According to the report, the proposed boundary would mean about 500 homes would need to change their address from the community of Hammonds Plains to Lucasville. Those affected will receive a letter informing them of the change.
“I completely understand if they’re feeling inconvenienced and feeling put out by this recommendation. But at the same time, I think it’s extremely important that we recognize the historical boundaries of this community,” said Blackburn.
As it turned out in the Council meeting, more than feeling “inconvenienced and put out,” how residents felt was “extremely racist.” As Tim reports:
Long story short, some residents, especially in the Waterstone Subdivision, didn’t want to be associated with the historically Black community of Lucasville but instead with the largely white Hammonds Plains community. But staff and historic researchers pored over old maps and even property deeds that describe the Waterston parcels as being in Lucasville, and so determined that it would be in Lucasville today.
You know what’s coming… as councillor Lisa Blackburn told it, some Waterstone residents sent nasty emails full of racist attacks to her. Other councillors said they too had received the emails.
Jacob Boon elaborated on some of the racist commentary emailed by white residents:
Residents in her district said the name change would decrease their home values, and that it's based on recognizing "people with different skin colour, which is racist."
— Jacob Boon (@RWJBoon) December 12, 2017
She alludes to other racial epithets some people emailed to her, which she can't repeat. Says residents had many chances to have their voices heard.
"Today, we can be on the right side of history."
— Jacob Boon (@RWJBoon) December 12, 2017
How odd. I thought white Halifax residents were near-fanatic devotees of history. After all, isn’t that why we can’t do anything about the Cornwallis statue? Opposition to removing Cornwallis, we are told, has nothing to do with racism or colonialism, and simply with the principle of not “rewriting history.” One would think white residents would therefore be delighted by this opportunity to engage in historical preservation!
Council members have refused to share the text of the emails they received, let alone the names of the residents who felt so comfortable sending “racial epithets” to councillors. If this is the kind of material these people send to white councillors, what do we imagine they might be capable of doing to Black homes and people?
I wonder if this were, say, Muslims sending threatening emails if people would be so cavalier about the potential violence and danger to their neighbours.
Do we forget that “Sieg Heil” and swastikas were spray-painted on election signs in North Preston only this spring? Or the cross-burning in 2010? These attacks are not an artifact of the distant past. Yet we consistently treat racist emails, racial slurs, and violent comments by white people as something just normal and expected.
Sure, people might shake their heads and feel disappointed that such sentiments exist, but they aren’t really taken seriously as a danger to anyone. These comments fill online articles about race, flood Twitter, are all over social media and in the inboxes of Black and Indigenous public figures, yet the fantasy remains that this kind of racism is shared only by a few extremists.
When Mi’kmaq women peacefully protested the Cornwallis statue, Mayor Savage publicly cautioned the protestors and warned them that violence would not be tolerated:
Although Savage said the city will not stand in the way of “legitimate public protest,” he said the city will not “condone violent action in the place of real dialogue.”
Where are the public warnings to Waterstone residents? Where are the comments calling them “hotheads on the warpath” or painting them as a danger to civil society or as an impediment to dialogue? Where are the appeals to moderate members of the white community to condemn this behaviour?
The very reason why these white residents feel that they can send these kind of emails to councillors is that there are no consequences for this behaviour. Their names will be kept anonymous. They won’t be exposed in their workplace or to their community. They won’t be shamed and publicly ridiculed the way women who speak out about racism are. They won’t have endless editorials about their “civility” published or have their language condemned.
They will be protected because, after all, it would be terrible if they faced any backlash as a result of their own behaviour. Meanwhile, Black residents will just have to live in fear not knowing who among their neighbours is a vicious racist who may one day do them harm.
The reality is that, despite the continual outrage suggesting that calling people racist is worse than being racist, racism is treated as completely normal and an expected side-effect. And it is this tolerance and acceptance of white people sending racist comments that means there is no motivation to stop. Why wouldn’t white people send racial slurs to a city councillor? Why not leave vicious comments on a news article? What is going to happen to them if they do?
If someone leaves a “suspicious package” somewhere, despite the unlikeliness of this actually being a bomb, the police are immediately mobilized, the news breathlessly reports, and we are reminded of the possible dangers from terrorism that we face. Yet the far more credible threat of white violence and the danger it poses for Black communities, something that has long historical evidence, is treated as negligible.
As Vicky Mochama observed, whiteness is continually upheld and protected in Canada. The media withheld the name of the white woman demanding a white doctor and blurred her face, on the premise that they needed to protect her son. Of course, no such considerations exist for Black victims of violence, who have their criminal records dredged up and published. No such protections exist for innocent Indigenous women peacefully protesting. Muslim women who post about white fragility face discipline from universities and are exposed to violent rape and death threats.
Yet Waterstone residents will wake up today having faced no consequences and experienced no sanctions. Not repeating what those emails said doesn’t protect Black people. Burying the extent of racism does not keep Black people safe. What it preserves is the fiction that racism is not widespread and severe. It preserves the myth that this kind of thing doesn’t happen in Canada, despite hundreds of years of white violence towards Black communities in this province. It allows white people to not hold their fellow white people accountable, and it allows white violence to be normalized.
