June 16, 2020 8 min to read

Why are Québec nationalists rejecting systemic racism?

Category : History, Uncategorised

So now that Black Lives Matter is back, a lot of Québec nationalists are outraged at the idea that Québec might have systemic racism despite a lot of red flags pointing to it. Why is that?

First, three disclaimers:

  1. Whenever racism is mentioned in Canada, First Nations are mentioned, but I will avoid this subject today, in part because First Nations are a federal matter, and part because Idle No More (which I fully support), their movement needs its own article while other minorities need focus on their own needs
  2. I fully support Black Lives Matter and did so the first time around. In fact, I wore a Safety Pin on my shirt for about a year and a half and operated the safetypin.ca website to try to bring attention to racism in Québec but I had to stop when more and more were seeing the movement as being anti-Trump and not being Pro-Minorities. I was getting over 20 hate comments per day from Trump supporters in the USA and no attention from other Canadians.
  3. I do not know if there is actually systemic racism in Québec. This article will not, sadly, answer the question: just why Nationalists do not think there is.

So, what are the perceived characteristics of a systemic racist society?

  • An historic oppression of a disadvantaged group based on their identity,
  • With legal protections offered to the oppressors and denied to the oppressed,
  • But in which there often also is significant social oppression outside the law,
  • And in which the oppressors gained power and money over generations by the oppression of the oppressed
  • And finally, that even today, the oppressed are at a disadvantage due to the multi-generation struggled: they get profiled by the police, they can be shot, they make less money, have less access to apartments and other opportunities.

I must be missing a lot, like being afraid of authority, being rejected for positions of authority, but I hope they can all be rolled up in the last one.

So, systemic racism in the USA

In the USA, let’s check each of the criteria, (again, excluding First Nations):

  • African Americans are the historically oppressed group based on their identity as African Americans
  • They were legally considered slaves and their descendants were the victim of segregation laws, restricted access to mortgages, banning from marriage outside their race, etc…
  • The KKK and even moderate Americans rejected African Americans until at least the civil rights movement, with lynchings, intimidation, homeowners associations banning them from owning houses, etc…
  • Denying that some white slave owners didn’t get rich on the labor of slaves and that later generations didn’t get an advantage over African Americans is foolish: there is plenty of documentation of it. Not all Whites benefited, but they did in general.
  • Today, it continues in police killings and a return to plain old racism which has continued on the back burner. If you don’t believe me, read on the “Super Predator” racist bullshit used to demonize African Americans in the press

It’s pretty clear in my mind…

But what about Québec?

  • There is a historically oppressed group in Québec: French Canadians, since 1763.
  • For long periods of time, we were denied the right to serve in parliament (see below), we were legally lower-tier citizens and in fact, in the USA, slavery abolished in 1865, and in Canada, it was abolished in 1834, but Serfdom which was the type of forced labor used on French Canadians
    (a serf isn’t the property of his lord, as a slave would be, instead, he is forced to work the land his lord assigns him for a rent set up by the lord and his firstborn son is legally obligated to take the contract. It’s not the person who is owned legally, it’s their work. It’s a lower level of slavery than was practiced prior to 1834 in Canada and prior to 1865 in the USA.).
    Well, Serfdom on French-Canadians continued after 1834. In fact, Serfdom was only abolished for good in 1940, but with a waiting period of… 42 years so that there were French-Canadian serfs legally required to work their land until 1982 or until they bought back their contract (and gain the land).
  • Many stores, companies, and employers discriminated against French-Canadians. My grandmother was arrested for trespassing in an Eaton Store as a teenager because French-Canadians were not welcomed. My father-in-law was an Ontario French Speaker who had to move to Québec as a kid to go to school in French and got his first promotion at Commonwealth Plywood on his first day of work, at age 16, just because he also spoke English while French-speakers couldn’t get promotions
  • Studies after studies show that the English of Québec gained wealth in big part by denying access to jobs, employment, and opportunities to French speakers. Not all English benefited and not all French were denied, but the general trend is clear.
  • Today, we still have racial profiling and people denied work and apartments due to their identity. The problem is that it’s no longer the French who were denied but rather the racial minorities (mainly Black Québécois) and the oppression is done both by English and French people.

Wait, what happened?

In the 1960s, we had our Quiet Revolution while the civil rights movement was occurring in the USA. The main difference between the 2 movements was that French-Canadians were a majority in Québec, so we just had to band together, reject the influence of the Catholic Church which was contributing to our oppression, and we managed to gain power in our province.

We worked hard to improve our crumbling education, we improved our healthcare and provided electricity for all (not just the urban areas with English speakers).

We broke free of the chains of oppression!

We established a large civil servant network and made sure this time, French-Canadians would get to fill its rank, not just the English Speakers.

What about the others?

Today, new immigrants of visible minorities have come to Québec to enjoy our freedom! One of the rare places where the oppressed broke free!

And many African American slaves had fled into Canada and some were lumped with Québec French-Speaking people so finally, they would get equality!

But despite Québec textbooks showing minorities early on (even in the 80s and possibly the 70s), and despite the integration of minorities into our school system and despite amazing laws for housing equality and college equality, many Black Québécois feel set aside.

Police officers tend to profile them. There are older (and some younger) French People who are racist.

Recently, we walked our dog and an old woman explained to us that she named her cat “Mohamed” because it enraged the Muslims (not the word she used) and she liked that because they are “impolite, dirty and stupid”.

A few years ago, we heard quite a few Italians Montrealers complain about how Rivières-Des-Prairies (a neighborhood of Montreal) is turning to shit due to all the new Haitian residents (and that crime would follow them).

To me and many, it is clear that there is racism in Québec. I cannot compare to the rest of Canada but studies point to similar numbers.

So why is there that much denial of systemic racism?

Because most French Québécois are proud of the system we built in the quiet revolution and believe it is a model of equality.

Many are willing to accept there is a lot of racism, but calling it systemic, in their mind, attacks the system that freed them, their parents or their grandparents from oppression back when French Canadians were the white N***** of America (I will need one day to address that book with the horrible title, but not today).

They feel that the Racism today against Black isn’t built on generations of oppression against them simply because they don’t realize that Black people have been living with us since at least the early 1800s thanks to the underground railroad and were just as oppressed than we were.

But now that the French Speakers have been free for 60 years (almost 3 generations), it’s time to help our minorities and most are willing to accept that.

But at the same time, they are not yet ready to accept that the system that helped free them is racist in nature.

I am not even sure I am ready to accept that: in my mind, the system is flawed and does not protect minorities, but I am not yet sure it was designed that way!

And yet, I do know that this is not what Systemic racism means: it doesn’t mean the system itself is racist, but that racism is systematical across the system: enough landlord deny apartments illegally to Blacks for them to feel trapped, especially when there is a housing shortage.

That enough employers discriminate against them to feel that they can’t get a job, even if we have a robust civil rights system against discrimination.

That enough police officers unfairly target minorities for them to feel unsafe.

Those Nationalists are ready to accept that racism is across the system due to the people in the system, but not that the system itself is racist.

That, in a nutshell, is why they believe in racism but do not want to accept systemic racism.

PS: What about the church?

Racism against French-Canadians wasn’t just by the English minority: the Roman Catholic church was also controlling us.

To be a member of Parliament you have to pledge our loyalty to the head of state (the Queen of England), but that head of state is also the leader of the Anglican church.

So, the Roman Catholic church would often excommunicate French Canadians who pledge loyalty to become an MP or attain any position of power requiring a pledge.

Special dispensations were often given, but often only to very conservative people.

So not all of the discrimination was caused by the English speakers, it was also caused by the restrictions imposed by the church.

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