Nova Scotians have a reputation for being friendly and welcoming people, but many minority groups say if you scratch the surface, there's still plenty of racism and discrimination in this province. 

The African Nova Scotian community has long felt the burden of systematic racism, says Sunday Miller. Miller was born in Yarmouth and attended Dalhousie University. She has worked as a microbiologist and directed many not-for-profit organizations and is now the executive director of the Africville Heritage Trust. 

"A lot of African Nova Scotians do not walk with their heads up," she says. "They walk with their head down, or with a sense of hesitancy as to whether I belong here or not."

Miller says she faced discrimination in university, as many people assumed because she received good marks she was not a native of Nova Scotia and had to be a visiting student from elsewhere. She says upon graduating, she had difficulty landing her first job. 

"I was told that I was the best candidate but not their first choice. And the only reason why I got the job was when all the other people, who were worse candidates, when they called them had already gotten work. And so I was offered the job."

Miller remembers being offended by a conversation with that early employer about why she was eventually offered the job.

"They said to me, 'Well, you know what they say.' And I said, 'No.' 'Well, you know, blacks cause trouble, you know, fights and all.'"

The immigrant experience

As a Nova Scotian born in Yarmouth, Miller sees differences between her upbringing and the experience of immigrants who come to this province from the West Indies or Africa. 

While those migrants might share the same skin colour as Miller, she says they have been raised in countries where black people hold positions of power. She argues this gives immigrants a different mindset to face racism.

'We don't ever say to somebody, because you're black, because you're aboriginal, because you're this that or the next you can't do something. We just exclude you. That, to me, is polite racism. We never overtly say it. That would be rude.' - Tracey Jones-Grant

"We are a separate community and I think part of it is, when they come, and they see the conditions in which we live, and the challenges that we face, they don't want to be associated with that. Not realizing that if you stay here, your children are going to end up in the same situation. Because then they're going to be African Nova Scotian," she says. 

Faith Moneke-Ukadike immigrated to Nova Scotia from Nigeria 24 years ago. She says pushing back against racism makes her stronger and she encourages others to do the same.

"I experienced racism so much. It makes me a strong person. Because when I experience it, I like to teach them. I say, this is not who I am," she says.

Moneke-Ukadike says she respects the struggles of African Nova Scotian families who have lived here for generations, but she believes the community needs to move forward together. 

"My children are all Canadians. They were born here, they are indigenous black. But sometimes society sees them as the children of immigrants, they don't see them as indigenous black," she says.

"I think we need to pass beyond that. We cannot forget the history, but we learn from history and move forward...the pain and agony that your forefathers went through, it still lingers. But you need to move away from that and move forward."

Not enough has changed

Tracey Jones-Grant has worked on equality issues for African Nova Scotians for many years through work as a librarian and an educator. As the daughter of well-known black activists Burnley "Rocky" Jones and Joan Jones, she recalls seeing her parents attend rallies and protests in the 1960s. She says her own activism in libraries was of a different sort. 

Blurred crowd

In a 2014 report women who wear the hijab reported sometimes feeling hated and disrespected, refugee claimants felt they were treated as criminals and African parents said people assumed they were abusive to their children. (Shutterstock)

"When I first began working in the field, we didn't have puppets when we did puppet shows that represented black folks or any people of colour."

Jones-Grant says although some things have changed, she sees few minorities in positions of power and authority. 

"We don't ever say to somebody, because you're black, because you're aboriginal, because you're this that or the next you can't do something. We just exclude you. That, to me, is polite racism. We never overtly say it. That would be rude." 

Racism at the grocery store

In a 2013 report by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, the authors examined racism during the simple act of shopping in stores.

About 1,190 people in Halifax, Digby, and Sydney were asked if they had a "consumer incident" in the year prior to the survey. They were asked if they'd ever been refused service, followed, questioned about their ability to pay, targeted for offensive language, searched, removed from the store, or wrongfully detained.

Close to 29 per cent of white respondents said they'd experienced one of those things in the last year. Respondents of other backgrounds were much more likely to have had such an experience.


Respondents who indicated at least one consumer incident in the past 12 months:


82.9% Aboriginal
72% African Canadian
61.5% Latin American
50% Middle Eastern
46.6% Asian 



Some of those respondents said they had a negative incident while shopping more than once. About 7.3 per cent of Aboriginal and African Canadian respondents said they had a negative experience four or more times, which happened to about 0.4 per cent of white respondents. 

"Race of ethnicity is the most significant factor in the experience of consumer incidents," the report concluded.

Racism and mental health

In an October 2014 report published by Immigration Settlement and Immigration Services of Halifax, lead author Carmen Celina Moncayo studied newcomer mental health. For the 94 people surveyed, racism played a large role in poor mental health. 

Women who wear the hijab reported sometimes feeling hated and disrespected, refugee claimants felt they were treated as criminals, and African parents said people assumed they were abusive to their children. Many of the respondents also said they faced difficulty in getting a job, even if they had both Canadian and overseas experience.

Moncayo said some respondents handed out hundreds of resumes, but never received any calls for an interview. She said those people sometimes draw the conclusion that they receive no interest because the name on their resumes sounds "foreign."

Moncayo said one woman told her about applying for a job for which she had the right qualifications.

"She had the applications, and she had the qualifications, and later on she received a call from the company saying, 'Never apply here again,'" Moncayo said.

The study found every ethnic group reported experiencing racism, along with negative effects on mental health.

"People feel exclusion. People feel that you don't belong here. People start wondering, 'Is there something wrong with me?' People start feeling their self-esteem goes down," Moncayo said.

"When people are feeling constantly frustrated or when people need to justify all the time about who they are, that affects their mental health."

Are we racist?

This week CBC is exploring Canadian attitudes on discrimination, immigration and multiculturalism, and the question "Are we racist?" We want to hear from you — send us your story with a photo of yourself by emailing us at community@cbc.ca or on social media using the hashtag #MyExperienceWithRacism. We're on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @CBCNews.