Art, Canada, CanLit, History, Top Stories

The Furore Over a Quebec Theatre Production Has Missed the Point

Quebec is a bastion of North American progressivism. Canada’s only majority-Francophone province is a place where postsecondary education is heavily subsidized, unions remain powerful, the social safety net is thick, and the power grid is fuelled by green hydroelectric energy. Given all this, it might have surprised some outside observers to learn that Quebec briefly played host this summer to a theatrical production described by one prominent artist as “reminiscent of blackface minstrel shows.”

The controversy sprang to popular attention when Montreal’s Jazz Festival canceled the remaining performances of SLAV, in which a white star (surrounding by a largely white cast) performed songs composed by black slaves. Director Robert Lepage, a giant of the Quebec stage, denounced the decision as “a direct blow” to his artistic freedom. But activists within Quebec’s black community described the cancelation as necessary. “I am not the type to scream about cultural appropriation, but this project left me with an acrid aftertaste,” Québécois rapper Webster wrote in Le Devoir. “How many will benefit from black cultural heritage set to stage so skillfully as profits will probably never trickle down to members of that community?”

It is tempting to lump this episode in with similar controversies that have played out in other North American cities but, as described below, the particular history of Quebec, and the Montreal Jazz festival in particular, show why this controversy cannot be chalked up to mere political correctness.

*  *  *

The creation of Montreal’s now world famous Jazz Festival in 1980 followed a tradition of successful black-run community events in the city, organized by artists such as Charles Biddle and Rouè-Doudou Boicel. In the latter case, his Order of Montreal biography describes him as having “paved the way for the [Jazz] Festival”—a somewhat sanitized take on what really happened.

Roue Doudou Boicel

In fact, Boicel’s Rising Sun Celebrity Jazz Club burned down in 1990. A black native of Guyana, he was never able to compete with the government-backed creators of Montreal’s Jazz festival, who were mostly well-connected white Francophones. As Boicel told an arts magazine in 2008:

“I didn’t get any help from the city or the provincial and federal governments. They told me they didn’t want to support American culture. I told them [that Montreal-born jazz icon] Oscar Peterson was in my festival. They told me, ‘He’s an American.’ Now they spend millions and millions to promote international artists — which are American artists…The whole thing, I believe, is because I’m black. I’m not Québécois pure laine.”

The last two words—which translate as “pure wool”—is a commonly used in the Québécois idiom to describe the special status informally reserved for families that descend from the original settlement of New France in the 17th century. Anglos, Jews, Muslims, people of colour, immigrants and refugees still find themselves situated outside this club. And it is this fact that helps explain the seeming paradox of Quebec society: an ideologically progressive welfare state that often seems jarringly monocultural when it comes to cultural issues.

Montreal’s International Jazz Festival

One of the reasons Québécois society still has so many rough edges when it comes to multiculturalism is that it retained its character as a rural, agrarian, somewhat closed-off society well into the 20th century. The province’s “Quiet Revolution,” which began in the early 1960s, emancipated French Canadians from the crushing social conservatism of the Catholic Church. In the space of just a few decades, a politically quiescent farming province was modernized and secularized. A new generation of Francophones took their place as business leaders, equalizing power with an English-speaking Montreal-based minority that had controlled Quebec’s most profitable industries for generations. But the revolution worked a little too well, some would argue—because the elites who took control of Quebec Inc., and control much of it to this day, represent a virtual white monolith.

Yet this does not trouble Quebec’s pure laine establishment as much as one might think— because many francophone nationalists with disproportionate political influence still view themselves as history’s underdogs—a status rooted in France’s defeat by the English on the Plains of Abraham two and a half centuries ago. This aspect, too, makes Quebec unique within Canada—and, in its extreme form, sometimes can appear analogous to lingering resentment among American southerners over the outcome of the U.S. Civil War.

In their heyday, in fact, radicalized Québécois nationalists openly embraced the idea that French Quebecers themselves were so downtrodden as to constitute the Nègres blancs d’Amérique—white negroes of America. And one still hears echoes of this persecution complex in modern political commentary. The very fact that SLAV was forced to shut down its Montreal show is evidence, one prominent sovereignist wrote, of “the prosecution of our existence as a people…as if the historic francophone majority were too much in Quebec, as if French was too much as well.”

The star of SLAV, singer Betty Bonifassi, told La Presse newspaper that, after researching the history behind John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, she decided to record an entire album of African-American work songs. (She performed those works, without attracting much controversy, at the 2014 edition of Montreal’s Jazz Festival in a show called Slave Chants, Hope Chants.) “My mother is Serbian,” she added. “[They are] a people that like others in the Balkans were slaves to large empires for centuries.” Bonifassi even went so far as to confess that “we wanted to appropriate the pieces while keeping their essence.”

“I don’t understand why we had to cede to threats from a handful of people who would give us a hard time if we dared to use blackface,” wrote Louis Morissette, one of the province’s most prominent comedians, in a 2016 issue of his wife’s magazine. As I wrote at the time, such comments go beyond a mere rejection of political correctness or censorship. They seem to betray a real ignorance of history:

The practice of putting black makeup on white actors is perceived as a specific reference; a trigger, for members of black communities, to North America’s shameful history of minstrel theatre. The shows were intrinsically racist; people of colour were portrayed in demeaning, stereotypical ways for whites’ amusement.

