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Black Montreal high school graduate speaks out about racist text in yearbook

Black Montreal high school graduate dubbed ‘most likely to become criminal’ in racist yearbook sticker
WATCH: Black Montreal high school graduate dubbed 'most likely to become criminal' in racist yearbook sticker

A graduating student from Lindsay Place High School in Pointe-Claire is speaking out about text that was printed next to his yearbook photo.

Seventeen-year-old Michael Thomas says though the words were concealed with a sticker before the books were distributed, that it was easily removed in some books.  He said the text, “most likely to become a wanted criminal” which appears above his graduation photo, should never have been printed in the first place. Thomas explained that the words reinforce a stereotype of Black men as violent and involved in crime.

“It doesn’t feel good,” he told Global News. “It’s hard to explain. It’s just so much emotion. I feel really disrespected. Very, very!”

Read more: Mother of Montreal teen allegedly targeted in racist video speaks out

He said he wasn’t surprised that it happened, saying he faced numerous incidents of racism at the Pointe-Claire school in the five years he’d been there.

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“I was asked in a personal meeting if my father was still in the picture,” he said. “That’s stereotyping.”

His mother Robin Thomas is disappointed about the yearbook given her son’s achievements at the school, and wonders why those weren’t highlighted. She says he played hockey on the school team for many years and that he helped out kids with disabilities at the school.

“All they can see is most likely to be a criminal,” she said. “Why?

Having conversations with kids about race
Having conversations with kids about race

The mother said she is frustrated because she couldn’t protect him from the racism she believes her son faced at school.

“It makes me feel like I failed,” she said, forcing back tears. “I’m very upset about it.”

This is the second school in the Lester B. Pearson School Board that has been implicated recently in incidents involving race. In mid-June, two teenage girls who attended John Rennie High School were seen wearing blackface in a video that denigrates Black people.

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Read more: Racist video sparks condemnation, questions about racism in Montreal’s West Island

Sabi Hinkston, who teaches at a private school but has a child in the same school board, says the yearbooks should never have been printed with the offending text.

“How dare you realize that this was an issue and literally try to cover it up with a sticker?” she demanded rhetorically of Lindsay Place.

“Like literally putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound.”

Michael’s mom Robin wants the public to know that the problem of racism in schools runs deep. She pointed out that even her daughter is afraid to go to school because of it.

“My child has asked me, ‘Mommy can you home school me?'” she said. “Just because she’s 10 and she’s been called the N-word.”

Books to support discussions on race and activism with children
Books to support discussions on race and activism with children

When asked for comment, Lester B. Pearson School Board officials pointed to a statement on the school’s website which includes an apology:

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“We would like to formally apologize to our graduating student and to his family. We regret that this has unfolded and will be taking action to ensure that this does not happen again.”

Read more: Black MPs call out racism in Canada, urge all levels of government to act

The statement also includes a promise to reprint all the yearbooks.

“The recall was prompted as a result of an inappropriate category that should never have made it to print. A non-peelable sticker was placed over the content indicating the following message: ‘Our apologies, an error was made that does not reflect the values of Lindsay Place High School’. Despite taking the preventative step, we learned that of the grads who received the yearbook, a student was able to remove the sticker and unveil the inappropriate survey category. This information was subsequently posted on social media.”

Michael Thomas says he is hoping for concrete action to make sure something similar doesn’t happen again. He says he wants the public to know that the incident won’t discourage him.

“I have lots of dreams and I’m not going to let this stop me,” he said. “I’m going to achieve my goals.