British Columbia

'Got privilege?' B.C. school district under fire after launching anti-racism campaign

Posters addressing white privilege have been put up in every school in Gold Trail district

March 08, 2018

'We are trying to acknowledge that racism does exist and that some people, as a result of racism, are disadvantaged,' said Teresa Downs, superintendent for School District 74. (Gold Trail School District)

Posters addressing racism and white privilege have popped up in some B.C. schools, raising concerns among some parents.

The posters feature phrases such as "Got privilege?" and "If you don't have to think about it, it's a privilege." They feature quotes from district administrators on their experiences with privilege and racism. 

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"We are trying to acknowledge that racism does exist and that some people, as a result of racism, are disadvantaged," said Teresa Downs, superintendent for School District 74, which covers many communities in B.C.'s Interior, including Ashcroft, Clinton, Lytton, Lillooet, Cache Creek and Seton Portage.

A new anti-racism poster campaign in Gold Trail School District schools is raising concern among parents. (Gold Trail School District)

But some parents aren't happy about it. 

When Kansas Field Allen heard about the posters, she was shocked.

She asked her son to take photos of them so she could post about it on social media and get feedback from her peers. 

"I'd say 95 per cent of the people are in favour of having the posters taken down, and that's from all races," Field Allen said.

The posters went up in schools throughout the district in January, after the school district created a campaign based on a Saskatoon billboard campaign.

"We were quite inspired and interested in the work they had done," Downs said. 

"We were also very aware of some information we had from [students] in our school district around some of the racism and prejudice and bias that they were facing, both in their schools and also in the community."

When the district approached its school principals about the campaign, every school chose to put up the posters.

The posters went up in schools throughout the district in January. (Gold Trail School District)

Downs said teaching students about racism and privilege is nothing new in the district — educators have been teaching kids about it for years.

"The dialogue is certainly not new in Gold Trail, The posters are what's new."

Field Allen said part of her concern is having to explain what these posters mean to her two grandchildren, who both attend school in the district.

"You and I can talk as adults about these posters, but what do you say to a first-grader?," she said.

Downs believes young students are entirely capable of learning about these societal issues.

"I think children have incredible capacity to observe and learn about the world around them," she said.

B.C. Minister of Education Rob Fleming said B.C. students learn about discrimination and racism from an early age. 

"Anti-racism has been a strong component in our curriculum in every school district in B.C. and should be," he said. 

"I think anything that furthers that discussion and understanding amongst our students is a good thing and that's been part of the curriculum for some time now."

Kansas Field Allen posted photos of School District 74's anti-racism campaign on Facebook to find out how others felt about the posters. (Kansas Field Allen)

Campaign never communicated to parents

Another complaint is that the campaign was never presented to parents or made public before it appeared in schools.

"They could have handled it in a lot better way than they did," Field Allen said.

The district is offering to speak with parents in person about the issue, but have no plans to take the issue to a public platform like social media.

"We really think the one-on-one, face-to-face dialogue is what is best around such a complex issue and matter," Downs said.

"We do understand that this is a discussion about race and privilege, and it can make some people uncomfortable."

With files from Dominika Lirette

The district's anti-racism campaign was fashioned after one implemented in Saskatoon last summer. (Charles Hamilton/CBC)
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