Another way to look at Cornwallis

Edward Cornwallis stomped his way through regional council again this week.

Halifax’s foundering “founder” has perhaps achieved more notoriety by way of his repeat appearances on school board meeting agendas and in council motions than by virtue of his underwhelming lead role in the establishment of a British settlement on this shore.

During Cornwallis’s most recent return on Tuesday, council passed a motion by first-term councillor Shawn Cleary to set up an expert panel to make recommendations on Cornwallis’s continued comfy residence in Halifax’s public space. Last time council considered Cornwallis, the city hall gang wasn’t so warm to the idea of studying letting the former governor go — Councillor Waye Mason’s motion to set up a similar panel was defeated last year.

One way to look at this? Mason loosened the lid and Cleary was able to wrench it off. And good on them for it.

Another way to see it?

It has taken years of hammering away at the argument that the genocidal tendencies of Cornwallis might not be something to celebrate. And for the matter to gain purchase in council took successive attempts by two white men in positions of privilege and power.

One way to look at this: it’s a good step.

Another?

This scraping, clawing inching toward positive change is exasperating. The slog itself illustrates the inherent racism Cornwallis’s presence represents.

I might cheekily suggest that we kick Cornwallis to the curb, except curbs are public places, and that’s the problem with Cornwallis on the dot — his lionization in public space.

No one who wants to see Cornwallis and his name gone from parks and streets is making any bullshitty “erasing history” argument. Please, yes, do put him in a museum where he can take his historical, contextualized place. But for the love of little lilac buds, leave him out of public space, which should be for every one, and isn’t, precisely because Cornwallis looms around every corner.

As Haligonians have stepped up over time to speak with incensed eloquence about Cornwallis’s commemoration — among them Daniel Paul, El Jones, Rebecca Thomas, Rhonda Britton and Waye Mason — they have been not merely ignored, but taunted, bullied and targeted.

Why? A fear of cascading events, I suppose. If we remove Cornwallis, who’s next to go? If we provide context for his racist actions — adding panels to his statue plinth that say more than “Founder of Halifax” — what are we going to have to do next to make things right? If we attempt to balance out his presence with other statues, or street names, where else will the city be forced to balance the Brobdingnagian representation of white men?

Would Halifax have to add a hundred new street names? Two dozen new statues? Would council have to re-name every public building after someone not white and not male? Where would it end? And how much would all this cost, anyway!? Letterhead’s not cheap, you know!

And so it goes… The petty concerns of privilege.

But there’s another way to look at it.

Lessening the nominal grip of Cornwallis on the city takes nothing away from Halifax. It harms not one iota of our pride or our quality of life. What it adds? A sliver of acknowledgement of the racism that “founded” this city. A tiny stab against the racism that follows today. Removing Cornwallis is no end-all achievement, but it’s no small matter, either. ~~

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