Canada's history of enslavement, racial segregation, and oppression of African Canadians has left a legacy of systemic racism in Nova Scotia. Systemic racism refers to a series of barriers that disadvantage particular groups of people based on race. It is usually invisible to those who don’t experience it. It is embedded in social norms and formal institutions such as police, law, education, and health systems.
Systemic racism persists in Nova Scotia today. Examples include environmental racism in Shelburne; gentrification in North End Halifax; and the disproportionate rates of incarceration of African Nova Scotian people.
Sexual violence is structural and systemic. Poverty, lack of education, criminalization, and incarceration — all products of systemic racism — are factors that exacerbate and contribute to sexual violence.
"seed of the wawa tree"
symbol of hardiness, toughness and perseverance
The seed of the wawa tree is extremely hard. In Akan culture, it is a symbol of someone who is strong and tough. It inspires the individual to persevere through hardship.
The Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children opened in 1921 to care for African Nova Scotian children. Although it was intended as a place of caring, many former residents suffered abuse and harms that have affected them, their families, and loved ones for generations.
“It is one of the great tragedies in our province’s history that your cries for help were greeted with silence for so long.”
- Premier Stephen McNeil, in offering a formal apology on behalf of the province, October 10, 2014
The story of the Home is complex. The Restorative Inquiry launched in 2015 has worked to understand the factors that put African Nova Scotian children at a higher risk of institutional abuse. These factors include, for example: poverty; inadequate and fragmented supports for children and families; and anti-Black racism in the dominant culture and public services.
"[F]or much of the Home’s history, formal and informal practices of segregation across the province limited education and employment opportunities for African Nova Scotians, which left families more vulnerable to poverty and increased attention from the care system. One impact of this poverty was that many female staff at the Home in the early period took jobs to support their families, placing them in a vulnerable position were they to lose their income by reporting issues. The inquiry has also heard that some staff worked at the Home in exchange for shelter for their children, creating similar vulnerabilities."
- Council of Parties, Third Public Report, Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children, Restorative Inquiry, Fall 2018
Street checks are also known as carding. They have allowed police officers to document information about a person they believe could be of interest to a future investigation, and record details such as their ethnicity, gender, age, and location. Black people are six times more likely than white people in Halifax to be carded. In October 2019, after many years of community activism, it was announced that the practice of street checks is now banned. Although this is a positive step, there is still lots of work to be done in addressing systemic racism within law enforcement.
African Nova Scotians say at police street check community meeting
Street Checks Report
Number from new report is almost double CBC News estimate in 2017 that triggered review
There are few Canadian statistics on issues affecting Black people. It was only in 2014 that a report was issued about the conditions that Black inmates endure while in federal correctional facilities Black people are now the fastest-growing group of incarcerated people in Canada, and rates of incarceration for Black women are increasing steeply. The disproportionate incarceration of African Nova Scotian people in this province is clear. In 2016, African Nova Scotians made up 2% of the general population in Nova Scotia, but 16% of incarcerated youth and 14% of incarcerated adults.
“Environmental racism is not the blatant cross-burning kind of racism. It’s systemic, and much more subtle. That landfill is not near Shelburne’s Black community because of a group of white men rubbing their hands together and saying let’s harm those Black people. Environmental racism doesn’t happen like that. Environmental racism is about the way our systems, our laws, and policies uphold white supremacist ideologies. It’s really about the way you perceive people and who you see as worthy and requiring protection. Environmental racism is about an unconscious bias that shapes policies. We put the dump in a community because that community doesn’t matter.”
- Dr. Ingrid Waldron
Gentrification is the process of renewal and rebuilding that accompanies the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas, often in urban centres. It often displaces poorer residents. Gentrification has frayed the social fabric in Halifax’s North End to the point where young Black residents don’t feel comfortable in their predominantly Black neighbourhood. As the neighbourhood becomes gentrified, they say they feel unwelcome in expensive new businesses that don't hire people who look like them.
'Call it what it is — white ignorance': Gentrification frays the social fabric in Halifax's North End.
The impact of gentrification in North End Halifax.
Systemic racism and sexual violence are interconnected. From the shame that survivors feel, to the code of silence that protects people who perpetuate sexual violence, to increased vulnerability to The Game.
Resiliency is the capacity of individuals and communities to spring back after hard times and recover their strength, spirit and emotional well-being. Resilience is also about using strengths to protect oneself or one's community in the face of great stressors and/or oppression and build a better future for themselves and/or their community. It is about being able to survive, and thrive in spite of difficulty.
Family, extended family, church, and community support are important parts of African Nova Scotian culture and offer powerful protective factors that create individual and community resiliency.
The commemoration of African Heritage Month in Canada can be traced to 1926, when Harvard-educated Black historian Carter G. Woodson founded Negro History Week to recognize the achievements of African Americans. Woodson purposely chose February for the birthdays of Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, both key figures in the emancipation of enslaved Blacks. In 1976, as part of the American Bicentennial celebrations, Negro History Week was expanded to Black History Month.