At the time, Morissette had cast a white actor in blackface to play an Afro-Canadian celebrity on a popular comedy program. He then backtracked, and instead cast Quebec’s most prolific black actor, Normand Brathwaite, without addressing the larger issue of people of colour being excluded from Quebec productions. (A whole essay might be devoted to Brathwaite himself, who has been dismissed by some black Quebecers as a sort of tokenistic Uncle Tom figure). A year later, Montreal’s Théâtre du Rideau Vert staged a production featuring a white actor wearing black makeup. The theatre’s prominent artistic director, Denise Filiatrault, became furious when she received criticism, declaring at one point, “There will be no more black characters. It’s finished.” Such theatrical devices would, of course, be utterly unimaginable in Canada’s other (Anglo) provinces.

Like me, many Quillette readers no doubt are skeptical of claims of cultural appropriation when they target inanimate cultural artifacts such as food or clothing. But when living human beings are excluded or implicitly denigrated, it becomes more serious.

A common refrain one hears from conservatives is that activists should simply vote with their wallets, avoiding shows that they believe to be contaminated with cultural appropriation. But SLAV is one of those rare cases in which even free-market absolutists should feel some solidarity with progressive critics: the entire Quebec entertainment industry is a creature of massive government subsidies, which are justified by a perceived need to protect French Québécois culture from Hollywood’s 500-channel English-speaking leviathan. So long as that system of subsidies exists, it’s hardly unreasonable that black Quebecers believe they should be visibly represented in a marquee theatrical production about the defining tragedy of North American black history.

Moreover, the Quebec nationalists who defend SLAV on free-speech grounds seem hypocritical, given the other policies that their government has prioritized. The province still runs a language-policing bureaucracy that fines business owners who do not use French “predominantly” in public communications. No other part of Canada embraces this kind of monoculturalism so ruthlessly. Moreover no government censors forced the cancellation of performances at the Jazz festival and protests were completely peaceful. (Similarly, Lepage’s latest production, Kanata, which would have featured predominantly white actors performing Indigenous Canadian roles, also was recently scrapped after the Parisian theatre backing the project ceded to activist pressure.)

With the SLAV affair, it appears the marketplace of ideas functioned more or less as it
should.

*  *  *

The fiercest advocates of “intersectional” policymaking typically cast conflicts as overlapping power struggles between groups that have power and groups that don’t. But in Quebec, the doctrine is impossible to apply coherently, because the entire power structure is itself based on the increasingly obsolete premise of a white, French-speaking majority as being disadvantaged in the larger sweep of history and geography.

At the dawn of the Quiet Revolution, the province was almost a perfect blank slate for progressives. The power utilities were nationalized; the public workforce was unionized; secularized health and education policies were created more or less from scratch. But race was always a blind spot. The SLAV controversy shows that Quebec nationalists will continue to ignore it at their peril, and progressives who push for power redistribution along ethnic lines may end up creating fresh problems, even as they solve old ones.

Dan Delmar is a Montreal-based political commentator. His firm TNKR Media produces the Quillette-sponsored Wrongspeak podcast.

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46 Comments

  1. Peter from Oz says

    One would hope that Quebec had rough edges when it came to multiculturalism, as multiculturalism is bunk.

  2. I am a french canadian, a québécois if you prefer. While I would say there is truth in what have been writen in this article, I would like to share 3 story that I hope will provide a different angle and some context to all this… The reality reside somewhere between the article and what i am about to write.

    I hope you forgive the poor quality of my writing, on the plus side, it would be even worst if I did it in French!

    Trough the 50s and 60s, my grand father worked in the underground part of Thetford asbestos mine. Surface mining and adminstration was reserved to english speaking only. When I say only, I mean that bilingual had one language too much. bilingual would go down the mine and maybe end up as a foreman and translator.

    My grand father died at 43. The town doctor, who was paid by the mining company, said that it was of natural cause and my grand mother did not receve much insurance. She married another miner that had the same faith in his early 60s.

    Now, french canadian were not slave, but from this story you may understand where that white negroes come from. Trough the author do not mention that we didn’t invent that expression, that’s what we were call by (a minority of) english canadian when the typical “french frog” was just no enough. But do not think we were better. If it insulted us, it was because we were racist too.

    Now, that happened more than 50 years ago. I will share a story closer in time. My story:

    I growed up in a mixed suburb montreal (Laval) in the 80s and had a very different experience. Quebec was far less “segregated” by languages than it used to be. The old french-english animosity was fading away. Quebec was opening to the world, and trough this came the first “large” wave of black immigration. Prior to that black were rare in Quebec, even in a city like Montreal.

