By Solidarity Halifax member Jackie Barkley, originally published in the Halifax Media Co-op
Last week the CBC ran a 2-part series on racism and gentrification in North End Halifax.
First of all, thanks to the CBC for naming the R word in the north end of Halifax – and I don’t mean renewal. The recent story on the almost total absence of local faces (read code for African Nova Scotian) as either staff or owners or patrons of the hip restaurant and commercial scene on Gottingen and Agricola, was a great initiative. However the responses of the business owners was frankly disingenuous, just a bit of “Aw shucks, we’d love to have Black people as staff and patrons, and shucks, they should open businesses too………and well, we just hire people we know……..or, I can’t imagine why they don’t apply, or drop in, or whatever?”
Starting with some self disclosure. I have lived in this neighbourhood for 27 years, and as a white woman who had good jobs my whole life, I have personally benefited from the changes in the north end, regardless of my political views. My privilege allowed me the down payment to buy a house in 1987, whose value has quadrupled in the time I’ve been here, and I do mostly love my neighbourhood, and do go to some of the businesses profiled. But I, and cool young white entrepreneurs must own being part of the complex intersection of economics, privilege, and racism by which gentrification serves my demographic, and systemically never serves those who are displaced.
So let’s look at the dictionary definition of gentrification: The process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into the deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents. The operative word here is displacement, that is – the sociology of poverty and exploitation that lowers the value of land when oppressed people live on it, creates slum housing, followed then by cheap buildings and lots bought up by the “creative” class, and turned into funky and mostly very expensive new businesses. Surely the banks had told the new businesses how this worked (now we’re on to Capitalism 101)….and the banks had explained the sociology of hiring funky and creative people to staff these places making them welcoming to their friends and social networks. (If those workers are also making a minimum wage, I have a union contact they can call.) And probably no one had to explain that non-funky minimum wage workers in public or low cost housing, despite also being “creative”, were not likely to patronize places charging $10 for one drink, and charging easily $35 for an entree. Is anyone really surprised?
Moving right along. There are no “white and middle class only” signs on the doors, but there is an amazing quite large sign on the window of one of these businesses on Gottingen just south of Cornwallis. And it shows a very white, hipster couple with their helmets, on bicycles, smiling coyly, with the caption “YOUR NORTH END”………I think that message is very clear.
If the “new” (code for white and cool and mostly expensive) businesses in the north end want to hire local residents, I’m sure a 10-minute walk to the youth employment centre at the Community Y on Gottingen, or the Hope Blooms office on Cornwallis, or the Black Business Initiative office, or the Parent Resource Centre on Uniacke St., or the North Branch Library or the Mi’kmaq Native Friendship Centre would educate them very quickly and easily on ways to at least change the staff profile. Or they could contact UJAMAA, an African Nova Scotian political and economic development organization. If these businesses want to welcome people of African descent, they could perhaps hire Black artists and musicians to play at their venues by calling ANSMA (the African NS Music Association). Or if they need even more help, they could close their place for a day, and invite people from all the agencies and institutions in from the “old” North End to a free mini-conference, and provide free funky food, and do some listening, rather than pretending or ignoring the class and race issues attending the new world order of the North End.
Oh and finally, there is a thriving, but financially strapped coffee shop called Kwacha House, opened by Folami Jones (daughter of the very beloved fighter for justice, Dr. Burnley Rocky Jones), probably without bank funding, and located in Fairview on Dutch Village Road, where all kinds of people of African descent go through the trouble to travel from all over the city, to be where they are welcomed and the environment reflects who they are.
Maybe a field trip is in order for the school of learning-about-what’s-really-going-on?
Jackie Barkley is a social worker and activist who is a long-time resident of Halifax’s North End. She has been involved in anti-racism and anti-poverty work.
Note: Articles published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.