A white high school teacher has drawn criticism after wearing a do-rag to class for a school-sanctioned Black History Month activity.
The teacher wore what some students described as a camouflage do-rag to work on Wednesday at Archbishop Denis O'Connor Catholic high school in Ajax, Ont., about 48 kilometres east of Toronto.
The school's vice-principal announced over the PA system on Tuesday that students could wear them the next day as a part of a non-uniform day and "in celebration of Black History Month," student Azjani Senior told CBC Radio's Here and Now on Thursday.
Senior said do-rags are head coverings traditionally worn by black people to help preserve hair styles, and said when she walked into class and saw the teacher wearing one, she confronted him and told him it was "a bit racist" and that he should stop wearing it.
"He told me, 'No, because I'm supporting my coloured friends,'" she claims he said.
She said he wore the do-rag during the class — which she said also shocked other black students — prompting her to speak with the vice-principal.
School principal Dave Chambers read a statement to CBC Toronto, wherein he explained the idea to wear do-rags came from a Black History committee.
"The idea was brought forward by the Black History committee as a way to promote Black History Month in combination with a dress-down day. This was a club-initiated activity for students and staff, not a board-wide initiative. We acknowledge that this was not the outcome that was anticipated, and we apologize if the activity offended anyone."
Chambers declined to comment further or answer followup questions.
Senior's mother, Debbie Miles, told Here and Now she was "quite shocked" when her daughter told her about the incident.
"It's offensive and I was shocked that the school went with that decision … to celebrate Black History Month with do-rags," she said.
'A do-rag does not define what black history is about.' - Debbie Miles, mother of an Archbishop Denis O'Connor Catholic high school student
"A do-rag does not define what black history is about … a do-rag is often looked at as gang-related," she added, noting many schools have banned it. Students from Archbishop Denis O'Connor told CBC Toronto that the school usually prohibits the wearing of do-rags and other headgear.
"It is not a positive celebration of what black history is about," Miles said.
Miles said she had conversations with the school and is set to speak with the principal about what steps to take in the wake of the incident.
"We want the school to recognize and to understand the impact of that decision," said Miles.
"If it's lack of understanding and ignorance on their part and the students's part, we want appropriate steps for the students and the teachers to gain a better knowledge of what Black History Month is about."
'Not a racist school'
However, not all students see the incident as racist.
Denzel Reid, who said the idea was proposed by a student on the Black History committee, thinks the reaction has been overblown.
"I don't really see an issue with it," he said. "I don't think he meant it to harm anyone or anything. I think he just wore it to be funny."
Reid, who had a class with the teacher last semester, described him as "a nice guy."
Hamzah Basadien said he and other students "found it kind of funny."
"A lot of kids were walking through the hallways, passing by, looking into his class," he said.
Although Basadien said the incident could be construed to be racist or culturally insensitive, he's quick to point out that the high school is neither.
"DOC is definitely not like that, it's not a racist school. Everyone gets along with everyone," Basadien said, using an acronym for the school.
"No such thing as racism at DOC."