Racism in the province must be understood as a systemic problem rooted in a colonial history.
On February 21, 2010, an interracial couple (a black male and a white female) found a two-metre cross with a noose attached to it burning on their front lawn in Hants County, Nova Scotia.
Since then, I have been asked by the media for commentary on the cross-burning and specifically whether or not this was an isolated incident or part of an endemic racism problem in the province. My response to *Globe and Mail* reporter Oliver Moore was to [say](http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/burning-cross-ignites-racial-tension-in-nova-scotia/article1480350/) that “the cross-burning is just an open sign of what is under the surface.” I also noted that “most people in the black community call Nova Scotia the Mississippi of the North.”
I could go on about many “individual” incidents of racism in Nova Scotia. These include, to name just a few, the burning to the ground of the Black Loyalist Society in Shelburne; the attempted firebombing of the offices of the Black Cultural Society in North Preston; the racial profiling of football star Kirk Johnston and other black community members by Halifax Regional Police; the racial violence at Cole Harbour High School; the fracas between White Halifax Regional Police officers and black youth in Digby; the complaints of racism and systemic discrimination against the Halifax Regional Police Service and Halifax Regional Municipality by black police officers; the complaints of racism and systemic discrimination by 15-plus black firefighters against the Halifax Fire Department; or the complaint of racism and racial discrimination against Dalhousie University and Dalhousie Law School (now Schulich School of Law) by this black law professor.
But talking about these “individual” incidences begs the question of the existence of systemic racism in Nova Scotia. Indeed, the idea that the province is the “Mississippi of the North” must be understood in a systemic context. And this context, unlike the focus on “individual” incidents, does not avoid dealing with the wider issue of racism.
In the case of [*R.D.S. v. The Queen*](http://csc.lexum.umontreal.ca/en/1997/1997scr3-484/1997scr3-484.html), the Supreme Court of Canada explicitly recognized the importance of social context in understanding racism and stated that a “reasonable person must be taken to be aware of the history of discrimination faced by disadvantaged groups in Canadian society.” The Supreme Court also recognized that the reasonable person is “not only a member of the wider Canadian community, but a member of a local community.” Such a person, the justices contended, must “be taken to possess knowledge of the local population and its racial dynamics, including the existence in the community of a *history* of widespread and systemic discrimination against black and Aboriginal people.” [Emphasis added]
We must not limit our view of racism and discrimination against African Nova Scotians to contemporary incidents. If we want to fully understand it, we must also take into consideration the colonial history of Canada and the impact of that history on present day realities. This includes the dispossession of First Nations peoples and the enslavement of blacks. It is only through an understanding of colonial history that so-called “post-colonial” manifestations of racism can be understood.
This history is the context in which racism and its discriminatory acts, including the recent cross-burning, are nurtured and tolerated in Nova Scotia, unconsciously in some instances, and systemically in others.