Anti-racism posters causing a stir in Gold Trail School District

By Greg Fry
March 8, 2018 - 10:36am Updated: June 7, 2018 - 5:26pm

ASHCROFT, B.C. — An Ashcroft parent is expressing his unhappiness with a poster the Gold Trail School District (SD74) says is aimed at tackling racism in the district.

The poster in question features a photo of Superintendent of Schools Teresa Downs and reads "I have unfairly benefited from the colour of my skin. White privilege is not acceptable."

"I don't know if I found it as much offensive as disappointing where it kind of painted everybody in the same brush stroke," said Jay Duncan, a father of two daughters attending Desert Sands Community School in Ashcroft.

"I don't think it applies at the school at all. I think that she was implying that white privilege in that school is an issue. I could be wrong, maybe there has been an incident there where that is prevalent but I think right before an anti-bullying day comes out (Pink Shirt Day) that putting up something like that actually puts back what they're trying to do two steps."

He says he lodged a complaint with the school board about the poster but has yet to hear back.

There are three posters in total. Another reads, "I lose an opportunity if I don't confront racism," and another reads, "I have felt racism, have you?"

Downs says Duncan's complaint isn't the only one.

"I've had 10 individuals who've reached out to me. I'm aware there's a larger conversation happening on social media," said Downs. "The strongest sense that I have at this time is that individuals feel that the terminology of white privilege is inappropriate. It is largely due to differing opinions of what white privilege is."

She says the posters — which are displayed in schools throughout the district — were inspired by a similar campaign held in Saskatchewan last year and says they fit with work happening in the school district to address issues around racism, bias, privilege and colonization.

Downs confirms racism has been an issue in the school district of just over 1,100 students, 60 per cent of whom are Aboriginal. The school district has schools in the communities of Ashcroft, Lytton, Lillooet, and Cache Creek among others.

"I think there have been signs of racism in our schools as overt as students standing up at one point in the classroom and shouting 'white power' to more subliminal, systemic forms of racism," Downs says.

"You know, we see differences in our graduation rate and we know that is not a reflection that our Indigenous learners are less able. But there's a systemic reality we have to address."

How have the students been reacting since the posters went up in schools in January?

"Some parents are indicating that their children are uncomfortable with the posters and we certainly want to be mindful of that because we want schools to be safe and caring and welcoming for all of our students," says Downs. "But I'm also aware there was a group of students who saw some of the social media discussion that was going on and went to their principals and said, 'Please make sure these posters don't come down.' We have to be very mindful of both realities and strive to make it work for everyone."

Duncan says the poster his daughter saw left her puzzled about the meaning of white privilege.

"How do you answer that question when you don't know what the occurrence was that brought that forward?" he asks. "There's always going to be racism no matter what day and age we live in. When I went to school there, I was picked on by many different people for being white and I just packed up my stuff, put my head down and carried on."

Duncan says he's not implying awareness around racism is unwarranted.

"I think awareness is needed but I think the poster is poorly worded and it's drawing attention to everyone. But if she (Downs) benefited and she's trying to use herself as an example maybe she should have explained how she benefited and how she can make amends to correct whatever situation that was."

Despite some opposition to the posters, Downs says the district has no plans to take them down.

"There are no plans at this time to take them down. When we launched the posters, we never considered when they would come down. I think that will naturally take its course, but that will be a decision by the school district."

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