I was at the Alehouse last week for a pint. There was a bouncer working at the door who was of African heritage and had the same colour of skin that Peter Gilpin has.
Peter Gilpin is a man who filed a human rights complaint against the Alehouse, saying that they refused to let him into the downtown bar because he was black. See story here.
When I was younger, I was refused service at bars and in liquor stores. The most noticeable difference is that I am caucasian and so the reason for me being denied service was for failing to provide valid identification. Another big difference was my age; I was younger than Mr. Gilpin, who was 33 at the time of the incident. Nova Scotia has very strict liquor laws and there is intense scrutiny on bars to make sure they uphold them. If they don’t, they face costly penalties.
I’m not denying that racism has existed in Nova Scotia and that it continues to exist. In fact, I find this line in the CBC story to be somewhat comical: “The hearing has accepted a ground-breaking report that indicates Nova Scotia has a racism problem.”
What? Really? Who funded that report, the No Shit, Sherlock Institute?
I supposed I shouldn’t be so glib about that. There are actually people who deny that racism exists. The first step in solving a problem is getting people to realize that it exists. Getting a sense of the scope of the problem is also helpful.
Whenever an employee feels pressure to follow rules, it can sometimes seem unkind or unfair to the person that is affected.
About a year ago, I was walking up Quinpool Road toward a bus stop that was not the one at which I regularly boarded the bus. When the bus drove past me, I wondered what was going on. I looked up at the sign and realized that recent changes to the route had eliminated this stop. Even though the bus driver was mired in rush-hour traffic, he drove past me and stopped about 20 feet up the road.
When I walked up to the stopped bus and knocked on the door to see if the bus driver would let me in, he would not. The bus driver, who was an African Nova Scotian, just shook his head and drove off when traffic started to move.
Traffic was so heavy that I was able to walk a few blocks up the road to the next stop and board the bus. When I asked the driver why he didn’t let me on earlier, he told me that he is not allowed to stop the bus and let passengers board at unmarked stops.
He was just following the rules and I did not think that he was treating me any differently because I was white.
With a history of racism against black people, it is easy to understand how Mr. Gilpin can make the assumption that his race was the reason he wasn’t allowed in to the Alehouse.
Racism exists, it is ugly, and I hate it. I hate it for the injustices that it has caused and continues to cause.
Even though I have never been a victim of racism, it does affect me directly. It has led to distrust and resentment that prevents racial harmony.
Was Mr. Gilpin a victim of racism or a victim of strict liquor laws and their draconian enforcement?
Given the facts and circumstances, I would say the latter, but it’s easy to see how even a youthful-looking 33-year-old man could think otherwise.
If I were the owner of the bar, I would have a special African Heritage night with live music and invite Mr. Gilpin and his friends to come down for a meal and a pint on the house.
This, more than any ruling from a human rights commission, would work to improve racial harmony in Nova Scotia.