Quebecers: the new racists!

As a general rule, academic papers don’t generate much buzz beyond the academics who read them and the parents of the people who write them. It seems Concordia University is trying its mightiest to reverse this disturbing trend, though, by sending out a press release chock full of (race) bait. “New racism in ‘reasonable accommodation'”, it reads. “Smoldering since the Quiet Revolution? Concordia study traces how politicians and media have pitted immigrants against ‘Québécois values.'” Oh, and this helps: the paper is written by a dude named Wong—a surname loaded with meaning ever since Jan Wong, then a Globe and Mail reporter, interrupted an entirely serviceable account of the Dawson College shooting to blame all such mass killings in Quebec on Bill 101. And this Alan Wong blames the media and politicians for appealing to Quebecers’ collective inner xenophobe. And the report is published in the Global Media Journal, which is sponsored and hosted by Purdue University. So: we have a paper from an English university in Quebec, in which a non-Francophone waxes academically on the purported racist tendencies of Quebecers, and publishes the whole exercise in an American journal. As colleague Paul Wells likes to say, what could possibly go wrong?

Let’s delve into Mr. Wong’s opus, shall we? First off, an error: Le Devoir isn’t, as he says, the highest circulation Francophone daily in Quebec. That honour belongs to Le Journal de Montréal. Normally, pointing out a seemingly minor whoopsie of a fellow writer, however high his nose may be, is bad karma. We all make mistakes, after all. But never mind that this is a bit like mistaking The New York Times for the New York Post; it’s astonishing that Wong would somehow flub this one, since anyone who followed the great reasonable accommodations debate of 2006-7 would know that Le Journal drove the debate, and was arguably the purveyor of the most pungent, race-baiting headlines. Le Devoir, being Le Devoir, wrung its hands over the future of the French language, while oozing disdain at the unwashed sensibilities of the country bumpkins in Hérouxville, home of the famed immigrant code of conduct. Le Journal, meanwhile, was all afroth over Hassid-friendly frosted windows and tyrannical kosher hospitals.

Onward. Mr. Wong’s thesis is as follows: Quebecers, being very white and very French, are wary of immigrants at the best of times. Add an incendiary press and a provincial election, and that wariness is coaxed into full-blown, vocalized malaise against those who aren’t very white at all. In the process, the very definition of “reasonable accommodations” changed from an acceptance of certain religious and cultural practices to “a weapon wielded against the disenfranchised in Quebec society.” Relatively minor incidents—like, say, those frosted windows—were taken out of context, blown up and made to represent a sort of immigrant incursion on Quebec society.

Er, guilty as charged. The media coverage of the reasonable accommodations affair was certainly outsized; politicians, stuck in the vortex of an election campaign, said some remarkably stupid things. What’s bothersome about Mr. Wong’s take on it, though, apart from the fact that he seems to think all of Quebec is somehow Hérouxville writ large (tell that to your average Montrealer, I dare you), is that such a phenomenon could only happen in Quebec. This is a frankly idiotic assumption. As this corner wrote way back in 2007, what was going on in Quebec was basically a very noisy version of the discourse occurring throughout the country. For whatever reason—some blame our hot Latin blood; I blame Jean Charest—we decided to have a public hearings on reasonable accommodation, thereby guaranteeing that when anyone said anything stupid/mangled/moronic/xenophobic, it would be on camera. Sure, it was embarrassing, but it’s sheer folly to think what was spilling out of many Quebecers’ mouths wasn’t also on the minds of Canadians in general. At least here it was out in the open—and non-violent. Think the collective Québécois spleen venting over Hassids and frosted windows at a Montreal YMCA was bad? At least it was just spleen venting, and not, say, throwing pork at a mosque in Edmonton or “nipper tipping” on Lake Simcoe.

And yet, Mr. Wong gives us delightful little pensées like this. Speaking of the Hérouxville resolution, he writes, “whiteness becomes guilty of… a kind of racial hubris that positions and privileges whiteness as the superior racial discourse in Western culture.” He also comes damned close to calling Charest a racist (the Preem, Wong writes, has a “supremacist attitude”), and decides “[t]hat authority in Quebec, as implied by the three party leaders [Charest, PQ’s André Boisclair, ADQ’s Mario Dumont] is held by white French Canadian population, and will always remain inaccessible to ‘immigrants’.”

Ah. So Quebec wasn’t the first place in the British empire to elect a Jew to public office, then? It isn’t the place where, say, the daughter of first-generation Caribbean immigrants can become a cabinet minister just shy of her 30th birthday? Or where an overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly Francophone district elected a former actor from Cameroon? Or where, according to a 2005 poll,”being a woman, a black person or a homosexual doesn’t constitute a handicap in the eyes of the vast majority of voters”? I see. What a bunch of racists.

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