Nova Scotia has apologized and granted a pardon to Viola Desmond, a black woman who was convicted for sitting in a whites-only section of a movie theatre in 1946. Premier Darrell Dexter apologized to Desmond’s family and to all black Nova Scotians for the institutional racism of the past.
I have to confess I’d never heard of Viola Desmond before this story. It’s an important part of my heritage, both as a black man and as a Canadian. I think sometimes we forget that racism was alive and well in Canada, and continues to this day. Obviously, the maritime provinces have been reminded of that fact recently. This apology is more than simply acknowledging the culpability of the government and people of Nova Scotia (although that’s an important and positive step); it is also bringing an important story to the surface. It serves to remind us that segregation and officially-sponsored racism isn’t a problem of hundreds of years ago, or something that only happened in the South. 1946 is in the living memory of many people.
Of course if you flip through the comments (which I do, because I am a goddamn addict) you’ll see the usual knee-jerk response of “why live in the past? We have to move on and let things go.” It’s a nice fantasy to think that we can just ‘get over it’, but denying history is not the path to progress. The apology should not serve (and I sincerely hope it doesn’t) to make white people feel guilty for being born white. As Canadians, we should all be aware of both our strengths as a country and, in this case, our weaknesses and mistakes.