Nova Scotia

Social media has power to show 'what it's like to live in black bodies,' says social worker

Halifax social worker David Divine says racism is so commonplace that he's not surprised when people hurl racist comments at him. But what gives him hope now is that what happened to American George Floyd was caught on camera for the world to see.

David Divine says he has hope people are finally listening

Social media has power to show 'what it's like to live in black bodies,' says social worker

1 year ago
1:36
Halifax social worker David Divine says racism is so commonplace that he's not surprised when people hurl racist comments at him. But what gives him hope now is that what happened to American George Floyd was caught on camera for the world to see. 1:36

Halifax social worker David Divine says as negative as social media can be, it's also a powerful tool that can help people better understand the racism black people face.

"It forces us, black and white individuals, to actually see what it's like to live in black bodies," the former James R. Johnston chair in black Canadian studies at Dalhousie University, told CBC's Information Morning on Thursday.

"It forces us to try and fit our feet into the shoes of black people, and see how we have to navigate very, very carefully our ways through life."

The role social media can play was amplified with the recent death of American George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died while a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, which was captured on video by a bystander.

On Wednesday, the charge against Derek Chauvin was increased to second-degree murder and the three other officers who were there were charged with aiding and abetting a murder.

Protesters demonstrate against police action in the death of George Floyd and others in Halifax on Monday. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Divine said racism is so commonplace that he's not shocked when people hurl racist comments at him.

Two weeks ago, he was crossing a Halifax street with a grocery bag in each hand when a driver yelled at him to get his "black ass off the crosswalk."

Divine stopped, looked the man in the eye and walked toward him. The driver quickly put his vehicle in reverse and sped off.

"I will not allow myself as a black man to be disrespected by anybody, and if that means he could have come toward me and ran me over, fair enough," Divine said.

"We have to make these stands, you see. We have to value ourselves sufficiently to say, 'Enough is enough. I will not tolerate this.'"

That call is reverberating across the U.S. and Canada in response to Floyd's death.

But what gives Divine hope is that what happened to Floyd was caught on camera for the world to see.

"What was striking about that was that we had this social media piercing glare of the reality on black people's day-to-day existence, in that our lives are very vulnerable, they're fragile," Divine said. "And they can be snuffed out at any time by the forces of oppression without any accountability, without any regret."

Protests have been held across Nova Scotia this week as people demand justice and an end to police violence in the wake of Floyd's death.

Military Police face off with protesters across from the White House on May 30, 2020, in Washington. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)

In Halifax, where black people are disproportionately targeted by police street checks, thousands of people showed up to protest on Spring Garden Road on Monday.

Making sure that this moment results in real change does not fall on the shoulders of black people, Divine said.

He called on people of all races to have honest and frank conversations about racism and white privilege.

"Talking to one another with vulnerabilities left at the door so that we can talk for real about how we have to live in this society ….  which is very, very difficult for those of us of colour," he said.

With files from CBC's Information Morning

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