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African Nova Scotian Senator, activist unpacks local anti-Black racism for HRM council

Senator Dr. Wanda Thomas Bernard told regional council, the legacies of historical anti-Black racism are kept alive today through current policies and practices
senator bernard
African Nova Scotian activist and educator Senator Dr. Wanda Thomas Bernard, presenting to regional council on July 7, 2020.

As protests surrounding issues of anti-Black racism and police violence continue, Halifax Regional Council took time out of its regular meeting Tuesday to discuss the matter in a local context.

Well-known activist and educator from the African Nova Scotian community of East Preston, Senator Dr. Wanda Thomas Bernard, facilitated the conversation. She gave a presentation called 'Unpacking anti-Black racism in the HRM,' which explored how the municipality can create sustainable change.

Senator Bernard told councillors the legacies of historical anti-Black racism are alive today.

"We need to understand how the legacies of that historical anti-Black racism live on through current policies and practices," she says. "They live on in the examples of the systemic racism that we see, and also the everydayness of the racist microagressions."

She says all decisions need to be made within the historical context of colonialism, slavery, segregation, and African Nova Scotian and Mi'kmaq solidarity.

"It's certainly a part of our history, and that history must inform our decision making, policy development, and practices for the present and the future," she says.

Senator Bernard acknowledges and commends what action HRM has taken to date, including the 2010 Africville apology and commitments to compensation and community development, 2016 Employment Systems Review, and the 2018 Diversity and Inclusion Framework.

"Sometimes people think we are starting from ground zero and we are not, but it is important to look at the commitments that are already in place and build on them," she says.

She calls the 2019 street check apology and commitment to action an important step, but says it's not enough. 

"We know more work needs to be done because we know the profiling continues but under another name," she says.

Senator Bernard co-wrote a book on the health effects of anti-Black racism, called Race & Well-being: The Lives, Hopes, and Activism of African Canadians. It was published in 2010 and involved studies in three Canadian cities - Calgary, Toronto, and Halifax. 

"Our research found it impacts our health and wellbeing," she says. "It's impacting our physical health, mental health, emotional health, spiritual health and the health of our communities."

She asked councillors to continue to educate themselves on the impacts of anti-Black racism and thanked Mayor Mike Savage for making what she called a 'bold move' to have the conversation in the public eye. 


Katie Hartai

About the Author: Katie Hartai

In addition to being a reporter for NEWS 95.7 and HalifaxToday.ca, Katie is the producer of The Rick Howe Show
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