YWCA Muskoka removes board member over blackface picture
The YWCA Muskoka is moving locations in December (Photo credit: Mathew Reisler)
The YWCA Muskoka has announced that Fyonna Vanderwerf has been removed from its board after pictures surfaced of her dressed in blackface.
“I want to own up to a stupid mistake made six years ago, at a family party in the Dutch tradition,” Vanderwerf said to open a statement she made on Facebook. “I deeply regret the decision to attend a Sinterklaas event over six years ago dressed as Zwarte Piet, which was part of a holiday tradition in the Netherlands for over two hundred years. Since 2014, we have learned the great harm caused to the Black community by such actions.”
When contacted by the MyMuskokaNow.com newsroom, Vanderwerf declined the opportunity to comment.
“We are learning more about the legacy of colonialism and racism in a global context,” the local YWCA said in a statement posted on their Facebook page. “YWCA Muskoka takes the concern of harm very seriously and we are working hard to practice anti-oppression, inclusion and diversity.” It was added that they will be “proactively reviewing the equity and diversity policy and procedures, social media policy and procedures” and the board remains committed to “human development, education, and training on anti-oppression practices for its volunteers, staff and representatives.”
Vanderwerf said in her post that she “fears the continuing professional consequences” from this. “Racism is wrong,” she said. “The photo was wrong. But the surreal consequences of this frighten me.”
“There is a difference between doing an action because of ignorance and how it might impact another culture and doing something out of malice to cause hurt and harm on several identifiable levels,” she added. “As someone with multiple family ties in the (Black, Indigenous, and Other People of Colour) Canadian community, being called out as a racist? For someone with over 25 years in diverse programming and certifications in inclusion, movement and health with a network of international clients and business dealings? Terrifying.”
Vanderwerf said she takes responsibility for the picture and the “cultural insensitivity” it shows. “I want to learn a positive outcome from this and become a better person because it happened,” she said. “This is a chance to educate and build awareness in a community that I love.”