The selection of Viola Desmond as the new face to our $10 bills is already starting to raise some eyebrows.
Desmond’s story is not only powerful, but intriguing. A successful businesswoman, one of the standout movements in her life came when she refused to be relegated to the black section of a movie theatre, challenging and raising awareness about segregation in Canada.
There are, of course, some who say she isn’t as deserving as other candidates. That’s an argument with no end, though, since all of the candidates — Pauline Johnson; Elsie MacGill; Bobbie Rosenfield and Idola Saint-Jean — have their supporters and good arguments they deserved the honour.
Others, though, are saying Desmond shouldn’t be there because honouring a black female advocate for social justice in this way implies Canada is farther ahead in equality than it is.
And that’s true. Canada isn’t as close to our own self-image as a social justice leader as we would like. The battle for equal wages, equal rights and fair treatment for all is a long way from being over.
But that isn’t to say we haven’t made progress. We sincerely hope there is no theatre left, anywhere in Canada, where Desmond would be told to sit in the back.
Putting Desmond on the $10 bill isn’t a way of saying the battle for equality has been won. The message it sends is that we recognize there is a battle, and want to honour a woman who became a symbol of that fight.
Desmond isn’t well remembered, nor is the battle for equal rights in Canada. We tended to be overshadowed by Rosa Parks and the great leaders of the equality movement in the U.S.
Remember Desmond in this way not only gives her the prominence she deserves, but reminds us there is still work to do.