Thursday, May 1, 2014

Canada’s feel-good racism

Recently, a chemistry professor at McGill University, Joe Schwarcz, posted a faked, denigrating photo of Pauline Marois on his Facebook page. Apparently, Marois omitted congratulating two members of the Canada’s Olympic hockey team and Prof. Schwarcz took offense at this. The posting touched off an outpouring of disrespectful, hateful and denigrating comments from supposedly "enlightened" Anglos. A torrent of “bitch”, “cow” and the obligatory references to the Nazis was unleashed on Facebook.

The good professor was dismayed by the virulence and intensity of the hatred and felt compelled to remove the post. However, Ariel Fenster, one of Schwarcz’s colleagues, said that the comments were a sign of the “social context” created by the PQ and its charter. He also assured us that Schwarcz was not a francophobe. If Schwarcz was surprised by the reaction, as opposed to ashamed or embarrassed, then he clearly wasn’t paying attention to the chronic francophobic drone in the Anglo media. As for Prof. Fenster’s assertion that his friend is not a francophobe, he meant, probably without realizing it, that he is not particularly francophobic by Anglo standards. But rest assured, among Anglos in Quebec and in Canada, francophobia is the default operating system.

Yes, I know, it’s not francophones that you hate; it’s just the evil separatists. It’s not racism, it’s just politics. After all, you voted for Chrétien, Charest and Couillard, how can you be a francophobe? You’ll often hear a similar thing from right-wing Americans like Rush Limbaugh in regards to Black people. Whenever an attack against Obama or any other Black liberal goes too far, we’re told that it’s not about race; it’s just politics. After all, Rush doesn't go after Black Republicans, does he? No, Blacks who defend the interests of privileged white guys like Rush Limbaugh do get a pass but a Black person who defends the interest of Black people, well that’s a different story.

You see, conservative race-baiters like Limbaugh set their clocks by the dog whistle. Nobody illustrated this principle better than former Reagan and Bush I strategist and Republican National Committee chairman Lee Atwater, in a kind of "Come to Jesus" moment shortly before his death:

You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger"—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger."

Similarly, Canadians today are also very good at hiding the stench of their racism in order to give it deniability. This is what I like to call Canada’s feel-good racism because it is generally coated in a thick layer of high-mindedness... from which to look down on Quebecers, of course. Unlike regular racism, which at least openly professes its hatred by burning crosses on people’s front yards and the like, feel-good racism tries to preserve the racist’s purity and self-esteem through the generous use of hypocrisy and double standards.

Nasty Quebec!

In 2010, Maclean's magazine published an article called Quebec: The most corrupt province. In it, the author lists a series of corruption scandals, most of which implicate Liberals and those that don't, implicate other Quebec federalists. We are never presented with any evidence that there is any less corruption in other provinces. We do, however, hear about how the PQ tried to clean things up. Why is the title: "Quebec: The most corrupt province"? Why not: "Liberals: The most corrupt party"? OK, it mentions Mulroney, so why not: "Federalists: The most corrupt people in Quebec"? 

But is Quebec really Canada’s most corrupt province? Maybe it's just that Quebec is the only province where bribery, bid-rigging and other malfeasance have been most visibly and spectacularly exposed and tackled? One can make a good case that, in fact, Quebec is the Canadian jurisdiction where the crooks are most likely to be caught.

Quebec is the only province with a permanent anti-corruption task force, l’Unité permanente anti-corruption (UPAC). It is also the first to systematically target organized crime on a large scale and disrupt its activities. And its campaign financing rules are now the strictest in Canada. On a total of 13 provinces and territories, only two apart from Quebec (Manitoba and Nova Scotia) banned corporate contributions to electoral funding. In all others, frontman schemes are unnecessary: businesses can enter into agreements directly with parties to contribute generously. Perhaps the reality is that Quebec is just stricter on corruption and people get busted for things that are legal in the rest of Canada.

In any case, a quick Google search for "Canadian political scandals" and we find a page full of them. Look at that! British Columbia has got twenty different scandals listed while Quebec has only two. But of course, Quebec can't just have a corruption scandal. It has to be the most corrupt. It can't have a big debt, it has to be just like Greece. And so on, you get the point. The boundaries that would normally exists if we were talking about British Columbia or any other province disappear and any exaggeration is permitted. What the dog whistle is saying with this type of yellow journalism and with all the other exaggerations and distortions that we constantly hear about Quebec and its economy is that Quebecers are a lesser people who would starve without the benevolence of English Canadians. The articles don't say it directly but the reader understands it and they repeat it ad nauseum to people like me.

