Defend and expand anti-racism programs

PV Editorial 

Racism – and specifically white supremacy – is deeply institutionalized in capitalist society. In fact, while bigotry and “otherness” have existed for millennia, the whole notion of “race” – that skin colour corresponds to a hierarchy of human evolution – is a pseudo-scientific view that emerged in the context of capitalist development. It was specifically used to justify the mass brutality, theft and genocide that was unleashed on the peoples of Africa, Asia and the Americas.

Since racism is so ingrained in capitalism and such a key element in the system’s maintenance and reproduction, it is something that has to be constantly tackled from all sides.

For the same reason, though, efforts to confront and challenge racism are often met with vitriol and violence.

Currently, public school programs which are designed to identify racist and discriminatory behaviours and structures, and to educate both students and education workers about how to confront and change them, are coming under sustained attack by right-wing forces. They refer to anti-racism education (often referred to as Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs) as “race-baiting” and even accuse the programs of spreading racism.

And they will use any incident as a pretext for carrying out their attack.

A recent example is from Toronto, where the tragic death by suicide in July of a former school principal is being opportunistically exploited by people who want to cut anti-racism work from the public school system. The former principal’s lawyer claims that his death was the result of abusive treatment he received at mandatory anti-racism workshop for Toronto District School Board educators, held in 2021. Specifically, the lawyer says that the workshop facilitator, a Black woman, called the man a “white supremacist” after he questioned one of her statements about the level of racism in Canada.

Immediately, right-wing politicians and pundits launched a wave of condemnation against the workshop, the facilitator and the entire notion of anti-racism education. The Conservative provincial government postured that it would be reviewing the program and funding. Distressed by the circumstances surrounding the tragic death, many other people piled on and announced their support for the government’s position. Even more people seemed simply too confused to say anything.

Except, there’s one huge problem – the workshop facilitator never called the man a white supremacist. Whether conjecture or an outright lie, that story was made up by the lawyer.

We know this because the Toronto Star’s Social & Racial Justice Columnist, Shree Paradkar, got a copy of the recording of the workshop and wrote about what was actually said and not said.

But the truth, as they say, is the first casualty of war, so Paradkar’s article – and the views and insights of many, many Black parents, students and educators – has been pretty much swept aside by the right-wing feeding frenzy. (It didn’t help that the Star inexplicably printed Paradkar’s fact-based article as an “opinion piece.”)

One of the many unfortunate results of this manufactured uproar is that, across Toronto, thousands of Black students and teachers are heading back to school without knowing whether anti-racism programs will still be intact. Will the school system protect them from racism, or will it facilitate racist bullying, harassment and violence?

While it doesn’t always wear a white hood, the ideology of white supremacy is woven into the fabric of capitalist society including in Canada. Confronting it, challenging it and defeating it will take a long struggle. Part of that struggle involves wrestling with our own behaviours and biases, forcing ourselves to recognize the discriminatory structures around us, and listening to the experiences and insights of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour.

Our schools need anti-racism programs. Our society needs anti-racism programs. And we need to defend and expand those programs, against all the lies that the right-wing opportunistically throws at them.

[Photo: Parents of Black Children press conference and rally]

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