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B.C. school principal, district apologize after blackface yearbook photo surfaces

A photo has surfaced of Langley Fine Arts School principal Jon Bonnar in blackface as a part of a 2007 Halloween costume.
A photo has surfaced of Langley Fine Arts School principal Jon Bonnar in blackface as a part of a 2007 Halloween costume. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

A high school principal in Langley, B.C., has apologized after a 13-year-old yearbook photo emerged of him in blackface.

The photo, which was posted to the Instagram account Black Vancouver, shows current Langley Fine Arts School principal Jon Bonnar, who was vice-principal at the time, in blackface as a part of a 2007 Halloween costume.

In a letter penned Thursday, Bonnar said that he and the principal at the time had dressed up as one another for the costume.

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The principal at the time, who is Black, painted his face white. Both men are wearing curly wigs.

Read more: B.C. school district apologizes for ‘slave day’ and blackface yearbook photos

“This happened and it never should have. It was wrong. I understand how offensive it is to appear in blackface, and how it diminishes and demeans members of the Black community,” wrote Bonnar.

Bonnar said he recognizes blackface as one of a number of symbols in a history of racism, and that the action was compounded by his position of authority at the school.

“I am deeply sorry. I am human. I make mistakes and I am committed to unlearning and learning and doing better,” wrote Bonnar.

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Nova Stevens, one of the organizers of the Vancouver Freedom March in support of the Black Lives Matters movement, said the blackface incident was particularly hurtful because Bonnar was in a position of authority.

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“If I see someone doing that as a child, I’m going to emulate, and I’m going to think that’s fine,” she said.

Stevens said it was also upsetting that a series of decision makers would have had to view the photo and approve it in order for it to be printed in a yearbook.

“They are unaware of what’s going on, they are unaware of the issues that are facing Black people, they are either desensitized or insensitive to the feelings of those kids that are going to see that,” she said.

“It shows that they think we are just a costume.”

Superintendent of schools Gord Stewart also apologized on behalf of the Langley School District. Stewart said while the other man in the photo was dressed in “whiteface,” it does not carry the historical, emotional and racist connotations that blackface does.

“Our district expects individual accountability and responsibility. We also expect to learn from our mistakes, to grow, and to be better,” wrote Stewart.

“As a district, we take matters like this extremely seriously, and examine them in the context of our beliefs and values as a school district.”

Read more: EXCLUSIVE: Video shows Trudeau in blackface in 3rd instance of racist makeup

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In the statement, Stewart said Bonnar had taken “full responsibility” and apologized.

The statement did not say how the blackface photo made it into a yearbook or why it wasn’t addressed earlier. It also did not say whether there would be further repercussions for Bonnar.