For the first time, the White Privilege Symposium was hosted in Canada on Friday September 30 and Saturday October 1 at Brock University.
For the past 18 years, the White Privilege Symposium (WPS) had been held in the United States but it was time for the conference to come to Canada.
The conference focuses on key issues of race and racism within the world and offers dynamic ways to examine, analyze and solve the problems, stereotypes and inequalities facing minorities in society.
Kim Radersma, a PhD student in Educational Studies with a focus on anti-racism helped organize the WPS at Brock. Radersma networked with teachers from various school boards across Ontario, inviting them to the conference. Radersma was a high school teacher for 16 years in the US.
“[The WPS] focused on the heart of the issues and the core of the system of white supremacy”, said Radersma. WPS was planned in partnership with The Privilege Institution, which has organized white privilege themed conferences in the United States since 1999.
According to the Brock University press release, the founder and program director of the White Privilege Conference and a world renowned diversity scholar, Eddie Moore Jr., stated that “while many in Canada believe prejudice and racism are problems for the U.S., no country is immune to issues of racial inequality and injustice.”
Moore, who founded the WPS in 1999, said that “white supremacy, white privilege and oppression is a global phenomenon, it knows no borders.”
“By bringing this symposium to Canada, it’s an opportunity to have some really bold and courageous conversations,” Moore stated. “When we are able to share our knowledge, experience and wisdom we can come up with better results.”
It was implied by Brad Clarke, Brock University’s Director of Student Life and Community Experience as well as the Chair of Brock’s Racial Climate Task Force, that the WPS came to Brock in part due to the recent controversies surrounding the university. The task force that Clarke is a part of formed after the blackface incident occurred in the fall of 2014. A group of young students chose to be the Cool Runnings bobsled team and four of them painted their faces black to ‘suit the role’. The troubling incident wasn’t solely that the students went through with blackface, but also that students at Isaac’s, Brock’s on-campus bar, applauded the costumes. The students were awarded the grand, cash prize, despite the use of offensive blackface makeup.
Clarke explained that the task force was established to encourage “students, staff and faculty to examine and consider the dynamics of race and racism within the Brock context.” By organizing the WPS, Brock’s Racial Climate Task Force can help to influence and educate attendees at the conference.
“The longer term goal, and maybe the more worthy goal after the blackface incident, is to educate the community so that it’s not just about teaching what not to do, but more deeply understanding the historical and societal entrenchment of racism,” said Clarke.
The theme of this year’s WPS was “Academics & Activists: Advocating for Equity, Justice and Action”. It drew in a variety of keynote speakers from a multitude of backgrounds who offered diverse perspectives, coming from both Canada and the U.S. Along with Moore, the Brock press release stated that “other scheduled keynotes [included] Shauneen Pete, a First Nations educator and University of Regina associate professor; Ritu Bhasin, a Canadian lawyer and equity consultant; Afua Cooper, the dub poet who is also the James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies and professor at Dalhousie University; rap artist and anti-violence activist Jasiri X; and U.S. author and racial justice educator Debby Irving.”
Community workers and leaders, high school and university students, educators and activists from around North America and people who identify with marginalized groups were among those who attended the conference.
“We received an overwhelming response of gratitude [from attendees] because systemic racism is a very important issue to address,” said Radersma.
Megan Feit, a Prospective Teacher Candidate in Brock’s Teacher Education program, worked with nine Ontario high school students attending the conference in a breakout session.
“Through the interactive discussions and activities that Youth Action Project facilitated, [the conference] gave these students the knowledge, confidence, and leadership skills that they need to promote positive change long beyond this conference,” said Feit.
The conference featured workshops that focused on white male privilege, activism and action, race representations in the media, building youth leadership and awareness, and Indigenous community stereotypes and representations.
“One way to think about privilege is as the opposite of discrimination. Discrimination couldn’t exist without privilege, and vise versa,” said keynote speaker, Debby Irving, who is a racial justice educator and writer.