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On Wednesday April 14th, 64 years after she was dragged out of Roseland Theatre, Ms Desmond was pardoned by Nova Scotia Lt.-Gov. Mayann Francis. This may seem like a happy ending because the government has finally acknowledged a miscarriage of justice, but the pardon was granted against the express wishes of Ms. Desmond’s family. According to The National Post, Sharon Oliver, Ms. Desmond’s niece, and Ms. Desmond’s three sisters, were all angered by the decision:
“She would have laughed and said, “Pardon me for what? I didn’t do anything wrong,” said Sharon Oliver.
A pardon removes the offense from the record as though it never happened, but each succeeding generation of Canadians should be aware of the struggle that Ms. Desmond engaged in. It is further problematic that, once again, the Canadian government is not listening to the wishes of Blacks and is instead rushing forward in a mistaken attempt to prove how much things have changed. It is not up to the oppressor to decide how to make amends, the aggrieved party should have the right set the terms for reconciliation. The fact that government proceeded with this action against the express wishes of the family does not signal change, but a determined effort to silence Blacks.
Even the fact that Ms. Desmond is most commonly referred to as Canada’s Rosa Parks is highly offensive. Ms. Desmond fought her battle before the world had even heard of Rosa Parks and she is a person in her own right. The continual referral to Parks erases Desmonds identity and makes her a secondary figure. If we truly wish to honour Viola’s struggle, we should own her legacy completely, without trying to make it appear as though the Civil Rights struggle was strictly an American phenomenon.
Canadians have always been resistant to acknowledging that though we are a multi-racial society, racism is a part of our culture. From Africville to Viola Desmond, Blacks have had to fight to be acknowledged as citizens and as people worthy of basic human rights. If we truly want to honour Ms. Desmond, we should listen to the opinion of her surviving family members and not run roughshod over their concerns.
If nothing else Viola taught us that, “If you allow people to dictate what you can and can’t do, then you will never reach your dreams.” The government may choose to memorialize Ms. Desmond by erasing her spurious conviction, but Black Canadians can use this as a lightening rod to help sustain the continuing struggle for equal rights.
But wasn’t I told just yesterday that ain’t no racism in Canada?(via witchsistah)