Parents in the interior of British Columbia were shocked recently when their children came home from school with news of a new social awareness campaign: posters put up throughout School District 74 featuring administrators commenting on racism.
In one of the posters, district superintendent Teresa Downs (who appears to be a white woman) is shown beside a quote reading, “I have unfairly benefitted from the colour of my skin. White privilege is not acceptable.”
Those parents who objected to such a contentious debate being implemented without any consultation were met with abuse on social media and bland assurances from administrators “that anything that furthers that discussion and understanding amongst our students is a good thing.”
There was no acknowledgement that parents might want to have had a say in what their children were being indoctrinated into or that the whole notion of “white privilege” is highly controversial and divisive.
Here’s a good way to test the notion of white privilege in action: if Downs sincerely believes that she has “unfairly benefitted from the colour of [her] skin,” then she needs to take steps in her life and career.
Downs’ situation is similar to one faced by King Claudius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Claudius feels guilty about his sin and seeks God’s pardon. Claudius knows, however, that he can’t legitimately ask God for forgiveness because he still possesses the fruits of his crimes. He asks the rhetorical question, “May one be pardoned and retain the offence?” while clearly understanding that one cannot.
In the end, Claudius recognizes his hypocrisy in wanting forgiveness, yet also wanting to retain his ill-gotten gains – his brother’s wife and the throne of Denmark. He knows his words are empty: “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below.”
If Downs is sincerely remorseful for benefiting from white privilege, then she must resign her undeserved position as superintendent of schools, allowing her position to be taken up by one of those more worthy for whom skin colour so cruelly deprived them of the job. To do penance, she should repay a good portion of the salary she’s unjustly received over the years.
If she refuses to do these things, then she’s implicitly admitting that she’s a hypocrite and that her appearing on the poster is just virtue-signalling.
Perhaps Downs means well and perhaps she thinks this white privilege campaign will make society better.
It won’t. Instead, it will lead to a society in which everything is viewed in terms of race. And that will divide our nation and breed resentment.
Martin Luther King dreamed of a future society where people “will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.” This white privilege campaign is in stark contrast to King’s inspiring vision of the future.
Unfortunately, when the public reacted negatively to the poster campaign, media outlets like the CBC reported, “B.C. school district under fire after launching anti-racism campaign.” The implication is that people objecting to the campaign were motivated by racism.
A more likely explanation is that they were offended by moral posturing of privileged social elites.
Gerry Bowler is a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.