Taking a Stand by Taking a Seat
As a young Black Canadian female, I am an extension of a past and a by-product of a future that my ancestors did not live to see. For that reason, I have a responsibility of acknowledging the contributions that Black Canadians have made. The month of February is not enough time to recognize all the stories of people that have created iconic moments in black history. That is why it is important to celebrate their contributions all year round so that people like Viola Desmond never go unheard of. Viola’s legacy reminds us that celebrating one’s differences can make a difference in society.
In her adult life, Viola pursued a career in the beauty industry. She sold beauty products and later opened a beauty school to provide training to Black women and promote employment in her community. However, Viola grew up in the late 1900s, when racial discrimination was prevalent in Canada1. Therefore, despite the status she enjoyed in her community, Viola still experienced racism from the broader society. One occasion was when she went to the Rosedale theatre in 19462. Viola wanted a ticket for the main seating area but the cashier refused saying, “I'm sorry but I'm not permitted to sell downstairs tickets to you people3.” Viola ignored the cashier and decided to sit in the main area which resulted in her being removed by police officers, beaten and charged. She appealed the decision, but she was denied. Viola’s courage throughout this experience was a driving force for the Black Nova Scotians’ fight for their rights. By 1954, segregation was legally ended in Nova Scotia4.
The way Viola handled the racism she experienced and how it motivated her advocacy is truly inspiring. It takes a lot of courage to stand up for yourself in a society that judges you for the color of your skin. Viola could have easily watched the movie from the seats that were designated for her colour but refused to be comfortable with being treated poorly. She also did not allow being beaten by police to discourage her.
Viola was unwilling to accept racism and did not back down from people trying to stop her from fighting for her rights.
This advocacy was important for Black Nova Scotians back then and is still important now. Racism and discrimination still exist today and affects people who are considered different from the rest of society. I even experience it too. For example, a supply teacher in my class once said when she was angry, “why is it always the black kids that misbehave?” I felt targeted in that moment and that she viewed me as less than the other students. I decided to speak up and tell her that what she said was wrong. Once I voiced my concerns other students were inspired to do the same. In response, the supply teacher tried to send me to the office. Luckily, the hall monitor had overheard our discussion and reported her.
This experience made me appreciate how Viola felt in that theatre and the steps she took aftwards to fight for her rights. Viola refused to be intimidated and broken down through her continuous fight for her rights. Her resilience is a reminder to stand up and combat our challenges.
Viola’s bravery made a lasting impact on Canadian society. She made history when she was alive and even afterwards. She contributed to her community, to the end of segregation law and now her memory lives on as the first Black Canadian on a 10$ note5.
She not only influenced Canadian society, through her courageousness, but she influenced me to take on leadership roles. I have taken my own approach as being a leader on the Black Canadian Committee at my school. We identify ways to make the school a more inclusive community through planning events for Black history month. I also strive to make a change within my community as a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters. This is my way to incorporate Viola’s legacy into my everyday life.
Viola did not contribute to Canadian society through being silent and that is motivation for me to never allow my circumstances to silence me enough to be afraid of speaking up as that is what makes the real difference.
1 Bingham, Russell. "Viola Desmond". The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2018, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/viola-desmond#.
2 "The Story Of Viola Desmond". Human rights, 2016, https://humanrights.ca/blog/black-history-month-story-viola-desmond.
3 Bingham, Russell. "Viola Desmond". The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2018, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/viola-desmond#.
4 Bingham, Russell. "Viola Desmond". The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2018, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/viola-desmond#.
5 Yarhi, Eli, and Russell Bingham. "Viola Desmond | Biography & Facts". Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Viola-Desmond.
Bingham, Russell. "Viola Desmond". The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2018, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/viola-desmond#.
"The Story Of Viola Desmond". Human rights, 2016, https://humanrights.ca/blog/black-history-month-story-viola-desmond.
Yarhi, Eli, and Russell Bingham. "Viola Desmond | Biography & Facts". Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Viola-Desmond.