Three parents in the Sooke School District say they were “appalled” to see people defending the use of the N-word in a school.
In February, a family complained to the B.C. commissioner for teacher regulation after their biracial son said her teacher used the word when reading aloud from a novel.
While the story alone was distressing for Dominique Jacobs, Whittney Ambeault and Heather Sinding, all of whom have young children in the school district, what made things even worse was the online response to the story.
“We were just astonished at the number of commenters who are supporting the use of the N-word in the classroom,” said Ambeault. “The overall theme was that they supported the use of the word because they claimed it had historical context.”
Facebook comments under local newspaper Goldstream Gazette’s article show people, whose profiles say they live in Victoria, arguing that such words are essential for teaching about racism in history. In some instances, they mocked people for complaining about the use of the word.
While others wrote that the word should never be used —including some who say they are teachers and have other ways of giving context without using racial slurs— Jacobs says the overall tone of the comments was an eye-opener.
Jacobs, who is Black and came to Canada as a child when her father faced persecution from South Africa’s apartheid government, says she knows the power and harm of the word.
“We lost everything because we’re N-words …This word is still used today to very much persecute and harm and traumatize black people. It’s used as a weapon from a non-racialized person to a Black person to inflict harm,” said Jacobs.
Jacobs says any time a teacher uses the word in a classroom, no matter what the context, students can be led to understand that they can say the word too. She worries how that might impact her daughter, who is in kindergarten.
Jacobs, Ambeault, and Sinding are calling on the school district to implement anti-racism and Black history curricula.
‘I can see that there is systemic racism in our schools’
Ravi Parmar, the chair of the Sooke School District’s Board of Education, says instances like these are a reminder that racism still exists in our communities—and that systemic racism is at play in Sooke schools.
“It would be inappropriate of me not to acknowledge that, and acknowledge that we, as a school district, have a lot of work to do ourselves.”
He says he can’t comment on personnel matters, but that all staff at the school where the N-word was spoken are receiving anti-racism training. He says anti-racism training will also be offered at upcoming professional development days, but it is not mandatory.
Parmar says there are other tools to dismantle systemic racism, and that as a person of colour himself he’s particularly passionate about having more diverse staffing. He says the district is also working on having more Black history teaching resources available as well.
Dominique Jacobs says she knows there is work being done at both the local and provincial level, but “we just need it to move a little bit faster.”
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.