Fort Langley principal apologizes as blackface picture re-surfaces 13 years later

As photo circulates on social media, district administrators agreeing it should never have happened

A picture in a Langley school yearbook from 13 years ago has resurfaced, depicting the then-principal and vice-principal dressed as whiteface and blackface for Halloween.

Jon Bonnar, then vice-principal and now principal of Langley Fine Arts School, along with the superintendent of schools Gord Stewart have issued apologies, both echoing the incident should never have happened.

Back in fall 2006, the two school principals dressed up as each other, explained Bonnar, who is Caucasian and used blackface as part of his costume to depict his black counterpart. In turn, the principal of the day Balan Moorthy [He was most recently principal at Walnut Grove Secondary and set to take over Aug. 1 as superintendent of the Fraser Cascades School District], who is black, in turn painted up his skin white.

BALAN BACKGROUND

Bonnar called the incident “unfortunate” and described it has been a learning experience for him, after the picture was circulated this past week on social media – amid the current Black Lives Matter movement.

”This happened and it never should have,” Bonnar said. “It was wrong.”

NEARBY CASE: Blackface photo in 2017 Chilliwack yearbook sparks apology from school principal

Bonnar issued a letter to families of the Fort Langley school on June 25 saying he was “deeply sorry.”

“I understand how offensive it is to appear in blackface, and how it diminishes and demeans members of our black community. I also recognize that it is just one symbol of a long history of racism throughout our society. I take responsibility for my actions, recognizing I come from a privileged position in our society and that as a Caucasian person in a position of authority I should never have put myself in this position.”

Indicating he is human and fallible, he admitted to making mistakes, implying this was one of them.

“I am committed to unlearning and learning and being better. I know this apology letter to the community is only the first step I need to take. All students, staff, and members of the school community need to feel they are in a healthy, safe, and inclusive environment,” the principal wrote.

Issues of racist comments, actions, attitudes, and beliefs have “for too long been an unfortunate part of society,” and schools, school districts, and the broader communities are not immune from those attitudes or behaviours, school district superintendent Gord Stewart said in a subsequent statement.

“Recent events in Canada, the United States, and in our own school community, have shone a light on something far too often hidden, and are making us all, individually and collectively, challenge ourselves, our histories and our beliefs to make our society better, more equal and more just,” Stewart said, aware the picture of Bonnar was “widely” spread through social media.

“One of our then vice-principals was photographed at a Halloween event in blackface. His principal, who is black, was photographed in whiteface. Both of them dressed identically and spent the day together,” Stewart said. “The fact is, that never should have occurred.”

Regardless of the principal dressing up in whiteface, Stewart said that is no excuse.

“Dressing in whiteface does not carry the same history, emotion, and racist connotations as blackface. On behalf of the Langley School District, I unreservedly apologize to our entire school community, but particularly those that are marginalized and face challenges that those raised in privileged environments do not.”

Reiterating Bonnar’s comments, Stewart said the district expects individual accountability and responsibility.

“We also expect to learn from our mistakes, to grow, and to be better,” Stewart added. “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. The individual involved has taken full responsibility for his conduct and apologized for it.”

Stewart indicates this might not be the only local case. Other allegations have been brought to his attention via social media, and he said they will each be reviewed.

”We will not be responding through social media, but if anyone has specific, first-hand information to bring to our attention,” he said, inviting people to reach out via email to feedback@sd35.bc.ca.

“I am committed to ensuring we have welcoming, non-discriminatory schools in our community,” Stewart said, promising a public update later.

RELATED: Cloverdale-Langley City candidate attended event with blackface characters

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