07/04/2017 14:41 EDT | Updated 07/04/2017 14:51 EDT

Saskatoon Officials Stand By White Privilege Billboard After Complaints

People talking about it is a good thing, they say.

Backlash has greeted an anti-racism campaign in Saskatoon that features a quote about white privilege.

The new city campaign includes billboards of how Saskatonians say they're affected by racism, and how they're working towards stopping it.

Jim Williams, a corporate training consultant at Saskatchewan Polytechnic and former university professor, is quoted in one sign: "I have to acknowledge my own privilege and racist attitudes."

The billboard generated some heated online debate, with some commenters saying it unfairly targeted white people.

"This is just toxic identity politics. The motive here is pretty simple, If you are White, Affluent, or Heterosexual then you should feel guilty about it. Any successes you've had in life [isn't] due to merit, but gained from your 'privilege'," wrote one Reddit user.

Another commenter countered: "No one is saying that your success is due to privilege, but merely that you aren't routinely (or even LIKELY to be) discriminated against because of being a minority of any sort. No one is asking you to feel guilty about it."

"I chose my words carefully and I stand by them without hesitation," Williams told HuffPost Canada in an email on Tuesday.

The city is also standing by the campaign, which also features a video compilation of quotes from residents.

"These billboards were not intended to suggest that all people have to do the same thing or that all people are racist," Lynne Lacroix, the city's community development director, told CBC News.

Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark said he hoped the campaign would start conversations that are important for creating an inclusive community where all people can succeed.

"The 'I am the bridge' campaign helps to do this by telling stories and sharing the insights of Saskatoon residents on their lived realities with racism," Clark said in a press release.

Youtube/City of Saskatoon
Jim Williams was quoted on the controversial billboard.

'It's all called backlashing'

Sheelah McLean, an anti-oppression educator and Idle No More co-founder, said it's understandable why the signs upset some people.

"There are going to be people who feel guilt, there are going to be people who are going to feel sadness that they didn't know this information, they had never been taught it. There are going to be people who feel anger. It's all called backlashing," McLean said in an interview with CBC News.

She told the broadcaster that extensive research has proven the existence of white privilege, and that oppression felt by light-skinned or white people is not racially based.

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