    I am too young to remember this but one day, in a bounded mc Donald, my brother jumped on a table and pointed in the direction of a black family and said “dad! look! they are dirty!” My father became red, not knowing if people would understand that it was the first black my brother ever seen. Or just think he was racist. But one did for sure: the father of the black family stood up and slowly walked to my brother and presented his hands as he said ” look, they are not dirty, they are black.” Different times…

    The Denise Filiatrault and Normand Brathwaite mentioned by the author are of that period. If you want to know how Normand Brathwaite winned the heart of Quebec, not only was he terribly funny, but he speaked with a typical Quebecer “pure laine” accent, unlike Denise Filiatrault! He sounded like one of us… because he was.

    Trough time had changed, the french-english old story were still fresh in the memory of my dad and his generation, fueling the separatist mouvement. It reached its peak in 95 with the independence referendum. Separatist lost by 65000 votes.

    Our Québec prime minister of the time, half drunk half despaired, said the time that it was because Canadian government rushed the process of citizenship for immigrants just prior the referendum. Knowing that someone who just pledged allegeance to Canada would invariably vote to stay.

    He was called a racist for saying that. And later resigned. I do not think what he said was a racist, nor do I think it was the immigrants fault, its just what happened.

    As for me in that period, I was separatist, held some degree of prejudice against english, until I traveled trough Canada. I realized that most Canadian did not even understood why we wanted to separate. They didn’t know my grandfather. I realized that they had nothing to do with the persecution of our past. A persecution, i must say, didn’t live myself.

    So, where I am going with all this? Well, yes. Most of my fellow people from Quebec are mostly what you would describe as left and broadly progressive. Where the author do a mistake is to think that put us exactly in the same bubble as the rest of the phenomenon we currently see in all the west. It would be false to think that.

    Very few progressive in Quebec would even consider open borders policy. Our brand of left would not have succeeded if it didn’t offer some form of protection of our culture. It’s not racism, we would just like our culture to survive a little more time.
    .

    • Matthew B says

      Max, I have no problem with the preservation of your culture, but as a Western Canadian, you need to understand (as ga gamba points out below) that the rest of Canada is tired of paying for the preservation of one specific culture.

      There are no laws, no subsidies, no equalization payments to preserve my culture – why is your’s so special?

      Quebec receives billions of dollars every year from equalization transfers from Western Canada. My province’s deficit each year is around half a billion dollars and we have had to cut services, increase tuitions and taxes, etc to keep up.

      The provincial government of Quebec gave Bombardier over a billion dollars two years ago – this would have erased our deficits for two years and allowed us to keep many services here in my province.

      Do you understand where the animosity and frustration comes from? Preserve your culture – but stop expecting the rest of Canada to pay for it.

      • I understand that, perequation was not implemented to serve that purpose. Not to sidetrack but I remember the time when Quebec was a net contributor to this system. It was a separatist argument at some point!

        Understand that many here find it shameful. You will be glad to follow Quebec election then. The PQ may die, Liberal, who are now way too far on the progressive side is going down. CAQ is on the rise.

        I hope Conservative will win in Canada, because The liberal spending without counting. They want to do some of the errors that PQ did in Quebec. Like the Subsidised Child Care. Does they even know how much it costed us?

        • Michel St-Laurent says

          How boring! Another installment in the never-ending bashing of the Québécois people. Hopefully, when we become independant, we will be rid of all of you!

      • Just Me says

        Matthew-

        Sure there are government subsidies to support your culture, Anglo Canadian culture.

        Both have tiny demographic bases compared to the US, which also benefits from rich philantropists, foundations and corporations funding its culture. Most developed countries, including the US, also depend on government support for their culture.

        Equalisation payments and subsidies to businesses are another issue entirely, but Quebec also has higher taxes than most other provinces.

      • Sceptical says

        I do not know enough about what equalisation payments and other transfers may be today, or how they are used to benefit Quebec and the preservation of its culture. However, I do believe that English-language Canadians owe Quebec and its people a debt: thanks to them, we feel free to insist that immigrants to Canada speak, or learn if they are refugees, one or both of our official languages. Quebec’s example helped ‘progressive’ Canadians to understand that trying to protect one’s language and culture from foreign immigrants, however well-disposed or hard-working, was a legitimate goal and not a mark of xenophobia. In the US, requiring that immigrants, legal or otherwise, speak English seems to be regarded as a grotesque violation of human rights in some circles.

      • Michel St-Laurent says

        Lord Durham rides again. Redneck hogwash!

    • Just Me says

      Max,

      good summary, félicitations!

      Just one clarification: “Our Québec prime minister of the time, half drunk half despaired, said the time that it was because Canadian government rushed the process of citizenship for immigrants just prior the referendum. Knowing that someone who just pledged allegeance to Canada would invariably vote to stay.”

      Francophone Quebecers understand this is what Parizeau meant , but anglos do not, because that is not what he actually said, he blamed “money and ethnic votes”, and they prefer to interpret that as racist blaming of Jews and ethnic communities.

  3. ga gamba says

    … the entire Quebec entertainment industry is a creature of massive government subsidies, which are justified by a perceived need to protect French Québécois culture from Hollywood’s 500-channel English-speaking leviathan.

