Proposed Afrocentric School in Canada Hit With Stereotyping and Skepticism

by Latoya Peterson

Our neighbors to the North have been debating the various merits of adding an Afrocentric school to serve the needs of Toronto’s black teenagers. The Globe and Mail explains:

The Toronto District School Board voted in favour of the Afrocentric initiative in January. Plans call for a school that will begin with elementary education and run right through high school. Classes will be under way beginning September, 2009. The board will be meeting next month to hear recommendations for the location for the school as well as begin the process of hiring teachers and support staff.

Proponents of the program claim will help combat the 40-per-cent dropout rate among Toronto’s black teens by introducing curriculum and staff that better represents this demographic.

Back in February, when the debate was still raging after the January decision to move forward with the school, the Globe and Mail also published this editorial cartoon:

Charming, right?

The cartoon was widely panned by readers, who found the cartoon to be offensive.

However, the general debate over the proposed school continues to war on.

Some people believe that an Afrocentric focused school marks no less than a return to segregation:

A woman who grew up in racially segregated Alabama and nearly got expelled from college for drinking out of ‘coloured only’ water fountains, said she was crestfallen when she learned of the school board’s decision to go ahead with she believes is a racially exclusive school.

“I am grieved to see Toronto try to turn back the clock to those ignominious times of separation,” wrote Ellen Nichols, who is white and now lives in Toronto.

“I certainly have lots of experience on being black in a very homogeneously white school system (Ottawa in the 1970s and early 80s),” wrote Sandra Odendahl, senior director of environmental risk management at CIBC.

“I’d prefer to see my tax dollars devoted to community support, rather than a regressive, racist, segregated educational experiment that needs to have a stake driven through it-quickly.”

Some were in favor of a Eurocentric curriculum:

Dick Field served in the Second World War with the Royal Canadian Artillery in Europe. He said the idea of a Eurocentric curriculum working against black youth is absurd.

“It is this very ‘Eurocentric’ history and culture, so maligned by these racial advocates that has allowed all our freedoms to flourish,” Mr. Field said.

And some were worried about the plight of white students:

Alvin Stuffels expressed outrage in an initial missive and then tempered his criticism a month later.

“This decision is racist – if a white person suggests an all white school, that person would be called a racist and a Nazi,” he wrote on Jan. 17. “Our society is becoming more and more prejudice against white males, and nobody is questioning it.”

However, proponents of the initiative mentioned an important aspect to remember when discussing the idea of a school being segregationist:

Gila Gladstone-Martow, an optometrist and advocate for the school, said other segments of Ontario society had their own schools.

“As you are aware, Ontario fully funds: French, French immersion, Roman Catholic, arts-based, sports-based, native schools as well as a gay/lesbian high school,” she wrote.

So, if all these other schools are fully funded by the Ontario government, why is this school any different? And why is this school causing so much controversy?

Edited to Add:

Cynthia C of the Chinese Canuck blog clarifies some more about the proposed school:

Racialicious has a post on the black-focused school that will open in Toronto in 2009. The school is going to be sharing premises with an existing elementary school. The kids in the black-focused program will be sharing everything (including the library, lunch room, gym, etc) with the kids in the mainstream program, but will have a slightly different curriculum. The media have neglected to mention that part. They have also neglected to mention that it isn’t a segregated program, and instead, focusing on the supposed segregation and how it would be bad if the kids aren’t exposed to other cultures (wrong again).

(Thanks to Kandee for sending this in!)

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Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

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