The 180

Canada doesn't deserve a black woman on its money

Viola Desmond will soon appear on our $10 bills. In 1946, the successful black entrepreneur refused to leave the whites-only section in a movie theatre. But to Septembre Anderson, putting Desmond on our money perpetuates the myth that Canada is closer to racial equity than it actually is.
Viola Desmond, featured on a commemorative stamp in 2012. Her face will grace $10 bills in Canada, starting in 2018. (Canada Post/Canadian Press)

Canada has a long way to go in its relationship with black communities before it should put Viola Desmond on its currency.

Desmond — a successful black businesswoman known for courageously refusing to leave a whites-only area of a Nova Scotia movie theatre in 1946 — will replace Sir John A. Macdonald on the $10 bill in 2018.

But according to Toronto writer Septembre Anderson, putting Desmond on Canadian money perpetuates the myth that the country is closer to racial equity than it actually is.

Desmond was the first black woman to bring a legal challenge against racial segregation before Canadian courts, but Anderson says there's a danger in putting Desmond on a Canadian banknote.

And it's not because Desmond doesn't deserve the honour. 

It's because Canada doesn't deserve her, or any other black person, for that matter, on its money.- Septembre Anderson

She points out that black people are the fastest-growing federal prison population and that black and other racialized women make 53 cents to every dollar white men.

"We live in a time when our cabinet, one of the highest seats of power in the country, is devoid of black women ministers. We live in a time when 26 per cent of black people are food insecure, compared to 12 per cent of all Canadian households."

According to Anderson, using Desmond's image "reaffirms the meritocratic myth that lies at the foundation of our national story" and fails to address the systemic issues that affect black people in Canada today.

What black people in Canada need is institutional change, not tokenism in the form of a picture on money.- Septembre Anderson