our neighbourhoods. Construction of the enlarged Irving shipyard resulted in reports of “rats the size of cats” in Mulgrave Park. The gentrification of the North End and the rise in rents is in part driven by the shipyard. Workers in the shipyard have spoken of being displaced by workers from Alberta, job loss that seems to particularly have targeted the few African Nova Scotians working at the shipyard. In the words of Tony Seed in 2013:
Is this a sign of things to become “normal” as part and parcel of the process of militarizing the livelihood and lives of the civilian population? The other side of the lying propaganda in the monopoly media about war and war preparations providing a source “jobs” is an oppressive daily propaganda about the war danger propagated and crafted to infuse a spirit of submission to an illegitimately asserted “authority.” If and when the government actually has to smash and take away hard-won rights — to unionize, to defend their wages and working conditions, to protest police brutality, etc. — the idea is that the police and/or other guardians of “order” will meet only isolated pockets of resistance.
Many features of daily life in the area around the shipyard are already feeling the effects of “adjustments” being inserted by private capital and government social agencies. These adjustments are being imposed in the service of agendas that were launched before the shipbuilding project was even a gleam in the Irvings’ corporate eye. Thus:
During the mid-2000s housing boom, which eventually imploded in 2007-2008 in the subprime mortgages scandal, developers in Halifax eyed the Barrington Street corridor as an ideal zone in which to develop high-rise buildings full of nothing but condominium units. At the same time, the extremely low rate of population increase in Halifax over the entire decade (compared to greater Montreal or greater Toronto) determined the resistance of the city’s entire community of lending institutions to risking their capital on such schemes.
As government finances, even down to the municipal level, were enabled to take higher levels of bonded debt onto their books than ever before, the Halifax School Board took under consideration various proposals to close a number of elementary schools in the North End and consolidate their student bodies in a single modern, geographically central institution. These closures were widely opposed throughout the entire North End of the city that was served by the existing elementary and K-9 schools.
Back in 2010, the moment the prospect of Halifax Shipyard getting any part of the Harper government’s combined Coast Guard and warship fleet construction projects became apparent, the Halifax School Board entertained a motion to close the Saint Patrick’s-Alexandra K-9 School. Meanwhile, Jono Investments, a local developer, began beating the drum for special exemption to erect condo high-rises that would violate the city’s ban against buildings erected near the harbour that exceed the height of the view-plane from the top of Halifax Citadel. Many of the social collectives of the greater North End community – including an extensive community health clinical services group, social support organizations for impoverished youth and single women, a popular church in the African-Canadian community and others – have joined the campaign to keep the school buildings and the property they occupy intact. Meanwhile, the developer and his allies on city council have been unable to overturn an initial court injunction stopping them from taking further action.
The rights of the working class and people are being challenged as never before by the growing militarization of the Canadian economy. It must not pass!
The recognition of the Construction Battalion should provide us with a forum for addressing these issues during the month. Racism cannot be consigned to history or seen as a relic of the past, and our study of Black history and our recognition of the lives and sacrifices of our ancestors is not only something to be passively celebrated, but a force that should call us to action in our communities today.
My Grandfather, Patrick Jones, was a fierce anti-colonial activist. When at the time of World War I he saw the troops in Trinidad marching, he said to them, “Who are you marching for?” They responded “For King and Country!” “You have a King?” asked my grandfather. “You have a country?” At the beginning of World War II, he was threatened with imprisonment for sedition against Britain for writing the calypso, “Class Legislation” which featured the lyrics:
Class legislation is the order of this land.
We are ruled by the iron hand
Class legislation is the order of this land
We are ruled with an iron hand
England and Germany preach democracy
Brotherly love and fraternity
And yet they keep us living in this colony
Dissident and resistant voices are also important in African Heritage/Black History Month. We can recognize the No. 2 Construction Battalion and question the Canadian military. We can celebrate culture and also confront governments, organizations, and institutions who continue to oppress us. We can honour the past and organize to fight current issues in our communities. These legacies live with us today: we think of Jeremiah Jones who served in World War I and was denied the Distinguished Conduct Medal he earned. Rocky Jones, his grandson, held his example before him in his activism for the community. And the many of us Rocky encouraged and educated live in his radical legacy. He would encourage us to keep fighting.
