The following are my five passages from Viola Desmond: Her Life and TImes.
*these quotes are told from the perspective of Viola’s sister, Wanda, who is alive today.
- Personal Interest: What did you find particularly interesting or intriguing about this passage from your reading? Unpack your ideas about your provided quote, and challenge yourself to connect these ideas to your own life or prior learning.
- Canadian Identity: What insights or pieces of wisdom might these passages reveal about Canadian values at the time of the text’s publication? What does each passage reveal about what it means to be a Canadian now?
“In spite of obstacles of racial discrimination, she like other middle-class black’s in Halifax’s North end was able to achieve great success in her life.”
- This was one of the passages that immediately got my attention around the beginning of the biography. The only thing that I really knew about Viola Desmond was that a. she was on the new ten dollar bill and b. that she stood up to racial segregation in Canada. The idea of “racial segregation” must’ve made me associate a subconscious stigma of only hardship and pain with standing up to issues like racism because I expected her life to be just pain and difficulties that were recognized only much later on. Literally, the first chapter of the book states that she achieved not just success, but great success in her life. When I think about black activists like Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated, I always thought of dangerous and dynamic lives. The beginning of the book already had me saying, “wow, I can’t wait to learn about how she and her other friends achieved success in the ’40s, when racism was a normal thing.”
- It is a given that racial segregation and discrimination was a completely acceptable and widely practised belief as mentioned at the beginning of the passage, but it also shows that middle-class blacks specifically in Halifax’s North end were able to be successful. It may signify an unclear yet existent sense of community and acceptance of different races in certain parts of Canada. After all, the ones being discriminated against may have had less power, but were undeniably a part of Canada’s identity then. The fact that this passage makes me proud and happy that Viola overcame the obstacle of racism and gained success proves that values created by society, have changed since then.
“I didn’t have a lot of new clothes to choose from so I usually wore a tunic with the white blouse and a red tie. This was a voluntary school uniform but only a few of us wore it.”
- This is Wanda, Viola’s sister speaking. This passage didn’t have anything to do about Viola herself, but it made me read it twice. I have never heard of something like a “voluntary” school uniform. It made me wonder about the educational system of Halifax back then, as Wanda went to a public school with whites and blacks alike. Having a school uniform be choice also made me think about where the education system back then was sitting on the political spectrum. I thought maybe right-leaning, as giving choices and respecting individuality was more of a right point of view, as we learned in class.
- I feel like Canada, or more specifically in the area of Halifax, had a more free, pro-choice nuance in comparison to other parts of the world at that time. When I think about Korea in the ’40s, it’s crazy to even think about not wearing uniforms to school. It’s crazy to even go to school (it’s expensive.). Canada back then seems to be a right-leaning, choice-oriented place. After all, John A. MacDonald was the founder of the conservative party.
“Viola knew I wasn’t happy at school […], so I asked her if I could borrow one of her dresses. Viola agreed, [but] she asked after school, “Well, did anybody say anything to you?” I said no. She then asked, “Did anyone turn their head and give you a second look?” and I said no again. “You thought wearing a dress would make a difference in the way people see and think about you but it didn’t. You have to be yourself, Wanda, and stand up for yourself or you won’t get along anywhere.”
- This rather laconic passage had me mumbling praises under my breath. This was the first story that was directly about only Viola herself. This wasn’t an autobiography or had much information prior for me to learn about what kind of person she was. This passage highlighted immediately that she was a wise, bold, and prudent person. Wanda was struggling to find friends at school and wanted to change her usual appearance to attract people, and Viola knew it wouldn’t work. Instead of simply telling Wanda, she let her learn for herself and taught a valuable lesson along the way. As we already know, Viola was an influential black activist. She not only stood for her race, but she stood for individual identity. In my opinion, being yourself is one of the most cliche yet one of the more difficult things to do. Viola not only stood for herself and her race, but made sure that her family did too.
- Wanda was afraid and didn’t seem to mind the status quo of no change in getting rid of racism, but Viola wanted Wanda to be proud of the way she was born. In the previous pages, there are stories of black people who supported and shared views like Wanda’s and some Viola’s. I feel like the victims of racism at this time in Canada either endured and lived with it or stood for themselves despite the physical and mental risks that came with it, which says something about the development of Canadian Identity.
“My husband abandoned me and left me without financial support […] I resorted to using candles for light and a wood-burning potbelly stove for heat and cooking meals. […] I contacted the city’s family services to apply for financial assistance in the form of food coupons to purchase groceries. […] U remember [being told]: “You don’t deserve assistance unless you help yourself.” […] Viola asked me if I had sought assistance from family services and I told her about the conversation. […] Viola entered the room and, after excusing herself for the interruption, she spoke to the mayor and described what had transpired between the caseworker and myself. She told him it was a life and death situation. The mayor thanked her for bringing the matter to his attention but indicated nothing could be done until the following Monday. Viola replied in her soft but insistent matter: “that’s fine, but you should know, children die on Saturdays too.”
- This story left me astonished. Wanda, again, being a victim of discrimination at a time of serious need by the government, turned to Viola who stood up for her. By this point, I already have established huge respect for Viola’s bravery and strength in character. In previous years of my own life, I was told many times in different situations that it’s best to just ignore some of the world’s injustice as it may aggravate the people causing it to do more harm. As a result, I have learned to stand up to my own beliefs and not be ashamed to express concern for what I do not think is right. It could be seen as defiant, but I always wondered how I could do so without seeming disrespectful. This passage made me think that by the time I finish this book, Viola Desmond may have given me an answer to standing up for oneself while keeping composure.
- I already knew that racism was “normal” everywhere back then. Now, this has been even further confirmed in this passage as the governmental levels have expressed disrespect to Wanda at a life or death situation. It proves that people of power and authority held these beliefs as well (as I expected), and expressed them rudely. It also shows that there are people who stand up for it as well, Viola, which brings me joy.
“Miss, you can’t sit here because your ticket is for the upstairs balcony.” My sister said she would change her ticket and she went back to the cashier who told her, “I would like this exchanged for a downstairs ticket.” The cashier replied: “We are not allowed to sell downstairs tickets to you people.”
- This is the passage that was the beginning of the event Viola Desmond is most known for. Her theatre incident. I have only heard and been told that Viola stood up for herself at a movie theatre when she was denied seating. I thought that the theatre sold her the tickets but patrons within the theatre might’ve displayed disgust, but it was actually quite worse. They sold her the ticket, let her be a victim of racism when she entered the theatre, and then went on to say that they cannot sell her anything because she is black. It was astounding to read further into this chapter.
- I now know that Governmental level people, white people in local communities, and public accommodations were all accustomed to this act of racial segregation. Although Halifax may have not been as bad as other places in Canada, for sure this is heartbreaking to know that it was normal back in the days.
- Theme: What overall theme or piece of wisdom might you take away from your reading so far that you might apply to your own life? Explain.
Problems that require hardships and pain to resolve are often the problems that achieve noteworthy, influential and satisfying solutions.