Canada Commentary Education Opinion

A new racism in our kids’ schools

Tim Wise: on America’s far left Tim Wise: on America’s far left


Brian Henry

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) invited an American, Tim Wise, to its coming Futures Conference on Equity and Inclusive Education. Wise is a card-carrying member of the American far left, and doesn’t believe Israel has any right to exist.

Moreover, he writes frequently for the far left magazine Counterpunch. This magazine also publishes articles by Holocaust denier Israel Shamir, by Gilad Atzmon who suggests that “maybe Hitler was right,” and by James Petras who believes that the “Zionist power configuration” controls America.

Strange company for a man who calls himself an anti-racist. But in truth, Wise’s mission is to inflame racial divisions, and on May 5, he lectured Canadian teachers about the evils of “white privilege.”

Wise explains white privilege thus: “The concept is rooted in the common-sense observation that there can be no down without an up.” Or if blacks are underprivileged, whites must be “overprivileged.”

To illustrate, Wise gives a laundry list of supposed white privileges, including “not having to worry about triggering negative stereotypes, rarely having to feel out of place, not having to worry about racial profiling, etc.”

Note that these privileges are defined negatively. Obviously, stereotyping is wrong. But how does not being stereotyped amount to a privilege? Or if blacks are deprived of dignity, are we to understand that whites must have too much of it, as if there’s just so much human dignity to go around?

Of course, some people do come from a privileged background. I’d say that US President Barack Obama’s kids have a leg up on most people – and good for them! Life’s too short to worry about other people’s luck.

But the notion of white privilege is disconnected from any actual privilege. The claim is that ordinary, fair-minded and hardworking Canadians have more than they deserve – but only if they’re white.

A poor white kid with a single mom on welfare may not have breakfast, but theoretically he has a whole knapsack of privileges: male privilege, hetero privilege, ablest privilege – you name it.

Theorists of privilege fall into such absurdities because they discard individuals and see only groups; thus if some whites have been racists, all whites – you, me and our grandkids – are accountable for it.

So, for example, in Of National Lies and Racial America, Wise writes: “For most white folks, indignation just doesn’t wear well.”

Why? Because whites are morally compromised by the “genocide of indigenous persons, and the enslavement of Africans.” Obviously, no whites living today committed these crimes but other white people did and so, by the raced-based logic of privilege, whites today bear the responsibility.

Unfortunately, inviting Wise isn’t a one off for the TDSB. Much worse, the board incorporates the notion into the curriculum with learning resources such as the GLSEN Jump Start Guide: Examining Power, Privilege and Oppression.

The literature on white privilege notes that students resist the concept. Sociologists Dan Pence and Arthur Fields write: “White students often react to in-class discussions about white privilege with a continuum of behaviours ranging from outright hostility to a ‘wall of silence.’"

Pence and Fields never consider that the students may correctly perceive themselves to be under racist attack.

The GLSEN guide recommended by the TDSB instructs teachers to solicit confessions from students about “the times that they have been oppressive or have used their privilege over someone else.”

Doubtless, our kids find it hard to come up with suitable sins. To help them, the guide gives an example: planning “a trip together without recognizing that one member of the group cannot afford to participate.”

That may not sound like oppression to me and you, but it’s all grist for teaching our kids that they’re part of a system of oppression that has produced every crime from slavery to genocide. The GLSEN guide observes that students may feel guilty. What a surprise!

Things may get worse. Professors at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) and the departments of education at York and Ryerson universities are busily lecturing student teachers on the ideology of white privilege.

This hit the news back in 2010 when the media noticed that OISE had granted a student a master’s degree for a thesis denouncing Jews as privileged and racist, and Holocaust education as a Zionist plot.

It should come as no surprise that theorists who divides people into good races and bad should put Jews in the bad column, particularly as the further to the left one goes, the more common it is to find people examining race through the lens of oppression and privilege.

Because the TDSB truly does support equality for all our students, it needs to expel the notion of white privilege. It ought to start by never again invite Tim Wise to the Futures Conference.

Brian Henry is a Toronto writer and editor, with two children in public school in Toronto. He’s an occasional Instructor at Ryerson University’s G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Studies and a frequent contributor to H-Antisemitism, a scholarly forum for the discussion of the history of antisemitism. Comments are welcome at his blog:


  • Anonymous

    No state has a God-given right to exist, but especially not one founded on the ethnic cleansing of the native population.

    When Israel grants Palestinians the right to return, it will have earned the respect that it craves.

  • Anonymous

    By the way, your poll question “Does the high incidence of antisemitism concern you?” is a loaded one. It presupposes that there is a high incidence of antisemitism.

    Is this the case? I see more evidence of Islamophobia in Canada, as a recent poll revealed.

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