Poster in B.C. schools about white privilege hits nerve with some parents

Schools in the Gold Trail District display posters of officials sharing experiences with racism

A poster campaign at a school district in British Columbia’s Interior aimed at creating conversations about racism and privilege has struck a nerve with some parents.

Schools in the Gold Trail District hung up the posters featuring officials sharing their experiences with racism in January, but a comment about “white privilege” has some parents now questioning the purpose of the campaign.

The poster at the centre of the debate features a photo of district superintendent Teresa Downs next to her quote that reads: “I have unfairly benefited from the colour of my skin. White privilege is not acceptable.”

Kansas Field Allen, whose son is a Grade 9 student at Kumsheen Secondary School in Lytton, said singling out one racial group is a disservice to blended families.

Her husband is Aboriginal, as are their children, and she said since the posters went up, one person told her as a white person she should feel uncomfortable around her family.

She said she’s also heard of at least one child who said they felt ashamed for being white.

“Racism is alive out there and our kids do need to learn about it, but they need to learn about it at an age appropriate level and they don’t need to learn about one race over another,” she said. “Let’s talk to the students and see if we can do this in a better way, a more accepting way.”

Other posters feature district staff and comment on experiencing and needing to confront racism.

Downs said the campaign fits into ongoing efforts to discuss inequality in schools and her comments about white privilege are a reflection of her own experience.

“We understand that the discussion of race and privilege can make some people feel uncomfortable,” she said in an interview. “But we are also mindful in this district that we cannot have a wholesome conversation about racism without acknowledging that racism results in some groups being privileged.”

The district serves about 1,100 students across rural communities and First Nations territories west of Kamloops. About 60 per cent of students identify as having Indigenous ancestry, Downs said.

For many years, Downs said the district has been tackling issues of racism and colonialism, and has worked to follow recommendations by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The poster campaign was inspired by similar billboards created by the City of Saskatoon last year, Downs said, and seen as an important next step from previous efforts within the district to advance discussions about inclusion.

“We work very hard to make the conversation not about individuals but our systems and our societies,” she said.

The posters have gone largely undisputed by students and the community, Downs said. In some schools, students have on their own created “Got privilege?” posters to add to the campaign.

Downs said part of the more recent criticism appears to stem from parents struggling with the term privilege.

Some comments on social media have suggested Downs doesn’t think she’s worked hard to earn her role in the community or is discrediting other white people who do struggle socially or economically, she said.

“I’m not saying that at all,” she said. “The definition of privilege here doesn’t mean high social status but just the acknowledgment that things in our society are at times easier for those who have white skin.”

Darren Lund, an education professor at the University of Calgary, said this type of backlash is not uncommon and people often prefer to stick with “colour blind” discourse, thinking that ignoring inequality and hierarchies is the way to move past it.

But he said acknowledging and discussing privileges, such as never being asked “where are you really from” as a white Canadian, is the more effective way to push back against structures that support those stereotypes.

In an era where children are seeing communities rally against inequality and support emerging for the #MeToo campaign, Lund said schools have an opportunity to bring the discussion into the classroom.

“Young people are very articulate and very sensitive to topics like this and it’s only by putting issues like this on the table, issues like racism, sexism, homophobia and privileges, that we can move forward together,” he said.

Linda Givetash, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

The Postmen collect 45 boxes of supplies for wildfire relief

Prince Rupert donations of food, water and toilet paper to be delivered to Burns Lake first

Coastal police unit operating with half its members

RCMP report to Port Edward council reveals low numbers on the coastal force

Sound of Prince Rupert’s cherry trees to be played around the world

Salvaged wood from chopped sakura trees is being crafted into taiko drum sticks

In Our Opinion: How to lose an ammonia tank— ask the city

How did a 68kg cylinder of ammonia remain unseen after multiple audits and assessments

Donation drop off tonight for B.C. wildfire victims

The Postmen have set up a three-day depot at the Moose Hall in Prince Rupert for disaster relief

This Week Podcast – Episode 98

From the Prince Rupert Golf Club, catch up on sports, entertainment and news highlights

The Northern View 2018 Readers Choice

Vote online or at the Prince Rupert office before noon on Sept. 7

Minister optimistic after 2 days of Columbia River Treaty negotiations

Canadian and U.S. officials met in Nelson Wednesday and Thursday to discuss future of the treaty

Man dies in B.C. police cell while awaiting court hearing

An independent investigation is underway after a man died while in Penticton police custody Aug. 16

RCMP appeal for tips, dashcam footage in German tourist shooting west of Calgary

The Durango crashed into the ditch after the shooting near the Goodstoney Rodeo Centre

2 nurses attacked at B.C. psych hospital, union calls for in-unit security

PHSA says that in-unit guards would do more harm than good

Former B.C. optician won’t be jailed for sexually assaulting minor

Kenneth Pilkington sentenced to 24 months’ probation for offence three decades ago

Red Cross now accepting donations for those impacted by B.C. wildfires

The Canadian Red Cross is asking for help now and in the weeks and months ahead.

B.C. program to educate parents reduces ‘shaken baby syndrome’ by 35%

Period of PURPLE Crying was launched nearly a decade ago

Most Read