Local activists share how you can effectively fight racism and support the Black Lives Matter movementS
harisha Benedict recalls growing up in Lower Sackville. “Racism was alive in Sackville for sure,” she says. “Growing up in elementary school there was probably about eight Black kids.”
Most of them lived in the Seawood neighbourhood. “And it was talked down about,” she says. “Everyone said if you were from Seawood you were a thug, a criminal. Don’t go down to Seawood unless you know someone because you might get hurt, which was absolutely incorrect. They were lovely people, they accepted everybody there.”
Catherine Wright is from Beechville, N.S. She grew up with a different experience. Her mother is white and her father is half Black. Wright and all six of her siblings are a quarter Black. Only one of her brothers turned out with a skin colour reflecting of that.
“When people think Black all they see is colour,” says Wright. “But my siblings and I are all the same amount of Black. We’re all a quarter. So people really need to start looking past Black as a colour. We need to start thinking Black is a culture, not just the colour of your skin.”
Benedict thought she had to watch her behaviour to get respect. “When I was younger I thought I had to be silent because that was the only way people would respect me,” she recalls. “And now I’ve completely changed my view on that. I need to be loud and I need to be Black proud.”
In the past Wright also stayed quiet, but no longer. “I thought this was time for a change, and I got to start stepping in for myself,” says Wright. “Because there are also us over here that get left out because people think we’re less Black.”
Together Wright and Benedict organized the protest “Take a knee to make a stand” in June. Protestors stood outside of Park Lane mall filling Spring Garden from Barrington Street to South Park Street. They kneeled for 8 minutes and 46 seconds: the amount of time officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on the neck of George Floyd, killing him.
Haligonians showed up to support the Black Lives Matter movement. “But after the protest is over, what are you going to do?” says Rhonda Britton, senior pastor at New Horizons Baptist Church.
It’s not enough to be non-racist, it’s about being anti-racist believes Britton. “If I have a circle of friends and they’re standing around and saying things that are not appropriate about another group of people or they’re using some kind of racial slurs or they’re allowing stereotypes to govern their conversations, I can say I’m not in agreement with this and walk away, that’s non-racist,” says Britton. “But when I say ‘listen do you know what you’re saying is hurtful? Do you know what you’re saying is not true? Do you know you’re perpetuating a stereotype?’ that’s being anti-racist.”
Speaking up is important. When they see someone who is being discriminated against, white people should step in and use their white privilege: “Tell the other person that’s not right,” says Wright.
The little things add up. “But it might be something as simple as do you teach your children to appreciate the difference in others?” Britton says. “What’s the table talk like around your dining table? Do you extend yourself to know other people who are different then you? Do you make friends with others so you learn about that culture, so you’re not afraid of what you don’t know?”
It’s about reconsidering what you’ve learned.“When we start examining our education curriculum thinking that people are not being represented in what is taught, when we start looking at what we teach in history and whether or not it’s accurately represented there, when we consider the far-reaching implications of some of the things that we say and do, that is when we are moving in the right direction,” says Britton.
“Take the time and do the work to educate yourself,” says Benedict. “Because there’s nothing worse than having an ally that doesn’t know what they’re talking about, or is speaking for us in the wrong way.”
There are many ways to learn. The Africville museum represents the struggle for recognition of the forced demolition of a once thriving community. Walking Gottingen is an immersive sound-walk project that invites listeners to connect to North End stories of the past while learning and challenging anti-Black racism, xenophobia, and postcolonial attitudes.
And when you look for them, you’ll find lots of other ways to unlearn and reflect. Society dictates how we perceive others. “Stop making our young Black men feel like they have to succumb to what you’ve labelled them as criminals, as thieves, as gang members,” says Benedict. “That puts a lot of pressure on people when you label them to be something. Curiosity will expand your mind.”
It’s as simple as treating others how you hope they’d treat you. “Help your community,” Benedict says. “If you see someone in need you help out. And don’t be scared to reach out to anyone and ask if there’s anything they need.”
And don’t let what you’re learning and feeling now fade from your mind. “I just want people to stay the course, and have the courage of their convictions,” says Britton. “That’s really what it’s about. If you don’t follow through it’s useless. You must acknowledge and be honest with yourself, do some introspection and see what you think about different people, how you react in different situations and challenge yourself to act in a more positive way. In a more affirming way.”