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Raymond Sheppard: What it means to be Black in Nova Scotia

Four women walk through the North End after the Halifax Explosion on Dec. 6, 1917. City of Toronto Archives

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Having been born in Nova Scotia to an African Nova Scotian mother and an African Nova Scotian father, and having lived here all my life, I believe being Black is a state of mind, a matter of heritage, culture, experience, struggle, lineage/ancestry, history, physicality, resistance/resilience, community and traditions. 

To be Black is to believe in the plight and fight of our ancestors and to be unapologetic. To understand where one comes from, enslavement and the struggles of being here. We are Black in knowing that this representation too was given to demean along with other representations that include the N-word, Spear Cutter, Coon, Negro, Colored, and of course the list goes on. 

Being Black in Nova Scotia/Canada/North America and Europe means being forced to endure anti-Black racism on a daily basis in all of one’s life and beyond. Being Black is having only four pages in some history books dedicated to your history and none of the accomplishments noted or the contributions to the development of a country and province mentioned. 

Being Black is to know how anxiety, panic attacks and depression sharply reduce your lifespan because of having to endure anti-Black racism. To experience pain and suffering while the health professionals tell you, based on stereotypes, that you should be able to stand more pain than others.  

Reading books maybe enlightening but it does not make you a Black African Nova Scotian.

In being Black you are part of a struggle automatically, even if you may be inclined to think because you have a bit more Eurocentric education that you are immune to anti- Black Racism. You are dead wrong, dead being the operative word here. 

Being Black is yesterday, today and tomorrow. It is facing police brutality and excessive force and always being considered suspect by a system of injustice that was built on our backs to keep us from succeeding economically.

In being Black our true history has been purposely kept out of the historical record, and the bit of history that is included most often speaks only about the enslavement of our people in an attempt to convince us that we are a conquered people. Governments make decisions that affect us without consulting with us.

To be Black is to be passionate about community, to give help to other brothers and sisters. And it is to know you are the last hired and the first fired.  It is also to know that others in positions of power steer clear of race-based data in order to keep us unaware of the true numbers that matter and to avoid any responsibility for action based on the numbers in health care, employment, housing, boards, commissions, education, human rights, criminal justice, policing, media, etc.

To be Black is to have righteous anger and to feel violated. It is to know Black healthcare research will 90% not be funded because it will expose how the healthcare system in Canada and beyond has failed Black African People.

To be Black is to see Covid-19 briefings that has no one from the medical field that looks like you,

Being Black is almost never seeing our concerns/needs reflected in a municipal, provincial or federal budget. 

As Black parents we always have to find ways of navigating school bureaucracy while advocating for our children, which is challenging especially where others try to label and define our children as learning disabled, challenged, disruptive, bad, bullies, etc., while at the same time using these labels to deliberately railroad our children into what used to be historically known as the dummy class, auxiliary class and now known as the Personal Program Plan (PPP). Of course this is used to limit our children so they become less than competitive.

As Black Africans Nova Scotians we are also channeled into academic programs that prevent us from becoming researchers, technologist, inventors, physicist, engineers, rocket scientists, and of course the list goes on.

We are mindful that others think, based on historical dehumanization, that we do not have the brainpower to succeed in areas requiring complex cognition, but we know our true history proves otherwise. 

Being Black is to know that within the Canadian media Black Voices seem not to matter until such time that they can be carefully sought after to counter the truth from/of another Black person. 

As Black people we know that our several shades of brown will change over the years based on climate and other factors, yet our hearts will always be that of Black African Nova Scotians. 

Although there are some Black African Nova Scotians that don’t know they do not know, most Black African Nova Scotians are well aware of our resilience, innovation, creativity, and excellence.

We know, respect and call on our African ancestors for guidance, wisdom and strength. We are proud of our culture, heritage and lineage. The strength, spirit, courage, resilience, faith, hope, indomitable spirit, perseverance, pride, dignity, respect and honor that is in us is our inheritance from Mother Africa.

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  1. Raymond my friend, once again you have eloquently painted a picture with your words that any reader can envision in their mind. Every time. Your perspectives, whether they be in your articles or when we speak every time we bump into each other in that same parking lot, always find a way to shine that light, and I’m always a little wiser for it. Thank you for this today. And every day our paths cross.

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