If we are serious about “ending racism,” then we need to stop making it comfortable for racists. Right now, the only people who regularly face any backlash are those who speak out against racism. As long as that remains the case, we cannot pretend to be shocked when nooses are hung on doors, effigies are lynched in workplaces, crosses are burned, racist graffiti is spray painted, or whatever other “less civilized” expressions of racism emerge. And then, there will be mass professions that nobody ever thought such things existed in our communities, and all the while your neighbour is busy sending another email laced with racial slurs.
2. A historical note
Interestingly, white residents’ backlash to moving into a Black community and then being mad that their property values will decrease mirrors much of the historical reaction to the Black refugees.
George Elliott Clarke’s review of Harvey Amani Whitfield’s history Blacks on the Border: The Black Refugees in British North America, 1815-1860 summarizes the historical smear campaign.
His work serves an ongoing effort to overturn the propaganda that has besmirched the reputations of the black refugees — and, by extension, all African-NovaScotians (or Africadians) right down to the present. That mythology holds that the black refugees had few skills, would not farm or work, and were utterly illiterate, and so “worthless,” in effect, that they were only good for slavery and should be shipped to the U.S. south, or to Trinidad, or to Sierra Leone, as soon as funds could be raised for their transport.
No less a personage than Thomas Chandler Haliburton, colonial Nova Scotia’s great author, made like arguments in Sam Slick sketches, in political statement, and in his History of Nova Scotia, where he holds that the ex-slaves “sighed for the roof of their master, and the pastimes and amusements they left behind.”
In the 1970s, one scholar held that the black refugees were so destitute that they didn’t even possess a heritage of song and music. Other scholars felt that, once the “cream” of the black Loyalists shipped to Sierra Leone in 1792, the Africadian communities, “old” and “new,” were left leaderless and felt listless, and that the refugee blacks, arriving poor and hungry and cold, only added to the common woe.
For those interested, Whitfield’s essay “‘We Can Do As We Like Here’: An Analysis of Self Assertion and Agency Among Black Refugees in Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1813-1821” can be read here. Whitfield’s essay perhaps offers some historical perspective on why white people might feel entitled to move into a Black neighbourhood and then complain bitterly about any associations with Blackness.
Another reason why the emails to council should be made available is because they provide an important contemporary commentary on the documented historical responses to Black settlement. It would be interesting to see how closely the current racist backlash echoes arguments made at the time of refugee influx.
Two hundred years later, white residents are upholding the same historical narratives about shiftless Blacks. Similar efforts by white communities to disassociate themselves from Black people have been ongoing in the city:
Back in the 1980s, residents of Gottingen north of Young Street petitioned to have their street renamed to the meaningless Novalea Drive just so no one would confuse their fine middle-class neighbourhoods with the public-housing-social-service-drug-addled-boarded-up-and-well… Black district to the south.
The more things change…
3. A Quick Note on Sexual Violence
The new report on sexual violence on university campuses has been released. The report, “Changing the culture of acceptance: Recommendations to address sexual violence on university campuses,” can be accessed here.
On a quick skim, what stands out so far is the report’s explicit acknowledgment of the importance of a Black feminist lens, which may make this the first report by any university in the province to openly recognize this analysis:
Womanist/Black feminist theory ‘reveal(s) hierarchies of powers within categories of race, class, gender, patriarchal relations, sexuality and sexual orientation’” (Barriteau, n.d., p.15 as cited in Parris, 2010). Black feminism acknowledges the diversity of women-identified individuals and validates first person voice. Therefore, Black feminism incorporated an intersectional analysis into traditional feminist theory and practice. It maintains that experiences (e.g. racism, sexism, classism) are interconnected, and so the move toward gender equality must address all social inequalities (Academic Room, 2013;; Taylor, 1998). “Black feminist thought supports broad principles of social justice that transcend U.S. Black women’s particular needs” (Hill Collins, 2000, p. 22).
The report also addresses colonialism and ableism as important contexts for understanding sexual violence, power, and privilege. The recognition in this report of the ways race, citizenship status, disability, and other marginalized identities intersect with violence is significant, as sexual violence on campus is often imagined as only affecting white, middle-class women, and as divorced from the violence impacting women throughout the rest of society.
This report is being released as the trial of
Catherine Campbell Chris Garnier attempts to rely on the defence that a woman’s alleged sexual proclivities make her responsible for her own death. This week, an ex-boyfriend testified for the defence that she had previously supposedly enjoyed “rough sex,” which apparently translates into her wanting to be strangled, killed, stuffed into a garbage bin, and dumped under the bridge.
Catherine Campbell was a police officer. If even a cop can be treated like this, what hope is there that Indigenous and racialized women, Trans women, sex workers, poor women, women with mental health problems or addictions, etc. will ever be treated fairly?
Literally waiting for all the regular national outlets to take notice of this grotesque trial. pic.twitter.com/4W48l4nGpo
— Jacob Boon (@RWJBoon) December 13, 2017
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