1. A Modest Proposal

(Rick Conrad covered this story yesterday in his Morning File.)

Stephen McNeil, history expert, has more thoughts on history.

Premier Stephen McNeil (Credit: Annapolis Valley Spectator)

McNeil was asked about the town of Amherst, named after Jeffrey Amherst of the smallpox blanket Amhersts, following Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre’s decision to remove the street name Amherst.

“People are going to raise the issues that are important to them and that impact them. I think we always let that happen … You can’t ignore our own history, though. You can’t eliminate it,” said McNeil following a cabinet meeting in Halifax.

“Whether you’re African Nova Scotian, Mi’kmaq, or Acadian — in this province, there were challenging aspects of our history. But we can’t ignore those either. We have to ensure they’re part of our ongoing educational lessons that we teach in this generation.”

Perhaps this is a quibble, but “challenging aspects of our history?” “Challenging” is what a CEO uses to describe a quarter where profits decreased. “Challenging” is what I use in academic writing when I’m tired and can’t come up with another word. “This passage challenges constructs of blah blah blah…” Challenging is how people talk about their latest Crossfit workout.

I wouldn’t describe dying horribly from smallpox deliberately infected onto blankets or being enslaved or being forcibly deported as challenging. “How’s your day going, historic Mi’kmaq person?” “Oh, it’s slightly challenging right now, what with the deadly pustules erupting on my baby’s body.” “Yeah, my day is challenging too, I’m in a really intense argument on social media.”

Accurate representation of history from doyouyoga.com

I was going to put a picture of a person with smallpox here with the caption “challenging,” but honestly the pictures were too horrific…I mean, the pictures were challenging.

(One might also note that McNeil has some nerve talking about “ongoing educational lessons” as he attacks teachers. Perhaps it could be concluded that McNeil is not quite so dedicated to the mission of education as this quotation might suggest.)

Halifax Poet Laureate Rebecca Thomas “recognized there may be an unwillingness” to change the name of the town, and suggested that at the very least some streets could be named after Mi’kmaq people:

“If you’re not going to rename the town you could have counter-pieces. Perhaps you name a street for a noble Mi’kmaq person, or have other kind of dedications and commemorations to Mi’kmaq people from the community.”

With all respect to Rebecca, I have a new plan.

The thing is, I feel like keeping the names of streets of smallpox blanket dispensers/slaveowners/genocide lovers but then naming something else after a Black/Indigenous person is kind of like when someone tells you their office can’t be racist because there’s a lovely African woman who works there. It’s like the “I have Black friends” argument of history.

I think that instead, if officials want to keep things named after historical architects of genocide, then everything around the street/statue/school/river, etc. should have to be named after what they actually did.

Image from cbc.ca

So if you want to keep the name of Stairs Street in Halifax, that’s cool, but the rest of the streets in the neighbourhood should have to be named things like “I Rape African Women.” “I Torture and Mutilate Africans.” “Enslave African People and Steal Their Land.” “I Massacred Over 1,000 Africans And All I Got Is This Street Name And Compensation By The Belgian King Who Went On To Massacre Over 10 Million People In The Congo Because Rubber Makes Good Bike Tires. It’s Okay Though Because Africans Aren’t Human.” (That one needs some work.)

What better way to “ensure our ongoing educational lessons?” People are always telling us we “can’t just ignore history” and “it happened, you can’t erase it.” So let’s actually name things for what happened. After all, if it’s good and necessary to honour and remember these people, then there shouldn’t be any problem in living on streets named after the actions that we’re celebrating, right?

Image of the Belgian Congo from ultimatehistoryproject.com

The advantage of this solution is that I imagine that white people will learn to condemn these aspects of white history pretty quick.

Credit Card Representative: And what’s your address, Sir?

White person: 2103 I Rape African Women Avenue.

Credit Card Representative: What the fuck, dude? You rape African women? What the hell is wrong with you?

White person: No! I think Raping African Women is bad too! It’s disgusting! There’s no place for that in society! It’s not me, it was William Stairs! He raped African Women!

It’s sort of hard to be equivocal about “different times” in that circumstance, I imagine.

As an aside, I suggest that in this situation, one would not respond by saying “yeah, it was a little challenging.” There’s something about saying things out loud that really brings the reality home, I think.

And if some people relish recounting these horrors, well, isn’t that really only a matter of degree? Why is it okay to name a street after someone’s atrocities, but we would shun someone who openly supports these actions today? Is that not, perchance, a tad hypocritical?

I realize that renaming the Westin to the “I Decapitate Infants” hotel may not be great for tourism, but hey! If it’s okay to take the Harbour Hoppers down to the statue, why not stay in the baby scalping hotel? We can’t, after all, just pretend this history didn’t happen.

Visit Halifax and stay in the charming “I Decapitate Babies” Hotel right on the waterfront! (Image from thewestinnovascotia.com)

People are always telling us about the importance of “opening dialogue” and “having difficult conversations about race.” Well, I would submit that the above conversation would certainly qualify as “difficult.”

