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.


MGKoile said...

thank you! I'm another white born and raised scotian that is often flabergasted by racist behavior i've witnessed. i can't even to begin to imagine what black people's experience is in all this. But, I'd like to be at least one person that is not in complete denial or so afraid to deal with the issue that i choose to pretend racism is over. If we ever want to see a world where race is not an issue, I think it's essential that white people (politicians and librarians alike) wise up and start getting mad at it. When black people get mad about racism, they are labeled as "angry black people" that are carrying baggage from the past. The fact is, that baggae is far from unpacked. I believe that we need to start sharing eachothers stories so that we can have real compassion for all people instead of thinking "i'm not racist, I have black friends, asian friends etc." Just because you have the white privalege to accept whoever you want whenever you choose to does not make you not a racist. It starts with havng an honest talk with ourselves about the ideas we carry about people of another race, being able to admit when we discover it's wrong and look into ways we can change it. thanks again for your words, was just discussing this with a friend right before i read it. there's lots to be said, lets keep saying it!

themostreverendbob said...

I'm pretty sure that's Krampus. A black skinned demon that accompanies St. Nicholas on Christmas. Children who are nice receive gifts from St Nick while naughty ones are subject to the attention of the Krampus.

Susan Downey said...

I was extremely upset just seeing the post. I am an African Nova Scotian woman/mother/grandmother and I have no problem speaking to the issues of Racism in NS. It is rampant in the cities and the rural areas alike! Mind you having lived in both, I note there are differences between the two. In the rural setting, polite whites just ignore those who do not look like them....It is incredible living there like you are a ghost or just don't exist in their privileged world! As long as you are quiet and 'well behaved' you can (sadly) survive!!
HOWEVER, in the city, those who are non white are seen as 'angry &/or threatening'. Whites who live in the City know that they have the ultimate back up in the HPD!!!! and well, anyone who looks like me knows what that means. I personally have lived in both settings and I hate to admit that my home (NS) is really not a safe place for the self esteem of our children. I sometimes tell myself that I am beyond it at this stage of my life, however I see my grandchildren being treated differently in schools and society in general than their white counterparts. I see (referees/teachers/nurses/Board Members/police officers/directors/
store clerks/soccer moms) every walk of life in NS and have had personal and professional relationships with most.
Sooner or later the issue gets raised and more often than not, I end up learning something that I don't want to know.. When it comes down to it at least 85% are racist when the chips are down. Even the well meaning ones who do not think that they have any racism in them. I suggest that when confronted and/or something racist comes out of your mouth/brain.....OWN it, and make the conscious choice to change that line of thinking....I would so much rather deal with someone who can accept responsibility and then look within to make the change and/or examine the source of that thinking!!!

Anonymous said...

you're surprised that there's racism in nova scotia? jesus christ. in pictou county there's a "nigger hill".

Ginger said...

If it is Krampus where are the huge goat like horns and ragged clothing. Why in the world would they make a demon wear the bright neon dunce like outfit and sport an afro. Don't even try to feed me that bull. Though I am sure they knew of the character and can use that excuse.

Ginger said...

In Meteghan NS when I was a teenager (about 20 years ago it may be gone now ??) I was taken to Nigger Lake. The sign was there like a slap in the face.

Anonymous said...

Relax. its a dutch tradition. Weird i know, but we dont come from there so lets be tolerent. Just like you want others to be tolerent!

Ginger said...

Don't tell me to relax. I am very accepting of other cultures. I don't tolerate anyone. I accept them fully or I dont. When they slam a furry long tongued horn having demon in the chair cool. When they slam a black faced clown costume wearing afro sporting moron in a chair ..I don't have any respect for their mockery of tradition. Black faces alone are not a representation of evil demons.

Anonymous said...

Enjoy your living in the past-angry hate-filled life. Its a new world, these things seem absurd now. Believe it or not this is an age where a person is judged on the quality of their character and not skin colour. Sterotypes still exist but the smart ones are the people that defy them.