Another good example of the grotesque distortions that we find in the Canadian media is an article that appeared in Saturday Night magazine in 2000 called Colder and Whiter: In Vieux Quebec, ethnic cleansing occurs by attrition by Daniel Sanger. In it the author bemoans the fact that Quebec City is not as ethnically diverse as it once was. He imagines nefarious reasons without giving any evidence, it's always just insinuated. He talks about the Chinese community that seems to have moved on but does not mention the Vietnamese community that has replaced it. Quebec was the gateway to Canada for a long time. Most immigrants passed through Quebec before moving west. Economic centers like Toronto and now Alberta lure people from other regions including Quebec. Sanger takes these innocuous demographic shifts and calls them ethnic cleansing. It's an abuse of language, to be sure, but it is also a racist attack against Quebecers. Just the image used for this article speaks volumes. The dog whistle is saying loud and clear that Quebecers are a bunch of nasty, racist untermenschen.

And of course there was Jan Wong's utter lunacy of an article called Get under the desk. In it she claims a school shooting at Dawson College in 2006 was the result of Quebec's language laws and our "obsession with racial purity". Even federalist lap-dog André Pratte stood up for that one. Yes, even tragedies can be exploited in order to malign Quebecers. All you need is a misunderstanding of an antiquated expression and an ounce of malice. Not so much a dog whistle here, more like a bullhorn.

More recently, the PQ's proposed secularism charter has been the focus of much hysteria. This charter, which is clearly inspired by France's secularism charter, had a controversial component which would have restricted the wearing of religious symbols by employees of the state in order to affirm the state's religious neutrality. Among francophones, the debate was over the necessity of this blanket ban. Many people, including prominent sovereignists like Jacques Parizeau, argued that it went too far. Among most Anglos, however, there was no debate only shrill accusations of racism.

The whole controversy was very similar to the controversy surrounding France's ban on religious symbols in public schools in 2004. Comparisons to France or even comparing Pauline Marois to Jacques Chirac would have been justified but instead the Canadian media went straight to equating the PQ with le Front National, a party that once advocated the mass deportation of immigrants, and... yes, you guessed it, the Nazis. The irony is that only a few years earlier, when André Boisclair, Gilles Duceppe and Amir Khadir took part in a demonstration denouncing Israel's attack on Lebanon, the always hysterical Barbara Kay asked in The rise of Quebecistan if an independent Quebec would be a friend to Islamic terrorists. Do we hate Muslims or do we love them? Both... neither... it doesn't really matter when you're just throwing your feces around as Barbara does when on the topic of Quebec.

The charter debate brought out the old accusation that Quebec nationalism is an "ethnic" nationalism. Anglos are obsessed with Quebec’s allegedly “ethnic” nationalism. The truth is that it’s only Quebec’s modern, post Quiet Revolution form of nationalism that bothers Anglos because it aspires to independence. Quebec’s pre Quiet Revolution form of nationalism on the other hand, with its conservative Catholicism and its emphasis on mere survival with no other ambitions, suited Anglos much better even though it was arguably much more “ethnic”.  

The "ethnic" nationalism accusation is especially hypocritical because it is Canadians themselves who insist on seeing us as nothing more than an ethnic group, so obviously our nationalism must be "ethnic" in their eyes. It is their refusal to recognize us as anything more than that which lead to the constitutional impasse that we find ourselves in today. Certain members of the Canadian elites at the time (Bob Rae first and foremost) denounced the Meech lake accord as being “ethnic” in its concessions to Quebec, even though it applied to the province, the territory, of Quebec as a whole and not to any ethnic group. And yet they would later approve of the treaty with the Nisga'a, which contained explicitly ethnic clauses.

Canada is a prison

So why do they do it? What motivates all of this hypocrisy, these double standards and the racist slander? What fuels the need Canadians have to feel superior to Quebecers? Obviously, there are practical reasons for why Canada would want to smear Quebec's independence movement but I think there are deeper psychological reasons as well. And I believe science, or more precisely a certain psychological experiment conducted in the early 1970's, can provide us with an answer. I'm referring to the Stanford prison experiment. This experiment illustrates perfectly why Canadians behave the way the do towards Quebec and it also explains why it is so difficult to get a majority of Quebecers to support independence.