    Ah yes, when one’s special pleadings are used against oneself. “You’re not playing identity politics the way we deemed it be played.” The same thing has been happening to black women who seemly never foresaw others, such as Indians, calling them out for appropriation of Indigenous culture. I suppose a way around that is for blacks to declare call-out culture a black thing so no else may do so.

    As it is presently there’s an interesting tension. Taxpayers of whatever race (or other characteristic) are entitled to participate, which includes anyone of any race being cast to portray any character. Just as the publicly financed stage must not be reserved for any particular group, the characters in a publicly subsidised performance must not be also, even if this results in casting declared by some to be silly or – gosh – offensive. Yes, the Vagina Monologues may be performed by the Montreal Canadiens.

    Preposterous? I agree. Yet, if all citizens are to be treated equally, tolerance of such (mis)casting of a publicly financed production of entertainment is mandated. Any actor worth his or her salt can memorise a script. “But a white fella can’t accurately portray the slave experience.” Firstly, this can’t be objectively measured. Secondly, it’s already been done for historical figures such as Queen Margaret (of Anjou) – no complaints from the you know who re (in)accuracy of this casting decision. “[D]irector Dominic Cooke explained the decision to cast Sophie [Okonedo] in what is considered to be a traditionally white role, saying: ‘Well, in the theatre we’ve been doing this for donkeys years.'” Lastly, if what you say is true, then only those who have been slaves may accurately portray slaves. And farmers can only portray farmers. Only Russians may be Russians. This upends the whole concept of acting, where one transcends oneself to embody another as the actor, sometimes with input from others, decides.

    Though I’m not a no-government libertarian, for many situations their diagnosis and cure are spot on. The government ought not be subsidising the cultural life of the nation for several reasons, including not getting tangled up in controversies such as these. That risk ought to be taken by investors motivated by whatever reason, be it profit to advancing a particular cause such as white American slaves and black English queens. I’m not opposed to its building of facilities, but they must be self-financing thereafter and hopefully what was spent erecting these is repaid over time. No further subsidies to troupes, script writers, artists, and anyone else. It’s their job to fill the seats by their own effort and talent.

    • Just Me says

      Lepage is a very successful artist who got private backing, those backers dropped him like a hot potato after the so-called scandal broke out, despite the fact the tickets were sold out.

      A government grant would not have resulted in the government backing out.

      • ga gamba says

        Investors may drop out for a variety of reasons. One ought to include a contractual stipulation to address this, such as how earnest money may not be refundable. It’s up to each party to get the contractual wording straight.

        Governments and their funded entities often succumb to public pressure, real or imagined, too, for example Ryerson University cancelled a Jordan Peterson speech and Toronto University did so too for a panel talk featuring Gad Saad, Peterson, and others. Further, public officials also play games such as imposing significant policing fees, which is the officials’ heckler’s veto. Often these have been overturned and even punitively punished by the court. Whilst courts (in the US) have reliably defended speech, often the process is slow and injunctions come after the event’s scheduled date. Let’s not ignore it’s not the officials who pay the fines but rather the taxpayer. Though vowing to support and defend the Constitution when they are sworn in, officials often breach these same laws. Until courts start punishing officials themselves, such as holding them in contempt of court, and attorneys general prosecute them for civil rights violations, they are free to act with little to no fear of personal consequence.

  4. David Tétreault says

    Mr Delmar you have no right to speak on behalf of the Québécois people. Aren’t you trying to empathize with our culture just like Robert Lepage and Betty Bonifassi tried to do with the theme of human slavery (American but mostly universal). I can’t help referring back to this Quillette article:https://quillette.com/2018/08/02/the-death-of-the-author-and-the-end-of-empathy/
    Do you realize how completely ridiculous this whole way of thinking has become?
    You tried comparing historical French/Anglo tensions with those of the North vs South in the U.S.A. but with one flagrant omission: ending slavery being the motive for U.S. civil war. Black vs white tensions have never existed in Québec on the same level as they do in the U.S. That might explain why Robert Lepage was such an easy target to the dozen or so Concordia students indoctrinated in US based identity politics. Lepage was naîve in thinking that the human experience of slavery was universal. That it should transcend race. But the ”racists” did shut him down and no one dared to defend him.
    Just another example of autocannibalism from the progressives. And you are feeding into it.

    • Just a quick correction. The Civil War wasnt started to end slavery. In fact, slave states that remained loyal to the Union were allowed to keep there slaves. The Emancipation Proclamation only applied to rebel states.

      • If the Union was not preserved and the Confederacy became an independent nation, it would no longer matter. The Union would no longer have a say. Even though historians debate which goal was primary, it seems to me that preserving the Union was paramount. The Emancipation Proclamation was a strategic move, not the crowning purpose of the war.

    • Just Me says

      Lepage and Bonefassi’s big sin was precisely trying to make the play about oppression and slavery as universals, rather than specifically about evil whites vs saintly blacks, which is unacceptable to the SJWs getting their ideology from American-based ideologues.

