Stories of anti-Black racism in education in Nova Scotia

Black lives matter. Andrea Marsman, past president of the Black Educators Association of Nova Scotia (BEA) asked members of the BEA’s Facebook group to share their stories of anti-Black racism in Nova Scotia’s education system, either as teachers, parents or students. According to Marsman: 

To combat racism within our education system we must openly acknowledge that its very foundation is rooted in an ideology of white supremacy. Racism is in the brick and mortar of every educational institution in this province. For African Nova Scotian students, anti-Black racism has contributed to a ‘sense of un-belonging’ and a learning environment fraught with challenges. Teachers have felt isolated, unsupported and silenced in fear of being labelled ‘sensitive,’ or even worse, ‘angry and/or radical.’  

Despite a move toward culturally responsive teaching and culturally responsive pedagogy, anti-Black racism has never properly been addressed in this province. The Black Lives Matter Movement has emboldened people in a way that we have not witnessed in many years. Now is the time to shine a light on the historical injustices that have shaped  the platform of education in this province. I commend those willing to stand against racist policies, practices and individuals who refuse to acknowledge the problem of racism in our schools.

Too often, stories of racism like those below have been minimized or brushed off by those in power. These stories are a testament to how far Nova Scotia’s education system has to go to create an equitable school experience for everyone. 

To join the BEA’s Facebook group, click here.

If you would like to add your story to this compilation, you may post it to this thread or email it to

I remember 20 plus years ago, being in a staff meeting at my high school. We were discussing Anti-Racist Education (which has since been replaced with Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, two entirely different things) and teachers actually got up and walked out of the meeting in protest. They felt they were being attacked and didn’t want to hear it!!!!

In a group of about 10 white educators from different schools maybe 5-6 years ago, there was discussion about a Black administrator who some folks didn’t like. Someone said something like “how did they get into that job anyway?” and someone else dismissively said “equity hire.” I said something like “there are lots of bad white administrators who never have that said about them”. 

When I was first assigned to teach African Canadian Studies (ACS) one spring for the coming fall, another teacher in the staff room asked me what my assignment was. When I said I was teaching ACS, she gave me a look and said something to the effect of “I’m sorry, I bet that’ll be a tough class.”

In 8th grade in the mid/late 90s, our super dated social studies textbook made lengthy descriptions of Métis people using the term “half-breed”. I demanded of my teacher to use a different term, seeing as I’m biracial. It was her first year teaching, and though I think she was surprised, she believed me.

I remember in grade 5 we had one Black student in our school – who I was very close with. A couple girls were calling him names that at the time I didn’t understand.

To me, being white, it was the old sticks and stones theory. Words can’t hurt you.

After some discussion with my friend I realized how hurt he was .. what those names meant to him.

I won’t get into all the details but those girls didn’t get into one bit of trouble. But I got out of school suspension for a week for defending my friend.

As the only Black student in my high school & region in 1980s – during the annual winter carnival on Wednesday’s Slave Day I was forced on stage to be sold during a “slave auction” 😢😔😢😡🤬

Called the “N” word every day in elementary school until I believed I was ONE😢😢😢 and so many ugly names even “Kunta Kinte” [I’m a woman]!? Those kids and adults made me feel sex-less! Devastating on my psyche😖😢😔😭😭😭😭😭😭 don’t let me leave out “Porch MONKEY” and “Jigaboo” and “Cotton-Picker” 😏🤬😅

Oh my! How much time do you have? In school as a student LOTS directed at me (biracial) – reported it and nothing done…. as a teacher LOTS of conversations around it, discussions during staff meetings, one where I shared my truth and actually left the meeting because I was so angry at one particular response. I am usually the only biracial/African Nova Scotian voice in the schools I teach at so I am constantly speaking out. But people come and ask questions about how to tackle issues which is promising- still have a way to go. And as a parent- lots of times with my kids in the elementary system. My son reported something all on his own to the office at the age of 11. They did deal with it effectively which I was thankful for, but the admin was a person of colour. Not sure if that was the reason because they got it!

In junior high my daughter was called the n word by another student. It initially shocked my daughter but later that afternoon it hit her and they got into a fight in the middle of the classroom. Both girls received a one-day in-school suspension TOGETHER in the office for a day. No liaison officer called. No supports whatsoever for my daughter. No Black face to come advocate for her. Two things rubbed salt in the wound further: because it happened to be parent/ teacher night, I was in the lobby when I saw the girl and her parents go into the office for a debrief on the situation. They came out laughing and smiling- not the faces of people who felt what their daughter did was abhorrent. Also the principal was Black.

