Nova Scotia

Racist graffiti sprayed on Halifax elementary school

A Halifax woman found racist graffiti sprayed on her children’s elementary school in the city’s west end Friday.

'It's kind of hard to believe someone would write those words where children play'

Tina Roberts-Jeffers found racist graffiti at her children's school, St. Catherine's Elementary, in Halifax on Aug 10. (Submitted)

A Halifax woman found racist graffiti sprayed on her children's elementary school in the city's west end Friday.

Tina Roberts-Jeffers took her three young children to a playdate at St. Catherine's Elementary on Connolly Street when she noticed a racial slur painted several times at the entrance to the school.

Roberts-Jeffers said she was horrified and unsettled.

"It's kind of hard to believe someone would write those words where children play, on a building that is specifically meant to serve small children," she said. "I don't understand why someone would do it."

Earlier this year, racist graffiti was also found at school in Antigonish, N.S., and at Dalhousie University

While the elementary school is closed for the summer, Roberts-Jeffers said children and families use the playground and fields often. Play groups for children who are entering the school in fall for the first time also use the school grounds.

"I can only imagine someone's first exposure to our school, approaching and seeing those words written on it, especially if it were a black family, " she said.

In March, racist slurs against Indigenous and black people were found spray-painted in four spots on a school bus and on a sign near East Antigonish Education Centre/Academy. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

Roberts-Jeffers, who is black, contacted the Halifax Regional Centre for Education to get someone to clean it up as soon as possible. She considered cleaning it or painting over it herself so no other children would have to see it.

Most of the graffiti was removed on Saturday. One word was missed by cleaners.

After she saw it, Roberts-Jeffers also spoke to El Jones, a professor, writer and activist.

Jones said her first thought was, "Oh my gosh, I live in that neighbourhood.

"We know racism is all around us. It's not surprising. Obviously, we identify it all the time. But there's a way in which it's brought home, particularly on a children's school — it's so shocking," said Jones, who wrote about the incident for the Halifax Examiner.

"We send little children there, they're places of learning, we hope to protect children. And then for that to be literally on the doors of the school. I think it's just a very ugly thing."   

The person who painted it may have thought they were being edgy, said Jones, but that doesn't make it less upsetting to her.

'Joy in unsettling black people'

"It still suggests this kind of joy in unsettling black people or... the idea that you paint this and you're hoping that people see it and get upset. Regardless of what the intent is, the effect is that you have an elementary school that has this word, with its history behind it," she said.

"Black children have been attacked by that word, particularly for just trying to going to school."

Roberts-Jeffers said she deals with racism in small and large ways, but she tries to shield her children from it. 

It will be hard for her to not think of the words in the schoolyard where her family comes to have picnics and climb trees, she said.

Not welcomed in public spaces

While she said it's good to be angry about this incident, she also wants people to think about anti-black racism that exists beneath the surface.

"When I walk down the street and people clutch their children closer, and position their bodies next to me as if I'm a threat, I observe that, just like I observe these words written on a wall," she said. "There are all sorts of ways in which people denigrate and dismiss black people every single day."

The graffiti is a reminder to parents who try to protect their children from racist threats that they're not able to, said Jones.

"People always sort of go, 'We've gone too far with political correctness.' No, we haven't gone too far if people still feel comfortable writing that word on a elementary school. We really haven't done enough."

No one from the Halifax Regional Centre for Education replied to requests for comment on Sunday.

The Halifax Regional Police said they have not received a report about the incident.

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