The Revenge of the Powerless
By: Tajan Brah
The east coast of Canada is not necessarily known for having a “great” history. This is largely due to the fact that Afro-Canadians faced lots of discrimination throughout history, especially in places like Nova Scotia; back in 1946, a bright young woman, named Viola Desmond walked into a movie theatre and sat near the front of the theatre. The front was reserved for “whites only.” She was dragged out and arrested and charged for “tax evasion” because she didn’t pay the extra one cent for being able to sit in the front compared to sitting in the balcony with the other coloured. Viola Desmond tirelessly fought the unjust charges in court. With this being said, the activism of Viola Desmond has defined Canada’s diverse heritage in a positive way, through raising awareness of segregation, changing laws, and empowering coloured youth.
Prior to the conviction of Viola Desmond, many Afro-Canadians were not actively aware of the segregation that existed in Nova Scotia. One-way, Viola Desmond changed this is by teaching young black girls about their treatment as second-class citizens. She explained this at the “Desmond School of Beauty Culture.” Secondly, Desmond raised awareness by simply fighting the case in court. This can be proven because “The Clarion” wrote about her entire story in their newspaper. Almost everyone read the newspaper and this injustice was being brought into the public eye. Lastly, awareness was raised through Mrs. Desmond sharing information with the “Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People.” In turn, they raised money to fight her conviction. To summarize, Viola Desmond defined Canada’s diverse heritage in a tremendous way by raising awareness of the segregation through, educating youth, getting her story told by newspapers, and communicating with certain activist groups.
Secondly, many segregation laws have been changed and more inclusive laws have been created due to Viola Desmond. Although Desmond didn’t directly change any laws, it is undeniable that she was a contributing factor. The first major change came in 1954, when segregation was legally abolished in Nova Scotia. This likely occurred because minorities now felt empowered. Also, a more specific law was created in 1955, named “The Fair Employment Practices Act.” This law ensured that discrimination would not occur in the workplace. Both of these laws were put in place when Desmond was fighting for equality and empowering the coloured; it’s not just a strange coincidence. As examined, Desmond didn’t have to “sign” any bills in order to change laws, her activism alone was enough. This activism that truly defines Canada’s diverse heritage was also powerful enough for the law to allow her to be on the 10-dollar bill in the future!
Lastly, Viola Desmond’s empowerment of coloured youth has defined the diverse heritage of Canada. To begin, coloured youth were made to feel “beautiful.” Desmond owned a “beauty culture” school, which educated coloured girls and taught them that all humans were beautiful despite their colour. Secondly, youth followed in Desmond’s footsteps. This is prevalent by coloured youth peacefully demonstrating for social equality in Nova Scotia. Just recently, a “United-we-Stand” rally was held in order to end violence against blacks by police. If not for Desmond, who would youth follow? Lastly, youth have gained knowledge about their rights due to Desmond. This occurred at Desmond’s school but is now happening because segregation has ended. Today, students thoroughly analyze the “Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms” in Nova Scotia. To summarize, Canada’s diverse heritage has been defined because Viola Desmond taught coloured youth about their beauty, inspired them to fight themselves, and gain knowledge about their rights.
The actions of Viola Desmond expand to much more than the “specifics” of what was accomplished. Instead, the values that were entrenched in Canada’s diverse heritage are much more important. These values include the fight for equality, retribution, and resilience. Come to think of it, this is what many Canadians value in present-day Canada. To conclude, Viola Desmond’s activism has positively defined Canada’s diverse heritage through her raising of awareness against segregation, changing laws, and empowering coloured youth. None of this would have occurred if Desmond has decided to settle and not fight back against injustice. This truly was the revenge of the powerless!
“Biography.” Jean Augustine, www.jeanaugustine.ca/jean-augustine-bio/.
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