Monday, August 16, 2010

jon tattrie, disappointingly white

i was at a book signing for the hermit of africville saturday when a white woman came up and asked when mr tattrie was arriving.

i'm him, i said.

oh, she said, her face falling. i thought he was black.

it wasn't as bad as my very first signing, for black snow, where a woman threw my book back at me and walked off grumbling, but still.

she was keen to learn more about black history in nova scotia and, after much convincing, decided the hermit would be a good start.

such is nova scotia: we all pretend not to see race, and yet it dominates our thoughts. it's rather like this south park clip. watch it without reading the title to amaze yourself.

the latest such incident came last week when the people of north preston noticed that while they had to make a long detour during road work, a small group of people from another community got special keys to access a road that cut the detour in half.

the people of north preston are largely black, everyone with the special keys was white. the cbc overheated with more than 200 comments, which i can't bring myself to read.

a solution was eventually found.

the conclusion was forgone and reveals the vast gap between the two solitudes of black and white in nova scotia. i am betting most white people thought, it's not racism, it's just practical. stop whining and playing the race card, people. polite white people like me would have phrased it ... more politely.

this was the opinion freely offered to me by the woman at the book store.

black people, i'm guessing, would have seen things from a very different point of view.

my colleague stephen kimber hits the nail on the head in 360 well chosen words in his metro column today, which i will post below (it is a free newspaper after all).

it is the same story in africville - lots of things explained away as not racist, not us, everyone has suffered, get over it.

this is one of those times black and white racism is shaded grey.

over to stephen:


I accept the argument. Those involved in the recent decision to provide a group of—white—residents in Lake Major with keys to an old logging road so they could avoid having to travel an extra 5.5 km through the—black—community of North Preston were providing a small but reasonable favour to those most inconvenienced by a local bridge construction project.

When they—the landowners who provided the keys, Councilor David Hendsbee who facilitated the arrangement, municipal bureaucrats who blessed it—came up with this favour, they weren’t thinking about the race of those involved, or about how those who weren’t given keys might regard this favour.

I accept that.

Just as I am prepared to believe a different set of “theys” harboured no particular ill will to the black residents of Upper Hammonds Plains back in the 1990s when they decided not to extend city water services from nearby Pockwock Lake to their homes, even though main water lines traveled through Hammonds Plains’ backyards en route way to providing water to white communities.

And I’ll buy the claims of other theys that race wasn’t a factor in deciding to locate a landfill in Lincolnville in 2006.

Just as it was not a consideration when they—another different they—dumped an earlier landfall beside the same black community in 1974.

Not to forget the landfill in East Lake in 1992. And the dump in Africville in…

By one estimate, over 30 per cent of Nova Scotia’s black communities happen to be located within five km of a waste dump.

That doesn’t mean the decisions were racially-based.

Race may not have been the prime motivator behind this year’s cross burning in Hants County either.

Or in the torching of the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre in Birchtown in 2006.

And that cop who stopped Kirk Johnston’s car in 1998—triggering a landmark human rights complaint—may not have done so just because the boxer was “driving while black.”

As a white person, I have no difficulty believing race was not behind any one of those specific incidents or individual decisions.

But I can understand why a black person might see a troubling pattern.
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