  5. Constantin says

    What an appalling point of view! The basic idea is: “I am not a <> zealot but draw the line when it comes to the distribution of government subsidies.” Did I get that right? One would have hoped that government subsidies for arts would be granted based on talent and public support, rather than on the principle of race based egalitarianism of outcome. I would rather have the tragedy of slavery portrayed by a talented actor than based on the bizarre notion that the concept of slavery is owned by a particular race and only a descendant of a particular race is entitled (or has the right) to do it. The logic of it is offensive. It’s like saying that only a woman who was raped can portray a victim of rape on stage. Really? When is this nonsense going to stop? I am sick and tired of shrill identity politics and off to buy Betty Bonifassi’s album!

  6. Caligula says

    Blackface unquestionably brings up images of minstelry and other degrading entertainments. Perhaps one might ask, if a black man were to play the title role in Hamlet, would anyone expect him to do so in whiteface?

    Of course, there would still be protests at having white people play black roles, but in this case a defense might be to ask why, if this is unacceptable, would it not also be unacceptable to cast black people to portray whites? If whites are to be restricted/subordinate in the world of jazz, are non-Europeans to be restricted/subordinate in the world of classical music?

    And, yes, I realize all the good identitarians will respond, “But THAT’s different!” To which all I can say is, if you want consistent principles then no, it can’t be. For if you want exceptions based on history, etc., then you’re surely going to go down a rabbit hole in trying to build hierarchies of oppressed and oppressors, forever and ever, for how could such a process ever reach a conclusion?

    And then there’s those pesky government subsidies. In theory these subsidies express the will of the people, yet in practice there will inevitably be corruption and insider dealing and (of course) political considerations. For how can democratic government ever be anything other than political?

    It’s been said that in a democracy, the People deserve to get what they voted for, good and hard. And so it is with any big, intrusive, overweening, meddlesome government: that’s what you voted for, isn’t it?

    • neoteny says

      It’s been said that in a democracy, the People deserve to get what they voted for, good and hard.

      “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

      — H. L. Mencken

  7. Chester Draws says

    “Trickle down to members of that community”

    This assumes:

    1) there is a monolithic black community to give the money to, and

    2) the Quebec blacks are entitled to money as a result of being approximately the same race as some other people, in a different country.

    If a person puts on a Bertholdt Brecht opera in Canada, I would not expect any of that money to trickle down to people of German extraction, merely because they share some alleged common ancestry.

    The whole idea that people “own” certain styles, without themselves having participated in the culture that they arose in, is pernicious.

    White people who tried to prevent black people from performing Beethoven or Mozart, on the basis that it wasn’t “their” culture would, and should, be treated with abhorrence.

  8. tessouat says

    The author seems to see the world through a very american worldview.

    He sees white performers singing black slave songs and immediatly interprets the situation as oppressors appropriating the culture of the oppressed. And to be fair, this analysis would be valid in the USA.

    However, the categories used for this analysis are not directly transferable to the Quebec situation. Unless you consider that guilt is shared on the basis of skin color, the white population of Quebec is not responsible for the oppression of the African-American slaves whose songs are used in SLAV. Also, the black population of Quebec is not the same as the one in the USA. They are mostly recent immigrants from Haiti and West Africa. Unless you consider that culture is somehow shared through skin color, it is not their songs that are used in the show. To consider that the cultural appropriation problem would have somehow been alleviated by hiring Haitian or Senegalese singers betrays a worldview where culture is determined wholly by skin color.

    The blackface scandal in Quebec is very similar in that the “problematic” nature depends on an american-specific analysis. There is no substantive history of blackface in francophone Quebec. It does not have the same connotations there that it has in the USA, where minstrel shows were a cruel way to mock African Americans. Blackface if problematic specifically because of its racist origins in the States. People who criticized québécois comedians for using brown make-up to portray black characters basically were accusing them of not being knowledgeable enough of american cultural history. By trying to impose the cultural codes of the USA to another culture, the author might consider himself a progressive, but he is promoting an insidious form of cultural imperialism.

    There is something to say about the lack of diversity in Quebec media (though things are getting better). However, I think most of what the author sees as problematic in the SLAV controversy can be accounted for by his inability to see beyond his anglo-american frame of reference.

    • Just Me says

      Well said, tessouat.

      Americans are exporting their own cultural neuroses to the rest of the world, despite the huge historical differences.

      • TarsTarkas says

        And the American SJW’s become enraged when the rest of the world rejects or doesn’t recognize their point of view.

    • Just Me says

      Tassouat –

      Just to elaborate and clarify one point.

      Blacks in Quebec are relatively new, and do not have the same history as American blacks, of course, but there is also a huge cultural difference between anglophone blacks and francophone blacks.

      The anglophone blacks come mostly from the Caribbean, the old British colonies, and so arrived here in the 70s and 80s already speaking English, integrated into the anglophone rather than francophone community, and adopted the Americanized Canadian Anglo culture. Their children are a major component of the SJWs protesting SLAV.

      The francophone blacks are mostly from Haiti and other formerly French colonies, like Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, etc. and mostly arrived a bit later.They arrived speaking excellent French, with French educations, and mostly integrated into the francophone community, and have a very different culture from the Caribbean blacks. They have been a lot less enthusiastic about adopting the militant SJW attitudes.

