A few words on racism

This is a little late for International Blog Against Racism Week, but since that should be every week, I bring you the following story Shannon spotted on the CBC news page this morning: Quebec bar owner fined for refusing black customers.

In brief: two black men refused service in 2003 went to the media. The Journal de Montréal (a local tabloid, tending to sensationalism) sent a reporter back to the bar with him, where they were again refused service, but this time the reporter recorded the exchange. Eventually, an anti-racism group filed a complaint to the Human Rights Commission on their behalf, and today the legal proceedings culminated in a $25,000 fine for the bar.

A success story? Not really. First, the Journal sent a white reporter who was disguised by a makeup expert (one can only assume they don’t have any black reporters on staff). This white guy then spent a week in makeup for a series on racism in Montréal, in which he concluded that the bar owner “wasn’t trying to be mean, it was just ignorance… it was an isolated act, you don’t see much of that in Montréal”. However, the racial slurs the article quoted seemed pretty mean to me, and how can the claim that this is an “isolated act” be taken seriously coming from someone who was black for just one week?

Shannon and I have both observed more overt racism here in Montréal than we did in southern Ontario. Of course, not being the target of most of it, it’s possible that people are just as racist, but are more likely to speak their minds. I can tell you I’ve seen more racist graffiti on the street here than I ever did in Ontario, including some signed with the author’s full name and phone number (!). There’s also racism expressed towards English speakers of whatever colour, and during patriotic festivals you occasionally see people circulating petitions to ban the speaking of English in public. The fact that white Québecois have more of a sense of themselves as a homogeneous ethnic group than white Ontarians, and have a strong desire to preserve their distinct culture, is probably a factor here.

In public, the Québec nationalist movement is always highly multi-culti, its leaders having realized some time ago that their people’s birth rate requires them to throw open the doors of their culture to people of other backgrounds who wish to integrate themselves into it. The ugly side of this nationalism is never very far away, though. To be clear, I’ve found the vast majority of Québecois friendly and welcoming. I see it as my duty to speak French to them, and they respond with open arms. I see graffiti as I mentioned above every few months, but hardly every day. But then, despite my complicated background I’m taken for white most places I go. What would my life be like here if I weren’t? I have no idea. Unlike that Journal reporter, I’m not going to claim to know.