Ginger said...

My response to the Krampus suggestion stands like it or not. Zwarte Piet or Black Pete, sure maybe ..suggesting Krampus ? Black skin does not suggest evil or demon. That's got nothing to do with hate filled anything. Don't assume a black face means evil! If you do im gonna suggest that's wrong.

Anonymous said...

Even if it is Black Pete, they sell brown face paint. The little guy who helped Santa was not black ..he was a "black" man or boy not a person with tar black skin. Black face culture is racist always was always will be.

Ginger said...

I really don't think he was a black person ..race wise. Im not sure honestly. I originally though it was simply a black kid or man who helped Santa too. Now I'm not sure at all. I'll have to research it. The MLA now speaks of a servant who has soot on his face from going down chimneys. There are always different versions over the years. If it is meant to be soot don't need a full black face to represent that either. it would be streaked with filth not fully black...its all odd if you ask me. If people want to practice traditions and support their culture ..why go too far and create drama. why not have a character dressed to fully represent the character you want to portray ..why half ass it and throw together a quick theme and create drama. That's not respect for your culture. I don't even mind the story or the character if it was something they were always told as children.. fine. Some people get offended because people tell kids of Easter bunnies and Santa at all. I don't have to change what I value to appease anyone...they don't have to either just to appease me :) However respect goes both ways. If you work in politics and represent many cultures/races use common sense when you tweet ..explain the photo and the character ..and by all means take time to tell the story and create the character to look sensible. Or deal with the backlash.

Tonya Paris said...

Firt let me say I am a BLACK and NATIVE mother/sister/daughter/aunt/i have witness racism both personally and professionally. It is alive and well in NS. And those that think otherwise are clearly mistaken... I have watched my sons get harassed by police because they fit a description...'black' is is not a description....and never been charged except with disturbing the peace and resisting arrest because they asked why they were being bothered. I personally watch harassment in black communities and before anyone has a comment I was on the force not in the pls dont say "ghetto" etc because u can be raised anywhere and be a criminal. We arent angry we are hurt. Hurt that our intelligence isnt acknowledged.....hurt that are strength isnt seen....Hurt that our feelings arent validated.... everytime we speak up we are being aggressive....why is it not viewed as assertive? We get followed in stores....when ive never stolen in my life....we get spoken at not to with respect. We have earned the right to be here, hell we built it yet i hear send them back to Africa....we have been displaced do u realize none of knows where in Africa we belong? mmmmmhhhmmmm and i wonder why that is? could it be the wonderful Carnival cruise that brought us here? I have friends of all backgrounds (color, culture, and religious) isnt that what Canada is all abt our diversity? And like the above statement said somehow it will turn around on us to be tolerant...when no one has ever been tolerant of us.....Read up abt the Black Wall Street....or shark Island these are things not in the forefront of history.... maybe if our children read more on the positive things abt us they wouldnt fall for the negative. but our history isnt told in full ever....I am a proud BLACK and NATIVE woman....of ALL of our history....Nova Scotia as a whole needs sensitivity training and people should be held accountable when they treat someone in a racist manner....If I offend someone who am I to say I didnt....only that person knows what bothers them and what doesnt.....

Ryan Deschamps said...

A really great book is Nadene Gordimer's _July's People_. Basically, it's a tale of a white, liberal family who, after the tables turn in South Africa, get to understand what being a minority race with 'allies' is really like. It's a good reminder to us all - we have no understanding whatsoever what it's like to deal with racism.

Saidy said...

We, as concerned citizens of the Netherlands, are deeply alarmed by the physical and nonphysical violence directed at Black people and critical voices in the Netherlands, most recently displayed in the national public debate about the racist blackface figure Zwarte Piet (Black Pete).

We urge each and every one who subscribes to this statement to show solidarity by signing and sharing it.

Andreae Callanan said...