My daughter didn’t get over the experience easily. She begged the whole year prior to high school to be homeschooled. 😥💔

I now live in NS, and pretty much all of my family was born here, too. I myself am from PEI, and that’s also where I attended public school. I’ve experienced many hardships both from teachers and students. From being asked, “what are you?” To only be followed up by, “oh, well you don’t look/sound/act Black”….. Seriously though, what does that even mean?… Been called some racial slurs in front of all of my classmates, one time in particular without apology from the other student or his parents, to which I regrettably broke said students ribs in a fist fight, afterwards. I got suspended for a few days, he got to go back to school looking like the good guy… One of most hurtful things though, and unknowingly to them; is when the teachers would give their ever so brief (realllllll brief) lessons on American civil rights, talk about Harriet Tubman or maybe Rosa Parks, but no Afro-Canadian history whatsoever… Then the teacher would close the lesson by singling me out, as the only black face I seen in twelve years (asides from my own siblings), and would ask, “do you have anything you’d like to add? Maybe some stories or experiences about your family?”…..🙄….. Not once to ask any other students if they had questions or comments, but to go straight to me, and to basically ask the question: because you’re black, what can you add to this?…. I wish that I could have been more engaged both at home and at school, as a young boy, in both regards to cultural teachings as well as historical. African history in Canada should be taught in schools…. They didn’t even once celebrate black history month when I went to school, and I’m only 29.

So thankful for this topic. I have 2 kids going to Jr high (daughter off to high school). As a parent I have had it with these young white teachers. My son being called aggressive and “concerning” because…and let’s face it he is a Black boy and any type of emotion equals negativity. Meanwhile “Johnny” sitting next to him has the same emotions and gets told “it’s time to focus”. My daughter who is quiet and shy but gets good grades and has a great social circle is being made to join “special needs” groups.

Daughter: mom it’s like I have to “act loud and wild” for them to think I’m normal. One teacher asked me where I was from and when I said North Preston his eyes opened wide like he couldn’t believe it. As a mother I was told because my child is quiet they would probably get social services involved! Meanwhile my daughter hangs out with white girls who she says are crying out for help from at home abuse but they are more worried about the quiet Black girl…because hey, being Black and female automatically means you have to be loud and have an attitude. And if you don’t display this type of behaviour then there must be something going on at home. To all the Black educators thank you and to all the parents let’s push hard to advocate for our children. We need support groups; after reading everyone’s stories I know I’m not alone.

I was told in high school that I had to choose between a scholarship co-op I was in, or being present for a weekly quiz. She refused to change the date or allow me to test at a different mark started to drop until i stopped going.

I experienced a lot of foolishness from my university as well…nonsense no one should have to go through.

And as a teacher being called angry/aggressive when you speak up…having others compare their March Break tan to my skin…being asked to fix things for because apparently sitting at my desk after school working equals care taker….hearing subs call students Negro/colored kids… the list goes on.

I was between the age of 8 -9 early 70’s: our family had returned from Montreal which I had attended an all Protestant school, my Dad was Military Grade 3 – I attended an elementary school located in Dartmouth N.S. At that time my brother and I were the only 2 people of color. We would have to go home for lunch and return for the afternoon. Every day my mother would ask either how our morning had went and definitely would ask how we did that day after school. This particular day, in the am I had music class – and I will never forget this teacher for many reasons, however when I arrived at home for lunch, my Mother asked her usual question. My response was, ” we learned how the N—er people danced “. Now keeping in mind, within our family, there were many skin tones, my great grandmother was Caucasian, I had never heard that word spoken up until then, therefore I did not know the true meaning, disrespect and hurt associated with it. Needless to say, I had a late lunch, as my Mother immediately put her shoes on and off we go, just so happened that along the way, this teacher was standing in front of a house ( which turned out to be her’s ) I pointed to her and said. ” Mommy” that’s Mrs. So & So – and made me repeat to her what was said, the teacher did not deny it. Now we head back to the school – don’t remember too much with regards to the meeting with the principal. But I do remember “the talk” my parents had with myself and my brother that evening.

On the 1st day of grade primary, My teacher told the entire class that they were white but me and the one other Black child in the class were Negroes or N—rs either or or. TRUE STORY!!!!

