Newspaper article The Canadian Press

'Our Existence Is Our Resistance:' Young Women of Colour Leading Social Activism

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

'Our Existence Is Our Resistance:' Young Women of Colour Leading Social Activism

Article excerpt

Halifax's new generation of social activists


HALIFAX - They are young. They are women. And they are racialized.

Young women of colour are at the vanguard of Halifax's social justice movement, part of a new generation of social activists.

Kati George-Jim is a 21-year-old Indigenous student and member of Dalhousie University's board of governors.

Masuma Khan is a 22-year-old Muslim student leader at the Halifax university.

Rebecca Thomas is a 31-year-old Dalhousie graduate and Mi'kmaq poet laureate.

Together, they are unapologetically standing up for social justice and refusing to back down in the face of controversy.

They are harnessing an ethos of social unrest emanating across the country and beyond, impatiently working to dismantle white privilege, patriarchy and heterosexism.

And they are not going away.

"Racialized women have always been at the forefront of civil rights movements," said Margaret Robinson, Dalhousie University assistant professor of sociology and social anthropology. "What's changed is the broader society's ability to recognize them for their leadership and work."

Social media and growing up with a black president in the United States has also shifted the social justice movement, she said.

"The new wave of activists grew up seeing a black president for eight years," Robinson said. "They've had access to instantaneous online information and communication that I couldn't have dreamed of as a child. That changes everything."

Rebecca Thomas, Halifax's aboriginal poet laureate, said young women are being empowered by higher education.

"The more you start to understand and learn, the more you want to do something," she said. "Education is very empowering. We're being told that our voices matter, and we're standing up to be heard."

Thomas, originally from New Brunswick, said women of colour have always had strong voices, and that civil rights movements in the past have helped pave the way for the new generation.

Young women are now starting to "punch through power structures" once reserved for white men, Thomas said.

"We're recognizing the strength we have, and it's really great when you get the community's backing," said Thomas, who has a master's degree in social anthropology from Dalhousie.

Last spring, she appeared before Halifax council with a poem chiding councillors for shutting down debate last year over how the city commemorates its controversial founder.

Edward Cornwallis issued a bounty on the scalps of Thomas's Mi'kmaq ancestors but is still honoured with a park, statue, and even a street within a stone's throw of the city's Mi'kmaq friendship centre. …

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