I visited Belgium at Christmas a few years ago, and they have Zwarte Piet there too. From what I understand, it is an old Dutch tradition, yes, but it is an old RACIST Dutch tradition - Piet is said to have originated as a Krampus-like character who, coinciding with Dutch colonialism, morphed from a devil into a Moorish slave who was equally evil and stupid - a pure stereotype. The Dutch empire included countries in North Africa, and also South Africa and Suriname, so African slavery was key to Dutch success. Without slavery, there would be no Piet, plain and simple. There is no way to remove the racism from this character - today people may say that he is black from soot, or that he is simply a made-up caricature, or that he and Sinterklaas are friends rather than slave and owner, but so long as he appears in blackface, his origins are clear.

So this is bad enough in itself, but for a politician in Nova Scotia, with its historical and contemporary issues of racism and racial violence, to celebrate it is just so unfathomably awful.

As the Dutch commentor above indicated, even in the Netherlands it is becoming clear that Zwarte Piet is not an appropriate figure for our time, and is ultimately harmful to the character of the country. That's the thing about traditions - they can change with the time. There are plenty of traditions that have been phased out or changed because they were no longer appropriate. To hide behind the phrase "it's a tradition" is cowardly and irresponsible.

Meril Rasmussen said...

I'm jumping in to defend my friends and neighbors at the end of the road in Meat Cove. Why does a worthwhile blogpost about racism in Nova Scotia need to include a baseless slur against the old man at the end of my road (may he rest in peace, mind you). He fought in WWII and spent time in a prisoner of war camp risking his life in the fight against racism. Mine is an interracial family and we have been a part of Meat Cove for decades, and I can tell you, the man at the end of the road was not your problem, nor is his daughter who still lives there in his house. Racism in Nova Scotia is anchored to the historically unfair treatment of Black (and First Nations) communities on the mainland and in and around Sydney. In Meat Cove, (where 3 percent of the residents are Black, btw) people are most often gracious hosts and are remarkably accepting of difference.

Allison said...

Hi Meril,

Thank you so much for your sharing. I've only been to Meat Cove twice but once too young to remember and was not aware of a lot of the details in the stories you've told.

I'm very sorry for making fun of Meat Cove; it wasn't my intention. I thought that my use of 'Oh, Fictional Stereotype, you devil you.' expressed that I am tired of people from some communities pushing the problem of racism off onto other communities until it reached the most northern community and no one has to take any personal responsibility. If you take the statement literally, it takes on a very different meaning.

I am frequently appalled by the racism that I see in Halifax but conversations about racism in the province are usually directed towards 'rural hicks' by people more ignorant than those they are decrying.

I think I would have liked your neighbour a lot. Thanks for standing up for him.

All the best,

Black Man said...

People don't be fooled by these kind of people, they knew when they posed for the picture that it would offend people and didn't care, if they apologize don't accept it, because when ever anyone do things like this, it shows what is in their heart, they do the thing and then come out and say they are sorry. Any one can say words and not mean them. I hope the Black stays in that family forever by one of their offspring being born black. So be it.

nick nonsense said...

is it intolerant of me, in nova scotia, to say i'd rather not have my politicians exhibit obviously racist traditions from their heritage, be it dutch or whatever?
you can be dutch and celebrate christmas without bringing out the traditions that, once photographed and made public, you have to explain as "not being what they seem at first glance". can dutch-canadians roll out every single other xmas tradition they have? or is black pete so integral it wouldn't be dutch xmas without it? if so, best not to allow cameras from now on.

we have racist traditions of our own here in nova scotia. they are painful reminders of how bad things used to be, and of how far we still have to go. we do our best to eradicate these racist traditions when and where possible. why? if nothing else, because traditions with racist overtones are not polite in mixed company. smart people usually consider canada an entire country consisting of mixed company. a little tact is in order.
further, politicians are constantly operating in mixed company. it's a pretty simple equation. it's rude at the best of times, but when you're a politician? inexcusable and indefensible.