A Black PhD student got his harasser on video and it gives insight into daily racism
Tari Ajadi was having coffee with a white colleague when a man targeted him on the street
When Tari Ajadi became the target of a racist confrontation in Halifax recently, it was not a new experience, but unlike in previous incidents he pulled out his cell phone and began recording.
The comments he captured on video — a stranger suggesting that Ajadi's white colleague should be in a relationship with a white man — have been widely circulated and derided on social media.
But for Ajadi, a Black doctoral candidate studying racism, public policy and Black social movements at Dalhousie University, these comments are not unusual and they take a "psychological toll," he said. He sat down with CBC Information Morning host Portia Clarke to talk about what happened and what it says about this city.
Their conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
I gather the encounter with this person, who you didn't know, started before you started to record it. So how did this all begin?
Tari Ajadi: "We were sitting outside of the Local Jo Cafe, just sipping on a coffee, talking about research, being PhD students, etc., and the man approached. He immediately accosted us and said to my colleague, ' A white girl like you should not be dating negroes.'
I asked him to repeat himself. And then he said that there are plenty of brown women in the world that I should be dating, that she should not be dating a negro like me. And that's when I grabbed my phone.
So I was just racially abused in the West End of Halifax. Video below. 1) <a href="https://t.co/4ojQQHXgon">pic.twitter.com/4ojQQHXgon</a>—@tariajadi
You questioned him about what he was trying to get at.
Ajadi: Right. I wanted to draw him out, because typically when incidents like this happen, before you can really probe them on what they said, they've already gone.
But this person decided to stick around. And so I had to kind of push them and say, 'Well, what did you mean by that? Why are you saying these things?'
You talked about the psychological toll that this takes when you have to engage in this way.
Ajadi: What became immediately apparent was not his words, but more so as what they indicate about power and how this city functions. This person's words, without any kind of history or context, could just be hurtful words that a person says to another. But actually, the realities of being a Black person in Halifax means that I'm fundamentally implicated. I had to decide how to react, knowing that my actions could have a profound effect on his life. Or if I had called the cops, could I have any trust that I wouldn't be perceived as the aggressor? I believe I could have been harmed. Something worse could have happened.
This is this kind of internal wrangling that Black people have to face every time something like this happens, which is many, many, many more times than the incidents that will get captured on a video.
You study racism and Black social movements so I assume this wasn't exactly a surprise to you. But does it align with some of the concepts that you're studying?
Ajadi: Absolutely. It aligns and it certainly wasn't a surprise to me. As I mentioned before, these kinds of things aren't new to me, to other Black people in Halifax, in Nova Scotia and in Canada.
What they indicate is that racism is not just prejudice, it's prejudice and power. There was prejudice in the man's words. There was power in the space that he implicated me in, that I couldn't simply sit outside and have a coffee with a colleague.
People reached out when they saw the video to say that not all of Halifax is like this man. What's your response to them?
Ajadi: To be honest, I'll be very clear: Halifax is a racist city. But that doesn't make it an unlivable one — it doesn't make it particularly rare or unique in the North American context or in a global context. And it doesn't make it a place that people can't thrive and grow, as Black people have done in Halifax for centuries, for generations and generations now.
But this is the reality. And it's one that's borne out in the statistics: the unemployment rate for Black men in Halifax is 2.5 times that of men in the rest of the population. We're more likely to be followed and harassed by the police. And we're massively overrepresented in hate crime statistics, incarceration rates.
This is a problem on an interpersonal, institutional and on a structural level. And that's the point that I wanted to make.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
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With files from Information Morning Halifax