      • Just Me says

        One more point –

        There is some degree of resentment of immigrants who, like the Caribbean blacks, came to Quebec already speaking English, and who are seen as having made no effort to learn French and integrate into francophone culture…but that is to be expected.

        That is a point no one, either French or english, seems to want to discuss, that of course immigrants from old British colonies (India, Pakistan as well) will find it easier to retain their language and identification with Anglo culture, like their friends and relatives elsewhere, than switch to French permanently, even if they go to French schools for a while as they have to by law. But it is no surprise that it produces social tensions.

  9. Fran says

    40 years in Quebec. Tired of continual antagonism about language and the poor downtrodden French. Took my pension and am happy elsewhere. My bilingual children are in the process of leaving, even the ‘francophone’ that one of them married. Some of my best students were pur laine, and most of them have also left.

    I think the French culture in Quebec is poverty stricken, because it seems to believe that language and culture are equal, and there is not much else to Quebec culture except celebration of Jean Baptist Day. Just like any other part of Canada, Quebec needs immigrants for economic reasons. So, a French speaking Somali immigrant is preferable to any English speaking one, just so long as she refrains from covering her head. Being bilingual is an advantage in the rest of Canada, but in Quebec, English introduction in schools must be delayed to make sure francophones speak and write it like Max above. To try to make him more employable, larger businesses and corporations are required to do their internal business in French (The result: ‘move your head office’ out of Quebec). To make sure Canada is not celebrated, the law makes all leases begin on July 1 = moving day. You may not put any English sign in your business, but Chinese is OK. The law says store personnel must greet you in French, and police and snitches to turn in those who do not! It goes on and on, and a small number of activists make sure some sort of language conflict is in the media all the time, whining about the downtrodden ‘real’ Quebec citizens, and making hostile comments about the privalege of ‘les anglos’.

    A culture that must be legislated to keep it alive is not really up to much.

    • I replied to your post in the wrong box. The comment below is for you.

    • Just Me says

      “there is not much else to Quebec culture except celebration of Jean Baptist Day”

      Well that’s pretty typical of the ignorance, contempt, and hypocrisy of Anglo so-called Progressives, and demonstrates the problem the Québécois are up against.

      Can you imagine saying that about any other culture?

      • Just Me says

        Quebec has its own very flourishing cultural industries, including television, magazines, cinema, music, newspapers, radio, etc., which most Anglos blissfully ignore, living in their parallel, American-based culture, while criticizing the Québécois for being supposedly “insular”.

        It isn’t, it just doesn’t adopt American culture as its own, and so keeps an emotional distance from it.

    • Oh, Fran. I imagine you could have made an intelligent, helpful contribution, but no. You chose ugly clichés and lies instead (“the law makes all leases begin on July 1 = moving day.” – LOL). Why? You have the right to despise Québécois culture if you really want to, no one’s stopping you. No need to fabricate ridiculous reasons or come up with shameful lies.

  10. Northern Observer says

    I disagree with the authors take and conclusions. The activists in these two the three cases are practicing a form of leftist colonialism where they apply historical grievances to peoples and situations where it is inappropriate or culturally mute. This leaves aside the question of appropriation which I think is a fraudulent concept designed to monopolize ideas and concepts that can not be monopolized and belong to all peoples and cultures – Slavery being a key example.
    The Quebecois artistic community has the right attitude; don’t shame and control us with your victim narratives, we have enough of our own thanks.

    Anglo Canadians should take their social cues on this file from Quebec City.

  11. I could have said the same about some english speaker you know. Antagonism is rarely one sided. In fact I edited out one story of my text:

    It was the story of a frend of mine. Born from a French Canadian mother and a Haitian father, he came back to Quebec after spending 15 years in US and Vancouver to escape the criminality and racism he have percived over there. While abroad, he married a Hungarian woman that was speaking 4 languages and had 3 childrens with her. However, they were not speaking french… Needless to say that it didn’t turn out to be the safe haven he was hoping to find. His wife was treated like a english speaking woman that spend all her life in Quebec and never bother to learn french. His older boy was ostracised at school. So they moved to germany…

    It is illusive to think that everyone will learn two or more language when they barely can write in one properly, like myself. Friction are unavoidable and solution that actualy work are still to be found.

    Quebec should serve as a example regarding the inherent limitation of “multiculturalism”. Two hundreds year and we barely got our head above it, and thats was just two culture. And we should expect that massive influx from all around the world will not create friction?

    I am saying that without pointing finger to anyone. Its just a reality.

    About your last line: “A culture that must be legislated to keep it alive is not really up to much”

    It’s not a question of cultural superiority, but demographic. Do not think that it can’t happen to English as well. There is legislation like that in many places in the English world.

  12. Steve Phillips says

    It’s called ACTING.
    For goodness sake if it’s ok for a black man to be considered for a white role (James Bond) then what’s the fuss about?

  13. Sbed says

    I really don’t understand why Quillette agreed to publish this article. The author, Dan Delmar, who appears to be an English speaking person living in Montreal, seems to have a bunch of unresolved issues with the French speaking population of the Province of Québec. And he is using this paper to mix things up.