I just don’t think anti-black racism or white supremacy were addressed at my school. White students were self proclaimed Nazi supporters. The kids did the Nazi salute all the time and I saw them carving swastikas in their arms, desks, drawing it just anywhere. Also, a friend recently sent me a photo taken at another school on the wall, of a painting of Hitler with the quote “The victor will never be asked if he told the truth,” the painting also included a swastika.

As a parent I had my son’s primary teacher ask me during parent visitation, if “all little Black boys were mischievous because my son and the other little Black boy in her class were a handful.” When I asked her to clarify, she stated and I quote ” Well you don’t work do ya dear? you could always volunteer in the class and then you could see what I mean.” When I told her I had a job she said, and I quote, “oh, good for you dear, where do you work?” When I told her that I was a high school teacher, she nearly fell off the chair, at which point I told her I would be meeting with her and her principal.

The time our French teacher asked my mother point blank if my younger brother, twin and I had the same father because he was darker then us!

I’ll speak on my son’s behalf because it’s the most recent set of experiences we’ve had with racism.

My son is now going into grade 5. Since he has started at the school he has been the subject of 4-5 different racially provoked incidents (that I know about).

He’s been stabbed with a pencil, he’s been pushed into puddles and has had his fair share of name-calling directed at his skin colour. ANY time these events happened I wasn’t notified until 1-2 days after the incident.

This school year I had enough and went into the school to talk to the principal. (I work alongside the principal on the School Advisory Committee). I explained the situation, and how I didn’t feel comfortable with how the school was handling these situations. She informed me about the multicultural pedagogy that the school follows and told me they are doing everything by the book. I explained to her that it wasn’t enough; my son was still a target and a victim at her school with this pedagogy in place.

The conversation never went forward after that. She continued to tell me that she was doing everything she could and there was nothing more that could be done. She ended that conversation by telling me I’ll have to continue to deal with it, the school is following the pedagogy and maybe she could get me some contacts so I can better equip myself to deal with these issues with my son alone.

There are so many to count. From early school years, being told that I had anger management problems and was made to go in a ‘separate’ room to ‘calm.’🤔 I guess I should have liked being called a N##$r. Moving on to the race riots at my high school and then not being able to graduate with my peers because I was too vocal about the issues at that school. My Global History teacher failed me by 2 pts and the Principal and teacher would not support me in any way. I guess I should have kept quiet 🤔 Moving on to university and then working in the system, ‘Equity Hire’ is a hot mess on so many levels. It’s like you have to fight to get in and then once you get so ‘lucky ‘ to have a job, you got to fight the ongoing stigma that you don’t deserve to be there or you’re only there bc you are black AND spend the remaining months being the ‘go-to’ for Black issues. 🙄 As a parent we already know how the system is with our children. Being an advocate for your children seems to be frowned upon. Lastly, I will never forget the day my son at the age of 2 was racially profiled. He was fearful for his life. I pray things will get better…they just have to. 💕

I was asked by my principal if he could call me “brownie” to which I immediately said no. I was pregnant at the time and he asked “what if my baby came out with blonde hair and blue eyes like him.” I told him, that would never happen. He also made inappropriate comments to me of a sexual nature. I reported him to HR. The result was an apology for his “mistake.” I told them I was no longer comfortable working with this man. Their solution was for me to find another school. After 15 years of working there, I had to leave. The stress of it all raised my blood pressure so high that I had to be induced. I was very sick after having my daughter and chose not to fight it anymore. I am now at a different school and he is still there.

I don’t want to go into too much detail but I was in college from 2017-2019 and I witnessed a student tell a joke which included the N Word. The student was white and I am African Canadian and was right there in the room. It made me feel uncomfortable. I eventually told my instructor and then we told the administration.

I went to school to learn and enjoy the topics I was studying, I didn’t go to feel uncomfortable while someone else laughs. But I guess that that’s the thing about racist language, you don’t expect to hear it until it’s said.

In grade 12 my brother gave a presentation in global geography class using handmade Kenyan bowls my mother has. He researched about them and even brought the full set to class. Another kid in class didn’t do the project, the teacher said “use the hat on your head”. That kid got a 90 on the project and my brother failed. My mother and father almost lost their minds.

At my junior high school 20 miles outside of Halifax….my mom and pops got out of the city for a bit. The city was tearing my family apart. I was a city boy, roughneck, athlete, great well-mannered kid, lots of energy. But I found myself lost out there. First day of school I see no one there who looks like me. I’m used to coming from a school that had a mixture of everybody. Predominantly Black, but a mixture of everybody. I don’t recognize anybody…me and my dad are standing there, I’m waiting for the principal to come introduce himself, and I’m looking at these buses pulling up to the school and I’m like, we have to take a bus to school? OK I’m in the middle of nowhere.