2. Inspiring Minds
Dalhousie’s budget advisory committee has recommended a 3 per cent tuition hike for all students and up to a 28 per cent increase in some programs.
The committee claims the fee raises are necessary to “balance the university’s books.”
Meanwhile, retired president Tom Traves is making $457, 521.
I mean, why not raise fees? After all, it’s not like Dalhousie had a bad year or anything. There was only the Dentistry scandal, reports on the widespread misogyny, homophobia and racism, a medical student accused of murder, revelations of drug dealing on campus, another student dead from alcohol poisoning…who wouldn’t want to pay more for that quality of education? And really, when you weigh that against the new building with sound proof rooms, it all kind of balances out.
Hey, ladies! Now you can attend Dentistry school at a 9 per cent tuition fee increase and you might get to educate your male classmates about rape culture and sexual harassment for free! It’s like you’re getting extra co-op experience as a women’s studies professor, right?
Over on the CBC article, Robyn McCallum, president of the Dalhousie Agricultural Students’ Association points out the 18.9 per cent increase on fees for Agriculture students on top of the 3 per cent increase is “not reasonable.” The article points out as an aside that McCallum is “a graduate student studying bees.” Silly worker bee! Don’t you know the queen bees get to eat all the royal jelly and outlive you by 10 times, and you just get to shrivel up and die? It’s like Dalhousie is the same thing.
(Cue comments by bee experts. Which is cool! Educate me about bees! I can’t afford tuition to learn it in agriculture school.)
I don’t think you’re ready for this (royal) jelly.
I guess the government needed a little break from gouging seniors and thought it was time to bankrupt students a little more. Crafty move, there. If no-one can afford to go to medical school then there won’t be any doctors to prescribe those pesky seniors medication. It all works out.
3. There’s no news
“The Nova Scotia Health Authority says a small fire overnight in the laundry room of the Northside General Hospital in North Sydney caused only minor damage.” Oh okay. Fire = bad, but minor damage = sounds all right.
“In a statement, the authority said the fire marshall has determined the fire started accidentally in a hamper of clean laundry and was “linked to the spontaneous combustion of linen.”
Apparently this is a thing.
Well, today it’s the linens going off, tomorrow it’s the Marx.
(idk what the fuck this image [from tophdimg.com] is. Tim makes me put pictures. It’s late.)
[Editor’s note: I claim no responsibility for cat photos.]
4. One Scammy City
Pretty much all the Friday night news is about scams.
From the CBC:
Halifax RCMP are trying to find a man who dressed up as an ADT salesperson and tried to sell alarm systems to Cole Harbour residents.
On Feb. 2 around 3:30 p.m., police say the man posing as a salesman tried to sell an ADT system to a homeowner in Cole Harbour. But when the homeowner asked for photo identification, the man did not provide it.
From the Metro:
The company that hired three baggage handlers charged with going through luggage at the Halifax airport has terminated their employment…
A spokesman for Swissport Canada confirmed to Metro Halifax that the RCMP contacted the company on Jan. 29 regarding a Jan. 27 video showing three Swissport employees going through luggage at the Halifax airport.
From CBC again:
Three men have been charged by Halifax police after city staff discovered hundreds of so-called phantom parking tickets were written and submitted in 2014 and 2015…
…Halifax police said about 2,200 tickets were either fabricated or used invalid licence plates. The tickets were never put on vehicles and were only written on out-of-province or out-of-country vehicles.
Well, I guess with the film industry collapsing, we have to let our creativity out somehow?
I mean, it could be worse, they could be, you know, only expected to work two days a month for their half a million dollar salary or something.
Part 3 of DEAD WRONG will be going up this afternoon. You do need a subscription to read. I will be on a panel on wrongful conviction at the IdeaLaw conference with Sean Macdonald, one of Assoun’s lawyers. So come by, watch the panel, and then subscribe to read Tim’s series in the afternoon.