Hell, we can even name streets after the arguments of apologists! You want to live on “Owning Slaves is Okay Because It Was Long Ago” Street? Or “The Babies Deserved To Be Scalped Because There Were Many Sides” Avenue?

I personally look forward to spending those idyllic summer evenings buying an ice cream and strolling along “I Am Strongly in Favour of Using Poisoned Gas Against Uncivilized Tribes” Street (formerly Spring Garden) named in honour of the Winston Churchill statue.

Image from wikipedia.com

In order to really excite the city and draw upon the civic spirit, we could hold a contest to rename the Public Gardens. It’s hard to choose between the monuments to the Boer War (“Concentration Camps for Babies” Gardens) or the plaque to Clonard Keating (“Kidnapping Nigerians for Slave Labour is Fun!” Gardens), but, as with naming the ferries, I’m sure we can choose finalists and vote on it. Good times for all (except the infants and the Nigerians, naturally).

If we hold a vote, that also makes this a “process,” which is really important when deciding if statues are more important than Indigenous women, or so I hear.

Image of Keating plaque from wikipedia.com

Think of all the great “dialogue” you’ll be able to have with tourists who stop you to ask for directions. “Okay, well you’ll want to go down ‘Poisoned Gas Against Uncivilized Tribes’ Avenue until you get to ‘I Do Not Admit For Instance, That A Great Wrong Has Been Done To The Red Indians Of America Or The Black People Of Australia. I Do Not Admit That A Wrong Has Been Done To These People By The Fact That A Stronger Race, a Higher-Grade Race, A More Worldly Wise Race To Put It That Way, Has Come In And Taken Their Place’ Library (we just call that the ‘Eugenics and Master Race’ Library for short.) Turn right onto ‘The Indians Breed Like Rabbits So What’s A Little Famine’ Road, past ‘Gandhi is Alarming and Nauseating’ Drive, and your destination, ‘White Amnesia’ should be just there, right beside ‘What’s The Big Deal, Lots Of White People Thought That Way.’”

Who knows what this means though. History can be so ambiguous.

That last part is satire, by the way. Obviously a place would never be called “White Amnesia.” That would be reverse racist and mean to white people.

Some people might find it uncomfortable to live on such violently named streets describing sickening things, but rather like the opposition to the Grabher licence plate, those people are simply being politically correct. Why should we sanitize history, merely erecting a statue or naming a street and hoping that people will never really think about what these figures actually got up to? It seems to me that by only installing a plaque or quietly naming a street, one is bowing to the safe space crowd, who act like a little genocide could be “triggering.”

When you think about it, my proposal really is a sound one that has the advantage of teaching us all a lot about history. And why should Black and Indigenous people have the unfair advantage of really thinking viscerally and painfully about what these names symbolize? Isn’t it time that white people got to join in?

I look forward to hearing my proposal accepted by “Cut Off The Feet Of Black People Who Escape” Hall (formerly City Hall, named in honour of Salter “Slaveowner” Street). I also feel sure Stephen McNeil will approve, and I hope he announces this soon from “I Bet You’re Going To Say This Is Named After Some Racist Guy Named Province” House.

2. The Undiscovered Country

I guess I’m just riffing off the previous Morning File for my whole file now. I’ll just say I “discovered” these stories and then it’s okay to steal them!

Anyway, yesterday Rick Conrad covered Brittany Wentzell’s story in Lighthouse Now about the invasion of Carter’s Beach.

It’s weird, because I was looking through the archives yesterday, and I found this article from like 1600. To summarize, basically there were these people living quietly in their community, and then a bunch of drunken white people showed up and started peeing everywhere.

You see, their community used to be “undiscovered,” but then people advertised that there was this great “New World” and then all these people came and started throwing garbage everywhere and ruining everything.

And the worst part is, they don’t respect anyone’s property. They just park themselves anywhere and go and plunk themselves down on people’s lawns and in people’s driveways. This one resident asked someone if they could please move from in front of her house, and the woman actually threatened her! Just for politely asking if she could please get off her land!

So now these people are all loud and they don’t respect the rules of the community and it’s just a giant environmental and social disaster.

“Can we stay here forever?” Image of settlers from the advance.ca

Wow, that sounds terrible.

3. Random Stuff

I don’t know if it’s just the mood I’m in, but a bunch of the stories on CBC yesterday (am I officially old if I refuse to use the new layout? No! Take me to the CBC I know!) were the kind of headlines where you can play the “now imagine if it were a Black person!” game.

Like this:

It’s Ruining My NFL Experience, said Colin Kaepernick after not being hired as a quarterback in a conspiracy by white NFL owners to punish him for being an outspoken Black man. It’s ruining my NFL experience, said Jemele Hill. Etc. etc.