You racist Quebecers aren't going anywhere!
The Stanford prison experiment was a study of the psychological effects of becoming a prisoner or prison guard. The experiment was conducted at Stanford University by a team of researchers led by psychology professor Philip Zimbardo. Twenty-four male students were selected to take on randomly assigned roles of prisoners and guards in a mock prison situated in the basement of the Stanford psychology building. The participants adapted to their roles well beyond Zimbardo's expectations, as the guards enforced authoritarian measures and ultimately subjected some of the prisoners to psychological torture. Many of the prisoners passively accepted psychological abuse and, at the request of the guards, readily harassed other prisoners who attempted to prevent it. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

You see, our involvement with English Canada stems from a military conquest and occupation that started in 1759. The decisions that we were allowed to make from that point on were quite limited. When we tried to break free in 1837, we were brutally beaten down into submission. For Quebec, Canada was very much a prison. At some point, we are told, it all became consensual and in 1867 we become a willing member of this federation. Of course, independence for Quebec was not an option in 1867 and Canada remained in many ways our prison. Just as in the Stanford experiment, our prison guards became accustomed to being the dominators, to giving orders and getting whatever they wanted. And just as in the Stanford experiment some of the prisoners passively accepted the psychological abuse and became subservient to the prison guards. Together, these two groups make up the bulk of the Quebec Liberal Party. Fortunately, there is a way out of this mindfuck which would be beneficial for all involved: an independent Quebec!

* First image borrowed from Angry French Guy


  1. Some years ago (in 2007, I believe), MaClean's featured a cover story which similarly bashed British Columbia, entitled, "How B.C. Became a Global Crime Superpower." (Please google it.)

    As for me, I'm not against Quebecois separatists as people, but I disagree with them nonetheless. Good people can disagree about politics or religion, for example.

  2. Haha!

    "No, Blacks who defend the interests of privileged white guys like Rush Limbaugh do get a pass but a Black person who defends the interest of Black people, well that’s a different story."

    As if Obama defends the interests of Black people...that's really funny. Your understanding of American politics is cute and adorable.

    1. I did not say that Obama defends the interests of Blacks, only that he is arguably a Black liberal. That's an F for reading comprehension mr.putridpundits.

    2. you imply that american politics is based on race when it's really based on corporate crony capitalism, race is just a byproduct used to rile up the xenophobic troops. Something similar along the lines of the /charte des valeurs/

      while your point somewhat stands up, it can be compared to things happening here on either side, it's a weak argument to make lol

    3. I did not imply that American politics is based on race. What I'm saying is that racism in American politics has become abstract and coded. In any case, it's not my argument, it is an argument that is made by many people in the US. I am simply comparing that to Francophobia in Canada. Canadians simply have a problem acknowledging this racism. What exactly do they believe all of those anti-francophone laws were about if not racism? A hundred years ago Canadians openly spoke about how we were an inferior people. Today that racism is much more coded and abstract but it is still there.

    4. Your argument might hold up better if you knew what you were talking about. Attacking people for calling out PQ racism (the charter) is like attacking people for calling out Donald Sterling's remarks. It isn't racist to call out a racist.

    5. As I pointed out, France has had a secularism charter since 1905. Marois' charter is in fact less controversial than France's charter which in 2004 included a ban on “the wearing of symbols or clothing by pupils that clearly demonstrate a religious affiliation”. That's all kids not just people who choose to work for the state. Other countries, like Turkey, have also imposed a strict understanding of secularism. Until recently, Turkey had a ban on headscarves that applied to teachers, lawyers, parliamentarians and others working on state premises.

      Of course I don't believe that Marois' charter was strictly about secularism. It was also meant as a challenge to Canada's official dogma of Multiculturalism. But for you, a guy who "knows what he's talking about", it's simply that the PQ are a bunch of big, fat racists. It's that type of simple-minded crap that I was criticizing.

    6. "It was also meant as a challenge to Canada's official dogma of Multiculturalism."

      Which still feels like a big game of semantics. What, honestly, is the big difference between Canadian Multiculturalism and Quebec Interculturalism?

      I don't think that all PQ are "a bunch of big, fat racists." I think that elements in the PQ (nameles Drainville) know that they can gain a lot politically by appealing to this "big, fat racist" demographic just as Mario Dumont did in 2007.

      In keeping with your US Politics analogy, not all Republicans are racist but they certainly get a big boost from racists.

  3. WHO are you? Do you have a facebook page? Your pieces are great!