Anti-Racism Campaign Fights ‘White Privilege’

Richard Liebrecht, Toronto Sun, November 7, 2010

Controversy is brewing over a city-sponsored anti-racism campaign that calls on Caucasians to recognize their “white privilege”.

At least one Edmonton city councillor says the campaign makes a point, while a Conservative politician is saying the wording is all wrong.

“A white person looking for an apartment to rent does not face similar challenges that an aboriginal person does,” said councillor Amarjeet Sohi, explaining what is meant by the phrase white privilege.

But Ryan Hastman, the federal Conservative candidate for the Edmonton-Strathcona, said he’s concerned because the campaign’s focus on white people is too narrow.

“If we try to address these issues by singling out groups, it seems to be counterproductive,” said Hastman, who posted some of his concerns on Twitter.

The City of Edmonton and 13 Edmonton organizations–including the Edmonton Police Service, Alberta Human Rights Commission and Edmonton Catholic Schools–are behind the Racism-Free Edmonton campaign.

The campaign is focused on identifying and resolving institutional barriers faced by aboriginal people and other racial groups in Edmonton, according to a City of Edmonton release.

The campaign aims to have 30,000 Edmontonians sign a scroll committing to defeating racism locally.

On the campaign’s website, racismfreeedmonton.ca, under the “What can you do to stop racism” heading, the first line reads “acknowledge your white privilege.”

“White privilege refers to all the benefits we get just for being white. Most of us are aware of how racism hurts others, but we’re not aware of how it benefits us,” the site reads.

It then paraphrases Dr. Peggy McIntosh, associate director of the Wellesley Collage Center for Research on Women, a U.S. college, and her 1989 paper “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”

“Most of us have little awareness of our white privilege. We’re so used to having the benefits that come with being white that we don’t even realize we have them. We also aren’t aware of our privilege because the system has encouraged us not to be aware,” reads the website.

The site also encourages individuals to read media critically, learn Canada’s history and listen to the stories of minority groups.

Hastman said he acknowledges racism is a problem, but prefers to overlook racial divides instead of focusing on them.

“I just speak for my gut reaction to it, which was this can’t be the best way to go about it,” he said.

Sohi said recognizing those differences is important.

“I am part of the culture, I am part of the history, I’m part of the language and part of the tradition. I must feel proud of it, and I feel proud of it,” he said.

“Everyone should feel proud of their own culture or heritage. But one is not more superior than another.”

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