Sébastien Labelle, El Jones and Chris Frazer have each issued statements in response to the photo released on Twitter of Liberal MLA Joachim Stroink posing with a person in blackface. Sébastien Labelle is a member of Solidarity Halifax. El Jones, Halifax poet laureate, and Chris Frazer, associate professor of history at StFX, were both guest speakers at Solidarity Halifax’s A Peoples History of Nova Scotia conference. Here are their collected responses.
Tradition is not an excuse. In fact, it should be cause for more scrutiny and critical consideration of social behaviours. The brushing off of the fact that MLA Joachim Stroink celebrated a cultural event that involved a person in blackface because it is tradition equates to the logic that “it’s OK because other people do it, too.”
Because it is tradition does not mean that it’s OK. Rather, it means that the problem is much bigger than the single act of Mr. Stroink posing in a photo with a person in blackface and that the problem includes a widespread acceptance of the practice of blackface and stereotypical depiction of black people without any consideration of the history of a practice rooted in the colonial slave trade.
Acts like these need to be called out, and a tradition of this nature needs to be countered. For that, we can look to the many Dutch people who themselves have been fighting the tradition for years.
— Sébastien Labelle
Originally published in The Chronicle Herald.
|I|mmigrants of colour, specifically those of African/Islamic background are frequently told that their traditions are not appropriate in Canada. Quebec is passing laws against the hijab on the premise that Canada is “equal” and hijab is oppressive to women. Material directed towards immigrants urges people from Middle Eastern cultures to use less spices in cooking and to respect Canadian sensibilities about scents as well as “educating” them about how to behave in Canada. Dalhousie used to have a pamphlet directed at international students (and still may) informing them that in Canada we respect women, clearly intended for Islamic men, and so on. So my point is, why is no one urging Dutch immigrants to respect the “multicultural” and “diverse” culture of Canada – even if Zwarte Piet is somehow acceptable in The Netherlands, clearly blackface is offensive in Canada. If it’s ok to tell Africans and Muslims that their cultural traditions need to “modernize” why are Dutch traditions any different? The language of accommodation and integration only goes one way: Black and brown traditions and practices are savage and need to be “updated,” but European traditions are harmless and fun. The history of Zwarte Piet is clearly racist, but even if it were not, blackface is degrading to Afrikan people and should not be tolerated here.
|N|o one would claim ignorance of the symbols of the Holocaust and their impact, yet the imagery and symbols of our genocide are treated as meaningless or as all in fun. If you wouldn’t display a swastika, you shouldn’t wear or endorse blackface – the degraded, buffoonish, cartoon, dehumanized images of Afrikans are the symbols and tools of the genocide of hundreds of thousands of Afrikans, and were used to justify murder, enslavement, brutalization, rape, destruction of Afrikan families, etc. by portraying us as primitive, ignorant, lazy, uncivilized and unhuman. It is illegal in Germany to display the swastika or deny the Holocaust – why is the Holocaust of Africans constantly denied, diminished and dismissed while we are forced constantly to justify ourselves when we object to its imagery?
— El Jones
Dear Joachim Stroink, just because you grew up with a “tradition” and did not have to think much about about its racist character and history, does not mean that you can avoid the consequences of embracing and upholding that tradition. You have to make a choice between defending a racist tradition or upholding your duty to defend the right of your constituents to live their lives free of racist traditions and practices. And by the way, that “tradition” is newly-minted. It only appeared in the 19th century, as a cultural product linked to the brutal enslavement of Africans in the sugar plantations of Suriname (then known as Dutch Guyana), and in the genocide and slavery practiced by the Dutch East India Company in Indonesia, then known as Spice Islands. Perhaps you were ignorant of the real history behind “Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet,” but now you know. And you have to make a choice between social justice and racist tradition.
— Chris Frazer
Note: Statements by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.