YARMOUTH, N.S. – The NSCC Burridge Campus in Yarmouth has come under fire for a life size image that was on a classroom door for about a week that had racial and stereotyping elements that negatively depicted black women as mothers.
The image on the door of the Early Childhood Education classroom depicted a black woman scantly dressed, with a coffee and a cigarette in one hand and a baby in the other arm with the caption “How not to ECE (Early Childhood Educate).”
The image was brought to the attention of the Black Educators Association at a conference on the weekend by a black student who attends the Burridge Campus.
Fells said the image was on the door for about a week.“It was brought to our attention at one of our sessions we were having,” said black educator Vanessa Fells of Yarmouth County. “When it came out there were 100 black teachers who were extremely, extremely angry and upset that that would be posted on a door at a facility that is supposed to be of higher learning.”
“It came down on Friday after some other students made a complaint about it, but the fact that this could be up on a door for a week before anybody even bothered to comment about the fact it was racist speaks to the fact that there is are larger issues going on here that need to be addressed,” said Fells.
“The issue is there is anti-black racism going on, not just at the college and not just in the education system, but in our society as a whole,” said Fells. “People are normalizing it. It’s happening so much people are just saying it doesn’t matter, why complain about it, its not going to change and if your complaining about it you're being too sensitive so we’re sweeping it under the rug and letting it happen."
“This is deeply ingrained in the history of anti-black racism that has happened for hundreds of years since slavery ended and so people see it as you're just being sensitive and overreacting when this has gone on for two or three-hundred years,” she added. “At some point we need to learn that this is not OK, and we need to learn why it's not OK and find a way that people can become educated, so students don’t have to go into a school system and see this.”
Fells said she can’t imagine how African Nova Scotian students would feel walking past the image every day.
“To them it must seem like the Early Childhood Education class is saying you know what, this is OK and there’s nothing you can do about it. This is the way the world is, and this is what we think of your community,” said Fells. “For me, I’m very angry and enraged.”
NSCC APOLOGIZES AND IS INVESTIGATING THE INCIDENT
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Oct. 30, NSCC said it is addressing the issue, calling it serious.
“We are actively investigating this issue. We are deeply committed to understanding how this activity occurred within our learning environment,” reads the statement. “This is unacceptable and NSCC apologizes for the harm this has caused. We are actively investigating the incident according to our Respectful Workplace and Learning Environment Policy.”
“The College is committed to fostering an inclusive community, one that is safe and allows for a respectful learning and workplace environment for everyone,” the statement goes on to say. “We understand that racism exists in our society and we have a responsibility to acknowledge it and address the harm it causes when it shows up in our organization.”
Rosalind Penfound, NSCC VP Organizational Development said in the statement, "We care deeply about all members of our community. Supports are available on our campuses for any students or employees who may need them,” adding "We are committed to working as allies with the diverse communities we serve to grow and learn from this issue."
Fells said she did speak to a few of the black students at Burridge about what had been depicted on the door and said, “They are extremely upset and having a tough time coping.”
“People see it as just something that happened, but what you don’t realize for people of African ancestry, when they deal with a racist event it’s like a wound that doesn’t heal because every time something like that happens its like that wound opens and gets bigger and bigger,” she said. “For the students this is a wound they will carry with them for the rest of their life and when they see something in the media or something happens to them, they are going to relive every single one of these instances that deal with racism because of the color of their skin.”
Fells said people need to understand that racist comments or actions are not just something "to get over."
“We’re living it every single day, so we can’t just get over it because tomorrow, what if something else happens? Do I need to keep taking it on the cheek and get over it? No, we need people to discuss it and to learn from it so it stops happening,” she said.
She said sometimes it can be the simplest of comments that hurt.
“I wear my hair in an afro and I’ve had people make horribly racist comments about my hair and people think, oh I’m just making a joke. What they don’t realize, if you look around our society and in the media, people of African ancestry are told almost from the day they are born that they way that they look and the way their hair naturally grows is ugly and so this is the same thing,” Fells said, saying there are ongoing stereotypes of “who and what our black community is, who are black women are and how they raise their children.”
Fells said people need to start talking and addressing these issues, otherwise it’s never going to go away.
“People need to stop being afraid to have what I call courageous conversations about race,” she said. “Talk to someone in the African Nova Scotia community. Ask someone to do cultural confidence classes. Learn and understand the history about why things like this are not only inappropriate but extremely racist and disrespectful to the black community.”