Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Québec francophones are not racist, they are racially ignorant

PQ Enemy Identification Chart
With the PQ's cynical, manipulative move and the ensuing media kerfluffle, what is going to get lost, as usual, is the middle ground of compromise and understanding.  So I'd like to make two points based on my own personal experiences as an anglo immigrant living in Montreal and doing some (though not enough) travelling around Quebec.

The first is that the PQ does not represent "Quebec".  The english media is loving this right now.  They can whip up all the Canadian anglos who know practically nothing about Quebec (except what they are told by the media) into a big, emotional righteous frenzy.  If any of you are reading this, please remember that Quebec has a wide political spectrum and that the PQ is currently only a minority government.  They are making a politically strategic move to appeal to two groups: their old guard hardline (who are a bunch of fucking racist assholes for the most part, dripping in bitterness at their own perceived failure and thus taking it out on an even weaker victim) and the mass of ignorant, uneducated proud Quebecois who love their own culture and language.  The old guard have been driving Marois quietly from the beginning and I'm sure she wishes she could get rid of them.  This Charter of Quebec Values bullshit is the perfect move for her.  She and her inner circle must have been so psyched when they saw the numbers from their study.  It appeases the old guard who believe that the only way to protect their language and culture is to attack other languages and culture, but it also is safe and appealling enough for a significant majority of white, francophone Quebeckers to accept.  The polls could be wrong, but it appears that this will help solidify the PQ's base and expand their votes in the next election.  Basically, she took a page out of Harper's book when he prorogued parliament and created the fake spectre of a minority coalition led by a party "that wants to destroy Canada".

The second is that francophone Quebec is no more of a racist society than anywhere else in Canada.  In many ways, they may actually be less racist.  What they are, though, is racially ignorant.  Remember, this is a society that was only opened up to the rest of the world a generation ago (maybe two now, I'm not sure how to count generations).  To this day, my wife, whose family is Chinese but was raised in Vancouver since she was a tiny baby (so basically a Canadian) gets greeted by people saying "Konichiwa" or "Nee hao ma".  The people doing this think they are being friendly and polite.  At best, they are being mildly annoying, at worst, offensive.  And this is in Montreal!  Imagine what it's like out in the suburbs around Quebec City or Lac St-Jean.  They just don't get to see any other visible minorities, let alone learn, work and play with them.  (This is an exaggeration, as Quebec's excellent immigration programs have actually brought a lot of different people into Quebec and I suspect that schools in places outside of Montreal are becoming more and more diverse.  And this is what is so sad about this Quebec Charter of Values, it is going to undo all that good work.)

Most Quebeckers, thus, are getting their info about other cultures via the media.  And since the media spews out fear, the natural suspicion of the outsider that comes with ignorance gets exacerbated.  How are you supposed to think about the hijab or kippah you've never met anyone who wears one?  I had my western, secular, pro-feminist doubts about the hijab myself.  Then I met two different women, one in my francisation class (another example of an excellent program for immigrants) and another in my computer science class years later.  Both explained why they chose to wear the hijab.  In the first case, she had not worn it for many years and then decided to put it back on.  In both cases, my sense was that it was really their choice and that it was important for them both culturally and personally.  I'm not a big fan of the current implementation of Islam, especially in the treatment of women (but I'm also no fan of the Catholic church and their continued condoning of child rapists).  But I am cool with those women choosing to adopt the customs of their culture and religion.

My sense is that most people in Quebec who are in favour of this charter have never had the good fortune to meet and talk with a woman wearing a hijab.  To them it is not a big deal to just take off a scarf and go to work.  I ask them to remember back what it was like when you had to speak english at work, how hateful and oppressive that must have felt.  It's the same feeling.  Why would you impose that on other people?

And that is exactly what is so outrageous about this Charter of Quebec Values.  It is a solution in search of a problem.  Nobody really gives a shit if some daycare worker or hospital administrator is wearing a hijab.  It doesn't affect how well your child is taken care of or how well the hospital is run.  Ironically, it is often the people from North Africa who speak the best french, so their headscarves certainly don't hurt french language or culture.  So what is the point?  The point is to increase votes by manipulating ignorance and fear.  Guess who did that really well?

George Bush.

Adolf Hitler.

Yeah, that's right, I just Godwined my own post.  Now take this fucking Charter of Quebec Conformity of the table and let's get on with the serious business of saving the planet from our addiction to oil.


Red Devil said...

Nice post - I agree that Qc is probably not any more racist (or ignorant as you argue) than anywhere else - but the monolithic nature of QC society makes it look like it is. In rest of Canada there is a diversity of racist attitudes but in QC it is focused and commonly held ignorance - therefore a much scarier force. Check out this interview with Bernard Landry - take note in particular of his comments about natives. The logic of 'we almost all have Amerindian blood' therefore can't be xenophobic is either a head scratcher or something deeply disturbing. Is there more to this 'ignorance' than meets the eye?

Unknown said...

That dang rabbit.