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Making a difference – Charlene “Missy” Chasse: Primarily, my allies have come from the Indigenous communities

To celebrate African Heritage Month, the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour Anti-Racism/Human Rights Committee is focusing on African Nova Scotian activists who are making a difference and who share their work-related and personal experiences with us.

By NSFL AR/HR Committee Member Melissa Marsman

Charlene “Missy” Chasse has been employed with the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site, Cape Breton, for 21 years as an Interpreter. Missy portrays Marie Marguerite Rose who was seen to be a key figure in the initial phase of black slavery in Canada.  She spent 19 years as a slave before gaining her freedom and marrying a Mi’kmaq man; together they opened a tavern in Louisbourg. She was one of the first Black entrepreneurs in Canadian history. It has been an honor for Missy to portray such a prominent Black woman.

Missy is a proud member of the PSAC – UNE Local 80018 where she holds the elected position of Human Rights Officer.

How have the events around the deaths of George Floyd and Brianna Taylor impacted you?

The murders of George Floyd and Brianna Taylor impacted me like nothing else in my lifetime. It was like a brick hit me in the face.  It was heartbreaking and overwhelming because it was showing the world that Black men and women are not valued. That their lives did not matter. To hear George Floyd mutter the words, “I can’t breathe” left me with physical pain in my chest. It was like going back in time where slaves were murdered without recourse.

Have you been involved in any way in terms of activism in your own community?

My son, Darnell, was the organizer for the Black Lives Matter march held in June 2020 in Sydney. There were over 1500 people in attendance. I was honored to walk in the march alongside my son. As a Black mother, I have never been so proud.  It is hard to describe how overwhelmed I felt seeing so many individuals from so many diverse backgrounds coming together to support the Black community and Black People. I had never witnessed such solidarity. Historically, it has been Blacks standing up for themselves but sadly their voices have never been heard.

Can you talk about an experience of racism you have encountered personally that you would be comfortable sharing and how that experience impacted you?

I stood in line at a department store in Sydney behind a white woman as she purchased an item. The woman used her credit card to pay. I placed my item on the counter and the store clerk processed my purchase. I told her I would be using my credit card to finalize the payment. The clerk then asked to see identification so that she could verify that the credit card was indeed mine. I felt belittled, labelled and devalued. Her micro-aggressions toward me as a hard-working, African Nova Scotian woman had hurt. I was a victim of Anti-Black racism.

How would you like to see unions move forward in being in the forefront on these issues?

Unions are social justice organizations and Anti-Black racism is a social issue.  Unions have a distinct role to play. Unions need to educate their members more on the issue of Anti-Black racism and its impact. Unions need to defend the rights of Black people and they need to be more proactive in the movement to eradicate the systemic racism that has inflicted society.

Who are your allies and what role can they play?

We cannot do this alone. We need allies. Primarily, my allies have come from the Indigenous communities. Indigenous Peoples have had some of the same struggles and understand the impact of racism and oppression. When I walked in the Black Lives Matter march I was also walking for Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi whose Indigenous lives were also taken at the hands of the police. Ginetta Sagan said, “Silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor.”  Now is not the time to remain silent!

This interview was first published on the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour website. Republished with permission.

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