    Indeed, he tries to justify cultural appropriation claims made by a handful of protesters by painting a Québec society that seems to be hostile to everyone except white French speaking people. (I obviously disagree with his point of view, but that is off topic).

    In doing so, he is playing the victim playbook from the radical left. He gives birth to a power game (French speaking people versus everyone else) that is very similar to what an Identity politics leftist would promote. I thought we were trying to get away from this tribalism?

    There are many things that can be discussed about the French speaking majority in Québec. No one is perfect. The artistic community could indeed give more jobs/visibility to minorities. Improvement is possible. But when assessing if cultural appropriation claims are justified or not, this is totally irrelevant.

    In the same spirit, there is no link between a couple « blackface » incidents by a few comedians and shutting down SLAV show because of cultural appropriation. The first one does not justify the second. (Keep in mind that this is a very american issue…. up until the arrival of cable-TV in the 1970s/1980s, the vast majority of French Canadians had very limited contact with american culture (translated movies maybe?), because of the language barrier… so the sensitivity about « blackfaces » was very recently imported in the public discussion).

    Same thing for the obligation to display commercial information in stores with French using bigger letters than English. I can understand that some English speaking people do not like it… but this rule is Supreme Court tested and it has been ruled ok in regards of the Canadian constitution and its Bill of rights. It is total non-sense to use grievances regarding this law to justify cultural appropriation claims.

    The author is also very quiet about the fact that the show was not limited to American slavery. At least one song from Irish slaves was included in the show and a few videos explaining the origin of the word « slave » in Croatia. Robert Lepage clearly tried to have respectful approach to slavery… but you cannot read that in Mr. Delmar paper. (Which brings the big question: as he only seen it?)

    In conclusion, the author should have commented on the cultural appropriation claims. If only he had taken the time to explain us when he feels it is acceptable and when it is not, this could have help us make a step forward.

    If he has other critics to make of the Québec society, he is welcome to write another paper. Québec is not perfect and some of his critics could likely be legitimate.

    But again, Quebec’s imperfections (assuming that they are indeed imperfections) should not be used to justify the shutdown of any show.

    • Just Me says

      Sbed –

      Well said.

      Why Quillette published this article…maybe because, interestingly, “Dan Delmar is a Montreal-based political commentator. His firm TNKR Media produces the Quillette-sponsored Wrongspeak podcast.” ?

  14. D.B. Cooper says

    For what’s it worth – and likely, it’s worth very little – I owe the author, Dan Delmar, a degree of good language. He gives every appearance of a fine prose stylist and to his credit, at times, an able social critic, despite his regular attempts to vandalize the church of objective moral reasoning and rational argument. Of course, this has a corollary. Progressivism.

    Having said that, Delmar’s treatment of the issue has a natural taste for sophistry. At times, it could be specious, but ultimately myopic. In other moments, it was filled predominately with an occult and frequent transmission of pedestrian platitudes. But, mostly it was just a race reductionist discourse posing as a moral measuring tape for whitey. So, on the whole, predictably and uniformly progressive.

    With prior assumptions confirmed, here are a few of the more salient examples.

    A new generation of Francophones took their place as business leaders, equalizing power with an English-speaking Montreal-based minority that had controlled Quebec’s most profitable industries for generations. But the revolution worked a little too well, some would argue—because the elites who took control of Quebec Inc., and control much of it to this day, represent a virtual white monolith.

    Tell me, who would argue that the revolution worked “a little too well” on the grounds that the new generation of Francophones and English-speaking Montreal-based minority business leaders are virtually all white?

    What, exactly, is the argument that some would make? I ask, because surely you can appreciate the irony that some would take issue with a subset of English-speaking Montreal business leaders, who are themselves a minority group (your characterization, not mine), simply because they are white. When did the inclusion of a minority group stop counting as diversity? Is skin color now the mediating unit that mitigates one’s minority group status?

    If the thinking is that all minorities are minorities, but some minorities are more of a minority than others, then the Left is not simply short on logic, they are devoid of any recognition for their own bigotry.

    Yet this does not trouble Quebec’s pure laine establishment as much as one might think— because many francophone nationalists with disproportionate political influence still view themselves as history’s underdogs—a status rooted in France’s defeat by the English on the Plains of Abraham two and a half centuries ago.

    If you ever need to illustrate to a non-Westerner the concept of white guilt, you could do worse than this sentence. While, I have generally had the good sense to not countenance any concept of collective guilt, white or otherwise; it is not at all obvious to me why Quebec’s pure laine establishment would be trouble by a preponderance of white business leaders. But even more confusing is why Delmar seems to think that it might trouble the pure laine, by which he means, the overrepresentation of white business leaders is inherently illegitimate by virtue of its very existence, and therefore; anti-racists whites not only should be trouble at even the sight of a statistical disparity, but are, in effect, obligated to be.

