Well, on Wednesday, May 11, news broke that Ontario Progressive Conservative candidate Stephen Lecce was a leader of a fraternity at the University of Western Ontario at a time when they ran a slave auction to raise money for charity.
Yes, I know. It’s bad.
When I think about this, I wonder whether we have considered if these folks have truly reckoned enough with their understanding of the world, their white privilege, and the implications of their past actions rather than the intent.
Reckoning is defined in the Oxford dictionary as “the act or process of calculating something.”
I’d like to invite Black folks—especially since the smear campaigns are ramping up as we head into the provincial election—to consider what Ontario’s most recent Minister of Education Stephen Lecce’s presence at (and leadership of) a slave auction would have meant to you if you were a Black student at the University of Western Ontario at that time.
He had power then. He has power now. What has changed?
And I’m not saying nothing has changed; I’m asking us to be transparent about his growth or lack thereof.
Minister Lecce, as a leader, has (cleverly) aligned himself with Black organizations that are advocating for real change and are stalwarts for the Black community, namely, Parents of Black Children. It’s an organization I have a lot of time and respect for. And Parents of Black Children released a statement regarding the Lecce news, closing their statement with, “We hope that these revelations spark conversation and transformational change within fraternity and university culture, to create safe post-secondary environments for Black students.”
But why would they? Why would these revelations spark transformational change?
Although ranked among the top 1% of universities globally, Western is known for being incredibly racist and anti-Black. There’s literally an entire book by journalist Eternity Martis, who is a Western alumna, called “They Said This Would Be Fun: Race, Campus Life and Growing Up” that talks all about how Black students who enter white spaces, like Western, suffer.
I think it's important to focus on the errors that Lecce made because the impact of those errors has a long runway. With Black students underperforming in primarily white universities because they cannot deal, many of whom ultimately drop out.
I think it’s even more important that we pay attention to the way people apologize and what exactly they are apologizing for. This, for me, goes back to the reckoning. Are you sorry that you got caught and that it was inappropriate? Or are you sorry that you were part of a culture that ridiculed and humiliated the historical experiences of people with less privilege and power than you while they were trying to get a university education?
One of the tweets engaging with this debate came from @salaciousfrump, who said, “I was at Western when he was, and I knew even then that joking about slavery was wrong because I am not insane.”
And there isn’t much else to say after that for me.
P.S. Although Western is passing the buck, saying that fraternities aren’t formally affiliated with the institution, they should consider how safe Black students could feel when there are/were slave auctions happening on or near campus.