As Nova Scotia tries to lure immigrants, feds ‘scuttle’ German family’s plans.” That sucks. Now imagine if it were an African woman who wanted to come here and be a home care worker.

Another North Atlantic right whale found dead in Gulf of St. Lawrence.” Now imagine if it were a Black person found dead…Joke! I’m not rehashing the Dartmouth goose debacle!

On another random note, whenever they do articles on marihuana (I trained as a police officer so I spell it that way), it cracks me up how news outlets always find a way to include photos of candy edibles.

Image from cbc.ca

Gasp! Look at those cute lil gummy faces! Who could do such a nefarious thing as to fill them with drugs! Think of the children. Hey Tim, you know what’s probably going to happen this Halloween? People are going to slip gummy edibles into some kid’s Halloween candy!

Isn’t it terrible to think there’s a legal product you can buy full of a substance that acts as a stimulant, is responsible for catastrophic health outcomes, affects the performance of children in schools, and is tied to violence and even human slavery? Oh, you mean sugar?

Maybe nobody should be able to eat Haribos until they’re at least 21.

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El Jones is a poet, journalist, professor, community advocate, and activist. Her work focuses on social justice issues such as feminism, prison abolition, anti-racism, and decolonization.

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  1. El, you are awesome! It is refreshing to hear the truth and straightforwardly too (with a lot of grand humour as well), than to see reality always turned away from with disparaging comments of how “challenging” it is or the we can’t deny history but …(just watch us do it to “go forward, after all, it doesn’t matter, right? -not!) It is past time to deal with everything, not only bringing it into the open and educating people, but getting rid of what is offensive from history that we honour and should not. What we choose to do now speaks greatly about who we are and what we think our society is and should be. And to those who have commented about maybe paying more attention to the here and now, and the future rather than the past, the truth is that those who don’t know and face the past are doomed to repeat it. And it’s as true today as it was in the past.( but with the GRABHER license plate issue, I’m with the family on this. It’s their name, not a slogan, so how can you ban some people’s names and not others? If it was a slogan, definitely, it isn’t right, but it’s their name, so leave it be. Or get rid of personalized license altogether. and I say this as a woman who suffered the worst in that way, so I know of what I speak.)

  2. Educating the adult population may lead to some needed change in behavioral attitudes and actions; but if one really wants to create long-term and hopefully long-lasting change, then one needs to educate the children and youth on a dedicated and concerted basis to hopefully instill the behavioral changes on a more permanent basis. Unfortunately, the Halifax Examiner is not likely the media interface to reach the children and youth of today… that is something to think about if one really want to influence future perceptions and facilitate positive realities.

  3. The realities of history are scary and horrendous; but potential horrors that will occur in the future will be just as bad if we do not start paying more attention to the here and now, with an eye on where we are headed in the future.

    1. Our collective conversation seems to hold as a sacred truth that history is just bad/strong people bullying weak/good people and that by tearing down everything bad/strong only the good/weak will be left and then nothing bad will ever happen again.

      But the thing is, we’re not the beatific bonobos that social constructionists claim that we are. Social constructionists believe that if the social conditions are changed – that if bad social systems are expunged violently and new ones (which coincidentally always benefit the social constructionists & grant them positions of power and privilege) are put into force then man’s angelic nature will manifest itself and some sort of earthly substitute for Heaven or Nirvana will manifest itself on earth.

        1. You won’t find much information in HRSB documents and not much discussion at Board meetings. Each school in HRSB has a similar report and schools in low income areas consistently have poor results.
          In the brave new world of Liberal regimes the middle class schools get the cash and non-mandatory programmes and the lower class schools are of little concern to politicians.
          On the upside the new pre-primary programme is restricted to schools in low income areas and to students who live within the boundary of such a school.

          1. I beg to differ. Here’s an equivalent report for St. Joseph’s – A. MacKay (SJAM) Elementary, which serves Mulgrave Park (all students) and Uniacke Square (for French Immersion students). https://sje.hrsb.ca/sites/default/files/websites/sje.hrsb.ca/our-school-file/2016/11/st._josephs-alexander_mckay_elementary_2015-16.pdf

            You can see that the students are at very low levels in Grade 3, but the school has helped them climb up to at-or-above (in some categories WELL above) the HRSB average by Grade 6. Those kids are in great shape to proceed to junior high.

            My point is that it’s not universal. There *are* success stories, even in low income areas of the HRM. I really hope that SJAM can share some of their strategies with other schools throughout the district – I believe that would be more effective than, say, bringing in external consultants.

            (And man, am I ever feelling lucky that I live in SJAM’s catchment area!)

        2. They’re suspicious. 11/22/44% repeated suggest the n was quite small and they may not be statistically significant. I wonder how many were tested or how many components there were to the tests? I remain skeptical of their validity.

        1. I suggest you dismount your high horse and sit down to write something of substance. A post longer than 6 words would be a good start.