    That is not an argument, notice, but something more like greedy reductionism. Disparities are outcomes, not explanations of outcomes. But, Delmar doesn’t seem bother by the rational asymmetry of his claims. In progressive circles, presupposing the validity of your prescriptions is less question begging than it is a sign of your commitment to anti-racism. Sophistry is a feature, not a bug. Actually, it’s more like the governing tenet.

    It should also be said that their (progressives) unfettered commitment to anti-racism is often indistinguishable from their commitment to end white supremacy, colloquially known as an emotional jihad on law abiding citizens who are gainfully employed, because… wait for it… they are law abiding citizens who are gainfully employed.

    And, of course, the cannibalization of civil society is right in Delmar’s wheel house; so, around mid-defamation of the white establishment, Delmar decides to set a new high-water mark for imaginative hypocrisy, when he disabuses the nationalistic Negres blancs d’Ameriques contingency by revoking their underdog status on account of that shit happening “two and a half centuries ago,” never mind the chronological senility of North American slavery. And just so they get the point, he reminds them, by way of telling them that they have unearned political influence privilege; although he disinclined to define how he arrived at this opinion.

    But let’s be blunt, here. It takes an inestimable amount of cognitive dissonance to circumscribe a disfavored group’s ineffectual complaints as a persecution complex of an historical grievance, while simultaneously – and almost certainly for the express purposes of – advancing the acknowledgment of a favored group’s similarly indulgent narrative.

    • Martin28 says

      Wow. DB, I’m glad I scrolled through all of the comments to get to yours at the bottom. What a great dissection.

  15. Gilles St-Gilles says

    This lead to incongruities such as a white protester (in all likelihood a Concordia university SJW) screaming at black concertgoers: “White supremacist! White supremacist!”

    One comment I read that made an impression on me was, in its original english, something along the lines of: “it’s incredible how backward and racist Quebec society is. Blackface is still a thing!”

    Being a Québécois, I had never heard of blackface until recently. I acknowledge that in the US, long ago, there used to be minstrels that pretended to be blacks and used to get cheap laughs with the crudest racist acts: “look, we’re black! Look how dumbs we black people are!”. And ever since, in English-speaking North American culture, for whites to use black make-up became blackface, and a **total**, unspeakable taboo. But the thing is, there is nothing universal about this strange obsession. For people outside of this culture, applying black make-up is no different than putting on a wig, or a fake belly. No, blackface is not still a thing. That’s something a culturally myopic person, unaware that there may be people who do not share her own narrow cultural universe, would say. See, actually, blackface has never been a thing!

    So a few years ago on Quebec (French) TV, a comedian in a gala briefly impersonated other stand-up comics. And that included Boucar Diouf, a Senegalese-Québécois black celebrity. When the news of the short gag reached the few english Quebecers that pay any attention to Quebec TV, this became insta-controversy. Unthinkable! Taboo! (French) Quebecers were puzzled. What was the harm? There was nothing racist about anything the comedian said! And though the target of the joke, of french African culture, did write an op-ed piece about there being nothing one should be offended about, it did not matter. A white guy had applied black make-up, and that was unspeakable. Applying make-up… of a certain color… one shudders!

    Now each country has and is entitled to its share of neuroses, but when members of that culture start imposing their own taboos to people outside of their culture, and insist that everyone on planet Earth conforms to their own particular phobias then this becomes… cultural imperialism.

    The upside to the SLAV controversy is that Quebec’s artistic community, that is reflexively progressive and on the side of the oppressed, has had to face mobs of screaming lunatics that cared little about their carefully crafted works of shared solidarity with human misery or the cruelties of history. Maybe… someone can call himself a progressive and… still be a shrieking brainless jerk.

  16. Itzik Basman says

    The overriding problem I have with this helpful provision of context for the objection to the production is that there will always be context, and once that road is traveled upon it will always lead to a defence of the charge of cultural appropriation. I’d say that anyone should be able to create and perform in good faith anything they wish, all considerations of borrowing from other cultures notwithstanding.

  17. cedric59 says

    Mister Delmar spread a point of view of someone who will always be outside of the Québec social and political reality. It is like as a group we are collectivity guilty of not wanting to be a minority among others. It seems that as a collectivity we are a bunch of intolerant and backward people. And this is written with an overwhelming feeling of cultural superiority. The majority of Québec population is urban since around the first world war. The jazz festival is a very big event who stars plenty of black musicians since it’s beginning. And the bill 101 is just a normal thing when a majority want to act as a majority over it’s territory. And your argument about the disproportionnate political power of french speaking people in Québec is ridiculous, if not insulting. It happen that anglos and most of the immigrants vote for the liberal party whatever they do. They don’t mind to vote in block like in a dictatorship for a bunch of bandits. You call those who oppose these forces of censorship ”conservatives” it tells a lot about your political bias. Basically you do have no interest in Québec society. In your dreams it seems that you are going to be satisfied when The whole Québec will become another sort of big Toronto. Shure these ”fucking french” are always guilty of something.

  18. Michel Hudon says

    Delmar is the typical racist Anglo-Montrealer who never accepted the Quebecois majority’s success in replacing them at their true position: a minority albeit the most favored minority in the world.

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