‘Beautification’ no help for community denied jobs

Artists work on mural—Irving shipyard in the background

SOMETIMES WHITE SUPREMACY IS A MURAL. So says Tundè Balogun, the founder of The Objective News Agency in Halifax, NS.

In a recent post on the agency’s Facebook page Balogun says a mural project, meant to “beautify” the largely Afro-Nova Scotian community of Mulgrave Park, only illustrates exactly how much white society still does not understand how white supremacy works .

Balogun’s main complaint is not with the murals themselves. Rather it is with the uncritical acceptance of the idea that murals were needed and would actually help a community struggling with gross economic and social inequality

Balogun says he is “a firm believer in people telling their own stories.” The ongoing story in Mulgrave Park is how the people there have gained nothing from the huge expansion of the Irving Shipyard on the very edge of their neighbourhood.

Mulgrave Park is a public housing, low-income area, barely a stone's throw away from the massive Irving Shipyard. Most of its residents are descendants of Afro-Nova Scotians whose homes in the Halifax district of Africville were obliterated by municipal bulldozers in the mid 1960s.

2000 jobs for others

Irving has 2000 people at work in their Halifax shipyard, recently expanded to handle a whopping $30 billion contract to build ships for the Canadian navy. Many of the unskilled jobs pay more than $30 per hour—sometimes just to sweep the floor. Skilled workers like welders can earn $80 an hour. Residents say not one person from Mulgrave Park ever got hired to work there.

What the residents did get, however, was a major rat infestation caused by the blasting to construct the wharf needed to build the ships. What they still get are industrial high powered lights beaming through their windows at all hours of the night, and tickets for parking in their own community as spots are now reserved for Irving workers.

But, worse than all that, is the insult of watching a sea of Irving workers flood into their community every day for good paying jobs, while many Mulgrave Park residents work several menial jobs and visit food banks to feed their children.

None of this bothered any of the municipal, provincial or federal elected representatives The Objective interviewed. Nor did it bother an Irving PR officer. When The Objective asked him about the failure to hire anyone from Mulgrave Park he simply replied: “Shipbuilding is a white male-dominated industry.”

‘Trick bags’

Balogun points to a CBC article praising the mural project as a prime example of how our institutions ignore reality, confirm stereotypes and reinforce the underlying structures of white supremacy.

“These are what we in intelligent Black society call ‘Trick Bags’ or symbolic victories versus real ones,” says Balogun.

The CBC reporter did not speak to any Mulgrave Park residents. Instead, she spoke to a local organizer of the event and two of the 16 artists from all over North America who descended on the community. They told her they had no doubt that what they were doing was useful and important.

“It’s often disappointing to see the conditions of Mulgrave Park,” said Ziad Lawen, an event organizer from outside the neighbourhood. “Steps are broken, walls are broken. The basketball court is pathetic. For a community that produces most of the athletes in the province, that should not be the way it is.”

“The most important thing though is they don’t want barren brick walls. It’s not something you want to raise your kids around.”

Lawen did not comment on having to raise your kids around enforced poverty and willful neglect notes community activist Bill Hall. "Guys like him just don't get it," says Hall. "Condescension and pity don't empower people. They only reinforce the idea we are objects and victims, unable or unwilling to stand up for ourselves."

'It is important for us to tell our own stories'

Balogun says the photo used by the CBC at the head of their article reveals the deep irony of the “beautification” project. The foreground shows two artists at work on a wall, oblivious to the Irving shipyard and sign looming in the background.

The trouble with the CBC article, says Balogun, is that it conjures up a picture of Mulgrave Park as “a ghetto with graffiti everywhere, and residents that don’t take pride in where they live. Thus the community needs outside help.” The fact that jobs at Irving could be part of that help is never mentioned.

Balogun calls the CBC “the propaganda arm of white supremacy, and by definition not in the interest of the Black community.”

“We are not attacking the murals in the community,” he says. He focused on the CBC report on the murals “to highlight the agenda of a national propaganda broadcaster masquerading as ‘public’ news outlet.”

“It matters where you get your information from, says Balogun “and it matters even more what they say—or in this case, what they don’t say. It is important for us to tell our own stories, for when they print their stories that subliminally undermine our communities, we are the ones that must live with the consequences.

“This is why Black Media is so important.”

- 30 -

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.