Parents call on Sooke School District to do more to fight racism after N-word online defense

Three parents in the Sooke School District say they are “appalled” to see people defending the use of the N-word in a school.

In February, a family complained to the British Columbia Commissioner for Teacher Regulation after their biracial son said his teacher used the word while reading a novel aloud.

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 matters even worse was the online response to the story.

“We were amazed at the number of commentators who support the use of the N-word in the classroom,” Ambeault said. “The general theme was that they supported the use of the word because they claimed it had historical context.”

Facebook Comments under the article in the local Goldstream Gazette show people, whose profiles say they live in Victoria, arguing that such words are key to teaching racism in history. In some cases, they made fun of people who complained about the use of the word.

While others have written 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 general tone of comments was a revelation.

Jacobs, who is black and came to Canada as a child when her father was persecuted by South Africa’s apartheid government, says she knows the power and evil of the word.

Dominique Jacobs says her worst fear is that her daughter, Jade, who is in kindergarten, will be racially bullied. “I was one of the only black kids in my school to grow up. I grew up in Vancouver and was racially bullied all the time. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC)

“We lost everything because we are N-words… This word is still used today to persecute, hurt and traumatize black people. It is used as a weapon from a non-racialized person to a black person to inflict harm. damage,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs says that whenever a teacher uses the word in a classroom, regardless of context, students can be led to understand that they can also say the word. She worries about the impact this could have on her daughter, who is in kindergarten.

Jacobs, Ambeault and Sinding call on the school district to implement anti-racism and black history curricula.

“I see that there is systemic racism in our schools”

Sooke School District School Board Chair Ravi Parmar says cases like these remind us 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 to recognize that we as a school district have a lot of work to do ourselves.”

He says he can’t comment on personnel matters, but all staff at the school where the N-word was uttered receive anti-racism training. He says anti-racism training will also be offered at upcoming professional development days, but is not mandatory.

Parmar says there are other tools to dismantle systemic racism, and as a person of color himself, he’s especially passionate about having a more diverse staff. He says the district is also working to have more Black History teaching resources.

Dominique Jacobs says she knows there is work being done both locally and provincially, but “we just need it to move a little faster.”

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to stories of success within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project that Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.