Peel vice-principal in “blackface”

By Patrick Hunter Wednesday November 06 2013 in Opinion
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In February this year, I praised the leadership of the Peel District School Board (PDSB) for undertaking a commitment to change the way teachers and staff are hired and to ensure that there is greater diversity in representation. The undertaking, outlined in a document called: “The Journey Ahead” is designed “to transform the work of the Peel District School Board in equitable hiring and promotion.” It would now seem that “The Journey” needs to take a few backward steps to correct some deficiencies.
I received an email from a source who wishes to remain anonymous, that included a picture of a White vice principal of a secondary school in the PDSB, dressed in “blackface” – supposedly as “Mr. T”. I was told that the vice principal was dressed that way throughout the day at the school last Thursday. The picture included two other vice principals and another man who was identified as the principal.
I was also told that this was apparently part of a challenge, presumably the best costumes for Halloween, among the group of principals and vice principals. Thus the picture was widely circulated as their entry, one can assume, as part of that challenge.
A few days before Halloween, news about actress Julianne Hough going to an event in “blackface” was well publicized. Hough apparently issued an apology the following day. This is not the first time this issue has come up. One would have thought that the controversy over this and previous similar escapades would have made it a no-brainer that this characterization is unacceptable. One would think that educators, of all people, would be more sensitive to this as an issue.
There was also another story from the San Diego area in which two high school coaches and a teacher were suspended for dressing up as the Jamaican bobsled team in blackface. The teacher was not dressed in blackface but faced the same disciplinary action.
We have spent a good portion of our individual lives trying to get the message across to White people that racism is wrong and we have tried to point out to them – to educate them – as to the way their actions are or could be construed as racist, denigrating and insensitive.
Unfortunately, the lessons still have not gotten through. If the administrators of a secondary school in Canada are oblivious and insensitive to how racism manifests itself, then there is another generation which will have failed to understand the wrongfulness of this kind of behaviour and our children – and their children – will have to spend a good part of their lives trying to educate against racism.
In an interview, Director of Education, Tony Pontes, said that he is very disappointed by this and finds it inappropriate and that the Board does not condone these kinds of actions. He offered an apology.
Pontes indicated that an investigation would follow. The outcome of that investigation, I guess, will determine what action is taken. At the time of preparing this column, that investigation had not yet concluded.
Yes, there will be an apology from the board and the individuals involved. I have no doubt the apology from the board will be genuine. The question is: will the individuals fully understand and appreciate the significance of what they have done. In my mind, the weight of this offensive depiction rests not only with the offending vice principal.
The principal and other vice principals pictured are also offenders. By implication, they too are ignorant of the significance of the offense. Indeed, other members of the faculty deserved to be reprimanded if they did not point out, at the very least, the offensiveness of the so called costume.
My fear is that they will be let off the hook with a relatively mild sanction, if any, and that will be that. That may include a requirement that school administrators attend some sensitivity training. But will that change anything?
Pontes indicated that an apology will be communicated to the parents and students of the school. One wonders how and who will communicate the inappropriateness of the action to the students?
What would have been the outcome if it were a student that had committed this infraction? Based on this example, that student would probably not have been told that this was unacceptable.
I cannot help but wonder just how much of this offensive “costuming” may have taken place this past Halloween that have not been publicized, particularly in the workplace.

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