I’m looking at these faces and they’re looking at me, not a single smile on any of these faces. So of course I’m uncomfortable already. First two days, I get in there, I don’t even know how to say hello to anybody, to engage in conversation with these new people. One day I sparked a conversation with a guy in my class. We were just talking about whatever we were into…in the back of the school there was a big trail…I went back there to check out my surroundings. Me and my buddy were walking, we saw a group of kids who didn’t look like the most welcoming of kids. My buddy says, I think we should turn around. I say why? He said, I just don’t like that crowd of people. He didn’t say why, and I just didn’t get it. So he left, but I said I want to keep going, I want to explore, I’m adventurous like that. He said all right man, you’re on your own…

As I kept walking, this group of kids is still standing there, about 5 of them. I said ‘excuse me’ so I could get around. No one answered me…they just kept smoking their cigarettes. So I just walked around them. And as I start walking around them, I started hearing monkey sounds. One of the kids chucked a banana at me. 

I was taught that you don’t tolerate that. None of it. You fight back. You don’t let people treat you like that. So I picked the banana up and I chucked it back. 

Little did I know I was gonna be jumped for that. For defending myself. I wasn’t beaten too badly, but they got some hits in. I had to take off and run. Ever since that day, I had to fight that group of kids every other day. I fought at least 20-something times. 

I got called n—er every day, they tried to jump me every day in the bathrooms, I had one particular incident where I’m fighting in the hallway with one of these students and a teacher looked out to see what the commotion was…I could see he saw what was going on. He closed the door and kept letting me fight. The other boy, his friend came out, they tried to jump me there in the hallway. 

When you’ve got to face that kind of adversity every day, and don’t have nobody, you feel like you don’t have anybody…I knew my father would have believed me, but this man wasn’t my biological father. He had come into my life when I needed a man, a strong, positive Black figure in my life. And I was more scared of him going crazy and going off because of his stories he told me, of what he went through as a young Black man. I was scared that if he found out what I was going through, that he would do such bad damage to these people, that I would lose a father again. So I held that deep inside of me. 

Raised by grandparents who had many children of their own it was humbling, and having a good education was very important.
Later as a teenager in grade 11 my marks started to drop, I had the option to attend summer school but my parents said no you fooled around and now you’ll redo, I remember feeling shame but it was worth it. I went on to complete my high school with no problems and graduated.
Then came 1979 Dartmouth Vocational School now called NSCC, deep into a course that I loved, the only black student (female).   
Back at home I was the last one left with aging parents, my dad was dying from prostate cancer, in and out of hospital, but later it was 24-hour care at home which made long nights and lack of sleep. I was doing everything I could to take care of him and keep up with studies and labs. I aced the first year with great marks but going into the second year keeping up was getting harder and tiresome.
I did my best studying hard for tests and one day when marks came back I made 100, it felt so good and then I was asked to meet with the instructors, I walked in the office three of them but I can only remember the one he was the main instructor, he asked how did I make 100? I was confused, didn’t know what to say or how to react, I’m sure my face said it all then his words that I will never forget  “you must’ve cheated.” I felt everything leave my body, here I was going through hard times at home father dying and trying to keep my focus on school and this was said to me.
I remember running to the washroom and crying and one of the students comforting me. I also remember another time there was a discussion around what we would all look like many years down the road and that same instructor made a prediction that I would be fat with lots of children with laughter.
After that meeting everything started going down hill, my confidence was gone and no matter how hard I tried it was tougher to move on, you see I couldn’t talk it over with parents, too old, nor siblings, they were into their own families and I lost the fight to stick it out and gave up.
Shortly after leaving dad died and the same girl who came to my aid in the washroom called to give me condolences and told me that the instructor told her to tell me he was sorry and she said he was prejudiced. A little too late …
Years later I went onto various jobs, married had two children and after my second child I decided to go back to school similar career, they called for reference from my last school and I was told the instructor gave highest praise. I guess he felt guilty.
Moving forward I promised myself to let no one or nothing get in my way and I successfully graduated.
I have only ever seen that instructor twice and I couldn’t make eye contact because I don’t know what would come out of my mouth today.
I always taught my children to never give up or let anyone rob them of their dreams and reach out early before it’s too late.
Today I have a good career, a daughter who graduated from university and she works there and the other daughter attending same university.
Thanks for sharing my story.