Gina Kennedy was shocked when she saw the signs a group of masked men were stapling to poles Wednesday evening.
“There’s definitely racial undertones when you read that sign,” she said.
The signs read, “It’s okay to be white.” Kennedy said she followed the group for a bit and tore down the signs, but stopped after worrying about her own safety.
“I saw they continued to post them all throughout the area, every post they came to they would staple a sign to,” she said.
Halifax Regional Police were called about the incident on Halloween, but when officers arrived all the posters had been torn down.
The signs are not exclusive to Halifax. Over the past year they have popped up around the world, including locations in Canada, the United States and Australia.
“It’s part of a new kind of genre of racism,” said Alex Khasnabish, an associate professor with Mount Saint Vincent’s sociology department.
“It’s not the kind of racism we might associate with the heyday of segregation where we had explicitly violent racist language being used to demean and dehumanize people.”
The phrase is associated with the alt-right and has been widely circulated online.
“It’s part of a co-ordinated campaign that’s meant to whip up anxiety among white folks who are feeling under pressure for all kinds of things,” said Khasnabish.
He said it is not unusual for alt-right groups to appear during times of crisis or trouble.
“The 2008 financial crisis is not in the rear view mirror at all, it’s still very much with us,” he said. “People have a genuine, and I think legitimate sense of living in precarious times.”
He said during such times, alt-right groups focus on promoting a message of “us versus them.”
“It’s one of those campaigns that’s meant to create that wedge in society,” explained Khasnabish. “So we begin with a seemingly innocuous phrase like, ‘It’s okay to be white’ and then we quickly move to the vilification of immigrants, or queer people, of Indigenous people, of women.”
WATCH: ‘It’s okay to be white’ signs posted at U of T
Khasnabish said the new form of racism is more subtle, but it can be just as harmful and shows that much more needs to be done to tackle the issue of racism.
“To the extent that we’ve been good at making overt sexism, racism, homophobia etc less popular and less palatable as a society we have not been nearly as good at addressing the root causes of those things, or at addressing what real inclusion and real diversity might mean in a society,” he said, adding that getting down to the root cause is the first step in working to help eliminate it.
“The central issue here is that racism and xenophobia and sexism and other forms of hateful thinking and practice, they’re not about individual failings, they’re not about people being bad people. They are always about systemic issues, about keeping some people away from resources in power and keeping other people close to them.”