Sunday, December 1, 2013

Racism exists and other things Nova Scotia ignores

When people talk to me about Nova Scotia, they usually speak of lobster, sea breeze, lighthouses, and racism.

The last one took a while for me to understand and even longer for me to confront, because I, Allison Sparling, left leaning white girl, was decidedly Not A Racist Because I Have Watched Do The Right Thing And I Think Michelle Obama Is Cool am not racist and I am from Nova Scotia. Also, I am friends with people who Are Not Racist Because The Same Reasons And Maybe They Like Basketball (Right?) and they are from Nova Scotia. I mean, maybe there are racists in Nova Scotia but they are not in my social circle so I am a good person. (Right?)

Racism is so infrequently addressed in Nova Scotia because it is always someone else’s issue; someone who is less sophisticated than they are because sophisticated people aren’t racist. People from cities blame people from the people from rural communities and people from those rural communities blame other rural communities until the only racist in Nova Scotia is the one guy who lives on a dead end road in Meat Cove who hasn’t had a radio for the past 30 years. Oh, Fictional Stereotype, you devil you. Stay in your sea shanty. PROBLEM. SOLVED.

The polemic that has made me ignorant for much of my life is englightened white person that I was, I wrongfully assumed that a person was or was not racist. Racists are portrayed like old timey bad guys in comic books; they dress funny and talk slick. In reality, people do and say things that are racist, and the only thing that separates us from actually being 'a racist' from 'doing something racist' is acknowledging it and learning from it. I get that it isn’t exactly fun to admit that the potential for racism lives in all of us (just like the spirit of Christmas!) but white people, listen up, you gotta stop pulling the “it’s just a costume!” around every major holiday. It wears thin.

Earlier this evening, my MLA tweeted a picture of him celebrating aspects of his Dutch culture that involved someone in black face. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many “nuances” to this specific, historic blackface, but he posted a picture of himself and his children celebrating Christmas next to a guy in blackface. The tweet was then retweeted by the provincial account for the Liberal party, and then promptly ‘unretweeted’ when someone realized that maybe they shouldn’t drink and do their work’s social media, I don’t know, whatever.

Here is how I see this incident going:

  1. Joachim Stroink will say he is sorry ‘if you were offended’
  2. Someone who is not white will attest that Joachim Stroink is a ‘solid dude’ or something
  3. Everyone who has a problem is a negative hater
  4. Fin

Generally funny and very insightful Chad Lucas added: “2b) Some defender says "Why are you making this about race? I guess *you're* the real racist here."

Well, that kind of sucks.

Because here’s the thing. I can’t even begin to try to convince you why even ‘traditional’ blackface is a terrible idea. I am not the right person to do that, although maybe @RedLightVoices is, so consider that.

Instead, I have a modest proposal: instead of accepting when at 8 am people paid to distract and stir up stuff on social media try to dismiss this conversation as partisan rhetoric, you ignore them because they are being ignorant.

I work with government in my job and I deal with my MLA in my life, and I AM one of those people who asks their MLAs for stuff all the time. (Joachim, why don’t you return my calls, by the way? November 20th, 7 pm, according to my phone. It’s cool, you’re busy, but you or some intern is reading this now, so maybe find that message because my number is in it.)

It’s much, much easier for many, many people, myself included, to sweep this under the rug and pretend this didn’t happen until the next time, and then the next time, and then the next time until we wonder why new immigrants don’t stay here very long and our culture suffers and the province shrivels up like the lobster industry, but here’s the thing: I really like Nova Scotia, and I’d like it a lot more if our leaders didn’t give fodder for hundreds of white people with time on their hands to defend Julianne Hough on Facebook because local media thinks race is a surefire way to page hits.

Now, with my weird little corner of the internet, after the dust is settled and a bunch of people have tried to subvert the gaze from the original picture with questions to stretched from the actual issue that they sound like a rejected plot line for Quadrophrenia ("But what even IS racism, guys?), now I can collect this moment and say “Yes, this actually happened” when someone tries to pretend it didn’t in approximately 4 years.

It is now almost 11 pm. In the morning, something will happen.

I suggest you ask yourself:

  • Is this acknowledged?
  • Is this acknowledged respectfully?
  • Is there an apology? Is it actually an apology?
  • Is anyone trying to change the subject?

And then I suggest you ask yourself:

  • Does this bother me? Why doesn’t it?

A bunch of things are partisan issues, like the Maritime Link unfortunately. I don’t think racism is one of them, and I don’t think calling it out should be. How the people we have elected react to what has happened is far, far more important than what happened. And even if nothing does happen, officially, on the record, at the very least you and I right now are finally thinking about race.