Anti-racism campaign in B.C. school district draws backlash from parents

Prompted a needed if uncomfortable conversation regarding one’s respective advantages or disadvantages:

An anti-racism program in a rural B.C. school district has caused an uproar among some parents.

In January, administration for School District 74 — which includes Cache Creek, Ashcroft and nearby smaller communities — plastered anti-racism posters in the halls and classrooms of the elementary and high schools in the area. The posters feature administration members reflecting on racism, in their own words.

Fair enough, say critical parents. But one poster featuring the superintendent of schools, Teresa Downs, is being seen as a step too far.

“I have unfairly benefited from the colour of my skin. White privilege is not acceptable,” reads the poster.

Downs, who has worked in education for 16 years and as superintendent for seven, says the administration was inspired by a billboard campaign in Saskatoon and felt compelled to do something similar in a school district with 60 per cent Indigenous children.

“We’re doing things to improve the sense of belonging and cultural safety for students of Indigenous ancestry,” said Downs. “So conversations on racism, privilege and prejudice are important for us to have.”

Downs says the school board understands that discussions about race and privilege can make some people uncomfortable, “but we truly believe that education and dialogue is what is really needed.”

Gil Anderson, a 37-year-old father of three, says life in the Gold Trail district has been “pretty harmonious” since he moved there from Nanaimo in 1997.

But the posters have caused unrest. Anderson says there was no notice given to parents about the posters, and he considers the wording of Downs’s is problematic.

“I teach my kids equality. I teach them tolerance. They know they’re no better being white than anybody is being a different colour,” said Anderson, who works the evening shift operating equipment for a local company. “(The poster) singles out people of a certain colour.”

Anderson isn’t the only parent to raise the issue both online and with the school board. While Downs says only four parents have voiced their concerns, the furor online has been more widespread.

A letter written by another parent to the school board obtained by Postmedia is critical of the administration’s “race-driven” policies and questions the children’s ability to grasp complicated social concepts like privilege.

“Children have innocent souls,” it reads. “I feel you have no moral ground to try to brainwash my children into thinking how you want them to.”

Downs says that concerned parents are free to speak to school administration privately, but Anderson and others believe there should be a public forum to discuss the controversial topic.

In Canadian academia, white privilege is typically defined as “the unquestioned and unearned set of advantages, entitlements, benefits and choices bestowed upon people solely because they are white. Generally white people who experience such privilege do so without being conscious of it.”

Source: Anti-racism campaign in B.C. school district draws backlash from parents

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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