Community activist Miranda Cain
PROVINCIAL PREMIERS AREN’T SUPPOSED TO DO THIS. They aren’t supposed to add insult to injury. But Stephen McNeil did exactly that on April 7. The Nova Scotia premier added racism to the threat of the coronavirus pandemic.
McNeil violated his own rule about respecting privacy of coronavirus victims and “hotspots” during a news briefing to explicitly blame and scold the people living in the predominantly Black communities of East and North Preston.
‘Reckless and selfish few’
“While we are using resources, doubling down on testing, and trying to keep people healthy, the reckless and selfish few in some of these communities are still having parties,” McNeil said.
“I can’t even believe that after everything we’ve been talking about, some of you think its okay to have a gathering or a party.”
“We anticipated this kind of fallout,” said Nzingha Millar, chair of the Arts, Community, Culture and Economics collective for African Nova Scotian professionals. “We just didn’t anticipate that it would come from our premier.”
“Now, we’re looked down upon even more, in that we potentially are spreading the virus to other communities, which is not the case,” added Brenton Sparks, chair of the Lake Loon-Cherry Brook Development Association.
Millar and Sparks called on the premier to apologize.
“They’re always saying, ‘We’re gonna do better, we’re gonna do better,’ but it’s like they put their foot in their mouths all the time, and they’re always apologizing for stuff they could prevent in the first place,” said Sparks.
Community acts before health officials
Earlier this month, provincial health officials set up temporary assessment centres in communities identified as “hotspots” for the COVID-19 pandemic, including East Preston and North Preston.
What McNeil didn’t say is that the community of North Preston was organizing to get ready for the COVID-19 pandemic since February, way before most people took the threat seriously. It did so without much support from the government.
Miranda Cain is a part of that community effort. “There was more than just me who did it. It was a group of passionate younger community members from the Prestons, not even leaders, who wanted to have a test sight here in the community,” she says.
“The small handful of people we have that are nuisances, it’s the same people you will find in any community,” says Miranda. “It’s the same in Halifax. It’s the same in Dartmouth. It’s the same with white boys, it’s the same with white girls. It happens everywhere. It’s just because they can single us out, we’re such an easy target, that’s why they do it, I think.”
Miranda isn’t allowing the premier’s hurtful comments to become a distraction. “Of course I would love to have an apology or for a retraction to be made. But it’s not going to fix anything,” she says.
Jason MacLean, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, said nurses told him that the clinic at the North Preston Community Centre, had poor ventilation and not enough room for physical distancing.
“You’re not doing enough for the African Nova Scotian community,” he said in a letter to the premier. “I’m saying that as both the president of NSGEU, who was told by his members that it’s subpar, and as a black man that’s dealt with the injustices within the province.”
Officials said “The space layout in the North Preston clinic is very similar to other clinics we have opened.” Nonetheless, the North Preston clinic was moved into a larger gymnasium in the same complex, with the addition of two more testing stations.
More evidence of racism
A new survey of 1,877 Canadian Union of Public Employees members in Manitoba reveals that 25% of health care support workers on the front lines of the COVD-19 pandemic who self-identified as being of Asian heritage experience anti-Asian racism.
Despite the common inclination to blame marginalized communities for things that frighten or threaten us, the truth is that it is these communities that bear the brunt of pandemics due to systemic or institutionalized discrimination and colonization.
“There are other curves we need to flatten besides COVID-19,” said Abe Araya, President of CUPE Manitoba. “Manitoba is not immune to racism. But we can fight it together.”
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