White Privilege

Commentary, Culture Wars, Gerry Bowler

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 throughout School District 74 were featuring administrators commenting on racism; in one, the image of district superintendent Teresa Downs (who appears to be a white woman) is juxtaposed to 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 is a good way to test the notion of white privilege in action: if Teresa Downs sincerely believes that she has, to use her own words, “unfairly benefitted from the colour of [her] skin,” then she needs to take steps in her own life and career.

Ms. Downs’ situation is similar to one faced by King Claudius in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. Claudius, like Teresa Downs, feels guilty about his sin and he seeks God’s pardon. Claudius knows, however, that he cannot legitimately ask God for forgiveness because he still possesses the fruits of his crimes. Claudius 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 recognizes that his words are empty: “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below.” 

If Teresa Downs is sincerely remorseful for her crime of benefitting 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 teachers whom her skin colour had so cruelly deprived of a job. To do penance, she should repay a good portion of the high salary she has unjustly received over the years. If she refuses to do these things, then she is implicitly admitting that she is a hypocrite and that her appearing on the billboard is just virtue-signalling. 

Perhaps Ms. Downs means well and perhaps she thinks this “white privilege” campaign will make society better, but it will not. Instead, it will lead to a society in which everything is viewed in terms of race. This will divide our nation and breed resentment. 

Martin Luther King dreamed of a future society where people “will not be judged by the color 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 white privilege billboard campaign, media outlets like the CBC reported, “BC school district under fire after launching anti-racism campaign,” thereby implying that people objecting to this campaign were motivated by racism. A more likely explanation is that they were offended by moral posturing of our “privileged” social elites.