This article was originally published on Rabble.ca. Re-posted with Scott Neigh’s kind permission.
LaMeia Reddick is a community worker and consultant in Halifax. Ted Rutland is an associate professor in the Department of Geography, Planning, and Environment at Concordia University in Montreal and the author of Displacing Blackness: Planning, Power, and Race in Twentieth-Century Halifax (University of Toronto Press, 2018). Scott Neigh interviews them about the long histories of anti-Black racism in the policies and practices that have built the greater Halifax area, the equally long histories of survival and resistance by Black communities there, and about what those histories mean for today and for the future.
Halifax is unique among Canada’s cities. Along with being a vibrant cultural and political centre despite its relatively small size, the greater Halifax area is home to some of the longest-established communities of African-descended people in the country. Of course the histories of these Black communities are not just histories of presence, but histories of intense anti-Black oppression and constant work by the communities to survive, resist, and thrive in the face of it.
There is growing awareness even beyond Halifax of one of the more egregious examples of that oppression — the destruction of the community of Africville by the City of Halifax in the late 1960s — against the wishes of its residents. Yet as tragic and important as that story is, it is just one incident in a much larger history of anti-Black policies and practices of city-building that have been part of making Halifax over the course of centuries, and that continue today.
This began with early policies that gave Black settlers who sided with the British in the US Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 smaller, agriculturally poorer, and more distant land grants than white settlers. Over time, practices of planning and constituting urban spaces produced sharp segregation between those coded as white and those coded as Black. They also produced a sharp division between the infrastructure, resources, and supports for wellbeing disproportionately allotted to the former, and the harms disproportionately organized into the lives of the residents of the latter. Though the process and associated language look very different than they might have in the 1860s or the 1960s, even the results of the city’s first region-wide planning initiative in the early 21st century had what Rutland describes as a “racist, anti-Black underside,” despite extensive participation from Black communities in the process. As well, at least some of the historic Black communities in the Halifax area are under increasing threat of displacement from gentrification.
Invariably, throughout the many decades, the African-Nova Scotian communities in the greater Halifax area have constantly worked to oppose this anti-Blackness, to build community, and to strive for better lives and a better world. This has ranged from the kinds of everyday mutual support and resistance that allow communities to survive, to moments of radical collective mobilization.
LaMeia Reddick grew up and lives in the African-Nova Scotian community of North Preston. Her work consists of community engagement, public education, and broad-ranging community building, all of which she does in ways that foreground concern for justice and that connect the experiences of African-Nova Scotian communities today with their long histories. It includes running her own community engagement space in North Preston, participating in an innovative grassroots community engagement project in Halifax’s North End, and lots more.
Ted Rutland grew up in northern Ontario and currently lives in Montreal, but he did a lot of his postsecondary schooling in the Halifax area and has engaged in both writing and activism to contribute to the fight against unjust and racist planning, policing, and urban development policies for many years.
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