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‘Gone, but not gone’ – Racist graffiti cleaned up but smell of racism lingers, says young Shelburne resident

Vanessa Hartley (contributed)

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – When some hateful anti-Black graffiti was found spray-painted earlier this month on a large rock near the town of Shelburne it was quickly removed by a white resident of the area using a power washer. That was good to see.

However, you can clean up graffiti, but to rid Nova Scotia of the racism that inspired it will be a lot more difficult, says Vanessa Hartley, the young woman who first posted a photo of the hateful slogan on Facebook.

Photo Facebook

“It was my mother who was out for a walk when she found the graffiti,” says Hartley, ”and when I saw the photo she sent me I was really frustrated. In 2011 the very same thing happened, there was graffiti all over our high school and a noose was strung.”

There have been several other incidents that had the smell of racism over the years in southwest Nova Scotia. Most notably there was the arson that destroyed the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre in Birchtown, and the long struggle of Black residents of the South End of the Town of Shelburne to close a nearby dump. A local councillor took on the local clean water activists suggesting Black residents were “playing the racecard” and chose to live so close to a toxic dump.

Of course, many white people in the area spoke out against such racist incidents and Hartley emphasizes that she’s not painting all residents with the same brush. 

“I am not at all saying that everybody here is racist or that my own community is full of racism, but I am sick and tired of the same thing happening all over again. I really want change, it is time to speak out,” she says.

“I find that in southwest Nova Scotia racism is still very present, and that’s why I was so frustrated when I saw the photo. I have lived in this area all my life, I’ve experienced so much of it, especially at high school, that I was just tired of hearing about it. I am hoping to make a positive change, not by attacking others, but just bringing the conversation to light and having the right conversations,” Hartley says.

Hartley very much wants to be part of the solution, and she hopes that she can get the support it requires. But it’s difficult being an anti-racist activist in rural Nova Scotia.

“We see the proclamations and the funding, and it looks great from the outside, but when you go to access those services they are very limited. We don’t have a Delmore Buddy Daye Learning Institute here, we don’t have the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition  (DPAD). We don’t have those services here.”

“I think we need to put funding into projects here that are youth-led. Education workshops around this would be very beneficial. I’m really hoping that this will bring change in a positive way,” she says. 

“You know, it’s great that the racist graffiti is cleaned up, but the racism is still here. It’s gone, but it is not gone.” 

See also: News brief: Thanks to Ellen Page’s new offer Shelburne’s Black community gets its well after all

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