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Privilege

B.C. schools use their words — badly

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https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/poster-in-bc-schools-about-white-privilege-hits-nerve-with-some-parents/article38257830/

You would think people striving to be politically correct would be more careful with their words. Not in the Gold Trail district of B.C.

There, school-kids are subjected to a poster featuring the phrase “white privilege.”

The term appears to be acceptable in the academic world, where it has several subtle definitions, such as this from Wikipedia: “White privilege has been defined by David Wellman as a system of advantage based on race. It has been compared by Peggy McIntosh to an invisible, weightless knapsack of assets and resources that she was given because she was born White in her time and place in U.S. society … ”

But outside the ivory tower it’s like an experimental virus that’s escaped the laboratory. Some people are immune to it, but for others it causes severe inflammation, i.e., “all I’ve done is work hard at my job but it turns out I owe my success to white privilege, whatever the #$@%! that is!”

Worse, the poster features the schools superintendent wearing hang-dog expression — as if she’s just returned from re-education camp — and declaring she has “unfairly benefitted” from white privilege.

So there it is. It’s not enough to acknowledge we suffer from prejudice in Canada (duh), but we also have to blame whites for it. This is exactly the opposite of how you bring harmony to people with visible differences. (And invisible differences, too, such as language.) But it’s  good news for white supremacists, who can point to the poster and other white privilege rhetoric and say: “See, we told you they were out to get us.” Then they can just sit back and watch attitudes harden all around.

Black Lives Matter, by contrast, is a positive phrase. Its message is indisputable, and invites urgent change. But it doesn’t subtly incite retribution against the police.

Réne Lévesque, the late Quebec separatist leader and a great Canadian, understood the danger of inflammatory rhetoric. He avoided turning “the English” into the official enemy of Francophone Quebec, which would have been a winning but bloody tactic.

It’s also worth noting that as of 2016 about 73 per cent of Canadians identified as white (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Canada#Visible_minority_population) . In 1996 the number was 86 per cent. The intervening 20 years is roughly the time it takes to ascend to a position such as superintendent of schools. So, it’s fair to ask how many people owe their success to “overwhelming white numbers” rather than white privilege.

And you have to wonder about the effect of the poster on students, who have been rightly taught the importance of equality and fellowship from the get-go. Are white students to disregard their achievements because they’ve benefitted from “white privilege”? Are nonwhites to stop trying as hard because they now know — from authorities — that the deck is stacked against them? Should they ostracize their white classmates? Should all the kids be issued colour swatches to help determine their skin colour and therefore whether or not they are the enemy?

And none of this is news. White privilege is just a fancy way of saying something thoughtful Canadians already know and want to eradicate.

I like the old messaging better: we’re the same, we’re all in this together, let’s help each other out.

It takes time to sink in and I wish it didn’t, but it’s the better alternative.

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1 comment on “Privilege

  1. James Pogue

    At this point in the game I qualify as an old white guy. And I’m not above playing the old-white-guy card if it helps me get what I legitimately believe I deserve. Like, for instance, a little respect or quality service at a bank. I promise I won’t misuse this card . I’ll just keep it up my sleeve until I need it.

    Liked by 1 person

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