Saturday, December 10, 2016

UPDATED: This Makes Me Happy

Whether or not we like to admit it, Canadians are often a smug lot. We look, for example, at the seemingly rampant racism of the society to the south of us, shake our heads and cluck our tongues. How can people treat other people that way?

Yet we have a far from unblemished record when it comes to race and ethnic relations in our own country, the most egregious examples being the Chinese head tax and the internment and dispossession of the Japanese and the Italians during the second world war. While most people know of those shameful episodes, far fewer know about the discrimination black people have faced here. That is why the decision to put Viola Desmond on the next $10 bill is such cause for celebration.

As the activist in the above video states, the selection of Desmond will not end the racism that still exists (a sentiment echoed by Yusra Khogali, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto), but it makes it easier to address.

And I would add two points: it should also be a point of real pride for the people of colour in our country, as well as a humbling and eye-opening development for the rest of us, including me, who did not know her story, nor the kind of segregation people experienced here.

Perhaps we are finally moving toward a time when we recognize people by the integrity, resilience and fortitude they possess, not the colour of their skin or the religion or ethnic group they belong to.

'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.

UPDATE: This Star editorial is a fitting complement to Viola Desmond:
Putting a Canadian woman on a bill is long overdue. The choice of this particular woman is an especially powerful symbol of acknowledgment of past wrongs and tribute to someone who, at great risk to herself, fought against them. It should also be read as a promise from the state that it will take seriously and work alongside those who continue to resist in the spirit of Viola Desmond’s unfinished project.


  1. I went to school with a young black fellow from the hamlet of Elmstead, Ontario. It was a black community settled by escaped slaves. The community has preserved the wood house of John Freeman Walls who, as I understand it, added the middle name to reflect his status once he reached Ontario. The building has been turned into a museum. The sign outside reads "Where the underground railroad had its end."

    As a teenager I thought it was really neat that a number of escaped slaves would come together to form their own community and live among us. I didn't dwell much on why, for a century, they had apparently kept to themselves. I expect that, even in Canada in the 1800s, freedom came with a price.

    1. Thanks for that story, Mound. I think such narratives give us all reason to pause and reflect.