Closed-door meeting on Black women in leadership raises concerns for province’s only Black female political science professor

·4 min read

Earlier this month there were several events held in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Viola Desmond’s arrest for sitting in the whites-only section of a New Glasgow movie theatre.

One event, a roundtable discussion hosted by Toronto Centre MP Marci Ien, with Black females in Halifax on the topic of leadership, is being criticized as taking place on a “closed, invite-only basis,” by the Nova Scotia’s only Black female political science professor.

Examiner contributor and MSVU professor, El Jones expressed concerns about the discussion in a letter to Halifax MP Andy Fillmore, the sole white man in attendance at the meeting.

“It is not the role of the Liberal Party to reach into other people’s communities and determine what leadership looks like,” Jones wrote in her letter.

“Mount Saint Vincent University, where I hold my appointment, has a long history of feminist education and continues to this day to focus on the education of women. As a tenured professor in Political Studies, I am responsible for the teaching and mentorship of the next generation of women leaders. Our programs include a public policy program that is uniquely grounded in feminist analysis.”

“As the only Black woman in this field, young Black women particularly reach out to me for mentorship, advice about internships, references, placements, etc. These young Black women are both African Nova Scotian as well as international students from countries around the world. Many of these young women hope for careers in politics.”

“Regardless of my own politics, I am responsible for providing these young Black women with their best chances for success, mentorship they are systemically denied elsewhere.”

“When you make decisions to exclude the only Black woman in the province in this kind of event, you impact the access of these young women to this knowledge (I cannot attend and share notes with them, for example, find out about other events, connect them to opportunities that arise from networking, etc.)”

“They already face the multiple obstacles of being young Black women in white male dominated fields. The networking, support, and career tips these events provide would be invaluable to them.”

Speaking with the Examiner, Jones said the issue is not that she was not invited, but rather that meetings such as this one and similar past meetings in the region between government and Black community members raise concerns and can sow division in the Black community when they remain private and by invite-only.

“There is a particular infantalizing of Black people that takes place where we are assumed not to have or be capable of the same expertise as white people. When you do not recognize the hard-won credentials of Black women, you send the message that not only do we have to work more than twice as hard to achieve these accreditations, but that less-qualified white people will continue to control our access to resources even when we achieve excellence,” her letter continued.

“What message does this send to our young women leaders when they watch their mentors and elders marginalized? This is anti-Black racism, and it is specifically misogynoir when our political work is framed as threatening and disruptive and in need of exclusion.”

The Examiner reached out to Andy Fillmore for comment on Jones’ letter, whether or not the meeting was in fact by invite-only, and, if so, how the attendees were selected, and whether or not official minutes taken at the meeting and whether or not they would be made public.

Fillmore responded, writing, “I have great respect for Dr. Jones’ work and advocacy. We would have liked to have had a much larger group, but limited time, space, and COVID considerations prevented us from doing so.”

“With that said, we were grateful to be joined by women from a number of groups including Black Girls Gather; Northend Start Up and Training program or NEST, which funds micro loans to Black-owned start-ups; the Empowered Women Blossom program at Hope Blooms; and others.”

“To characterize them as insiders who were only there for political purposes would be a mistake and a disservice to these accomplished women, including several PhDs, entrepreneurs, teachers, and students. In the future we hope to host a larger event to hear from even more voices.”

Matthew Byard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Halifax Examiner

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