this week in HRM (Halifax Regional Municipality, for those who don't know) there was a dispute that arose at the Halifax Regional School Board meeting over the reassignment of seats. From what I understand, seating used to be arranged alphabetically according to the members' last name, and now seating is according to numerical district. The dispute arose because one elected member doesn't have a district. His seat is representative of the African-Canadian community. Apparently, his new seat is on the end since he doesn't have a number. Mr Sparks sees this as a human rights issue, as if he and the people he represent are an afterthought to the HRM School Board, and more broadly, to the people of HRM and Nova Scotia. Mr Sparks refused to take his newly assigned seat at the meeting, which prompted other members to walk out in protest, which led to the cancellation of the meeting due to an insufficient number of members present to discuss and vote on matters of business. There has since been a public outcry against both Mr Sparks and the rest of the SB members who chose to leave the meeting, with accusations of childish behaviour and political grandstanding, and not putting the needs of the people who elected them (and their children) before their own petty disagreements. New reports say the matter is going to be dealt with through a mediator to the tune of $15,000, paid for by the taxpayers of the province.Does Mr Sparks have a point? Are the actions of the board, in assigning him a new seat, racist? Or is he simply "playing the race card, which trumps all others?"
In a way, I would hope that Mr Sparks is acting out of sheer childish brattiness. He is an elected official who is meant to represent black people in HRM. (What about other racial minorities? What about other minorities and oppressed groups? Should there also be an elected official to represent female students, diabled students, non-christian students, immigrant students/descendants of immigrants?) If Mr Sparks has a point, and he is acurately representing the concerns of black students and their families in HRM, this is indicative of a larger social problem. I think that while the reason seems petty, considering the history of race relations in this area, Mr Sparks is right to complain. As I have said in this space before, racism is systemic and involves groups of people; individuals experience racism based on their membership in those groups. Especially in our politically correct society, racism must find subtle ways to operate; racists can no longer insist on seperate washrooms and water fountains. Furthermore, I also feel that I, and other white people, don't have a right to decide whether or not Mr Sparks is right or wrong, because we are not in the position of experiencing racism on a daily basis. In order to figure out whether this issue is petty or not, my suggestion is that we should talk to the people Mr Sparks represents, and see what they have to say about it. This might be difficult, because it is well accepted that people who are oppressed internalize their own oppression. However, I think it's the closest we can get to resolving the question of whether the actions of the HRMSB are racist.