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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Port Alberni artist pens dystopian novel

Haven Hold by Shelley Penner is set to debut on August 25

Volunteer rescuers train for helicopter exits at Alberni Valley Regional Airport

More technical rescues mean Alberni Valley Rescue Squad members must keep up specialized skills

Three active COVID-19 cases on Vancouver Island

Since July 24, Central island has had five new cases, North one, South none

Coulson Group makes donation to Alberni Valley Hospice Society

Hospice Society holding raffle to make up for lost revenue during COVID-19

Alf Todd on a mission to fight Parkinson’s disease

Todd and group hope to raise $10,000 riding bikes to Port Alberni

STANDING TALL: For some, B.C.’s forest industry is the best office in the world

A look at the forest sector in B.C. – and those hoping for the best – amid mill curtailments

Deaths feared after train derails amid storms in Scotland

Stonehaven is on the line for passenger trains linking Aberdeen with the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow

DFO says 5 aggrieved B.C First Nations were consulted on fisheries plan

Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations calls response ‘a sham,’ adding DFO never incorporates their views

Man arrested after stabbing incident at makeshift camp near Vancouver Island mall

RCMP in Parksville report 28-year-old man taken into custody without incident

Lower Mainland woman gives birth on in-laws’ driveway

Frédérique Gagnon new son is appropriately named after Norse trickster god

Man, 54, charged in connection with fatal attack of Red Deer doctor

Doctor was killed in his walk-in clinic on Monday

UPDATE: Two dead after fishing boat sinks off southern Vancouver Island

Shawnigan Lake-registered Arctic Fox II went down off Cape Flattery, west of Victoria

Landlord takes front door, windows after single B.C. mom late with rent

Maple Ridge mom gets help from community generosity and government

Most Read