What Could Have Been
The evening of November 8th, 1946 in New Glasgow Halifax, a black woman walked into a movie theatre and paid for a ticket. This woman then made a choice that would jeopardize her dignity and reputation, she watched the movie on the main floor (Bingham, 2013).
The Roseland theatre in New Glasgow, observed the principle that skin color has the ability to dictate one's merit. It was on the grounds of this belief that black people were prohibited from sitting on the main floor of the theatre and were instead forced to watch shows from the balcony. A worker at the theatre saw the woman seated in the main floor and demanded she move, but she refused. This woman was later dragged out of the theatre, forced to spend the night in jail and fined (Bingham, 2013). This woman was Viola Desmond. However, if I were alive in 1946, this woman could have very well been me.
As a black woman living in Canada, I have endured racism and unjust treatment throughout my whole life. However, I recognize that I have more rights than the Black Canadians who came before me. I am forever grateful to the courageous individuals who took a stand against their oppressors, so that I may enjoy the basic freedoms that were stripped away from them. It is imperative to look back in history and appreciate the work Black Canadians have done to shape this country, as well as look forward to the work we can do to continue the growth and development of Canada.
The fight against discrimination in Canada had many soldiers, Viola Desmond was one of many. Viola Desmond's story goes beyond striving for a comfortable seat in a movie theatre, as Desmond’s act of defiance called into question the unjust treatment of Black Canadians and sparked racial discussions across the country. After Desmond was arrested for refusing to give up her seat, she spent the night in jail. Desmond had the option to pay off her amusement tax fine or fight her charges in court. Viola Desmond chose to fight (Sadlier). Although she was formally charged with tax evasion, her fight against the charges was symbolic of something greater. By choosing to refuse the amusement tax, she refused to abide by the idea that she should be treated unequally as a person of color. When Desmond lost her case, people of color across the country were outraged, but also inspired. This trail garnered community support from the Clarion newspaper and the NSAACP as well as invoked change amongst Nova Scotia’s Black population, who were no longer content with living as second class citizens and wanted to be treated as equal human beings (Bingham, 2013).
esmond's tenacity demonstrates the importance of fighting big or small racial battles in the community, as they are all a part of something greater. In today’s society microaggressions, which are intentional or accidental acts that discriminate against marginalized individuals (Sue, 2010), are an overlooked form of discrimination. It is important to address every form of discrimination, as even minor displays perpetuate the different stigmas held against black people, and make it impossible for marginalized individuals to be completely perceived as equals. Fighting against certain forms of discrimination in our community may seem trivial. However, as seen in the case of Viola Desmond, fighting against something that seems small may have a powerful impact on those around you. Viola Desmond used an experience in her life to advocate for the rights of black individuals everywhere, we must remember that all acts of discrimination can have significant implications and all forms of racism should be confronted.
When reflecting on black history we must not only look back with sympathy, neither can we merely be thankful for the lives we have now. Instead, we must recognize that what was done in the past is just the beginning, and we must continue the legacy of Black Canadians by continuously advocating for black rights. Canadians, all canadians, must use their platforms to spread messages of justice and equality. We must always remember what has been and work hard to obtain a better future of what should be.
Bingham, R (2013, January 27). Viola Desmond. In Canadian encyclopedia online. Retrieved from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/viola-desmond.
Sadlier, R. Black History Month Canada. Retrieved from http://www.blackhistorycanada.ca/profiles.php?themeid=20&id=13.
Sue, W (2010, November 17). Microaggressions: More than just race. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/microaggressions-in-everyday-life/201011/microaggressions-more-just-race.