2 février 2011

Speak White 2.0 : A case study of the Quebec bashing component of mainstream Canadian 'journalism'.

I've been meaning to dedicate a full article on the veritable journalistic industry in English Canada which has been built around deciphering and often downright jeering Quebec and the distinct and complex cultural, linguistic and political realities it calls everyday life. Whenever there is nothing interesting in the ROC to write about, which (let's face it) is often, there is always a truly self-appointed 'expert' on Quebec current events to enlighten English Canadians about the province whose society they, ironically, so vehemently deny any 'distinctness'. The articles produced by such pundits are nearly always editorials but, nonetheless, are taken at face value and have done much to distort, misrepresent, belittle and vilify Quebec and particularly its sovereignty movement among English Canadians. Quelle surprise !

In lieu of such an exposé, for the time being at least, I would just like to present a simple case study of what I mean. Here is a piece from the National Post from an author whose name remains a mystery, but I find it typical and so I shall introduce it as such. 'Learn English, get ahead' is the title of this gem, and it shares its thesis with the majority of the articles I speak of, that Quebec's supposed narrow-mindedness in regards to the English language is hindering its economic progression and that the obvious way to get ahead in life is to speak English. I guess that might be why 40% of Quebeckers are fluently bilingual and why Quebec is the most polyglot territory in North America. Quebec is 9 times more *trilingual*, that's TRI-lingual, than any other jurisdiction in Canada. Not only are Quebeckers open to learning English, but they are much more likely to learn a third or fourth language than any of these condescending dip-shits at the National Post. But hey, it doesn't have to be true to print, enough people just have to already want to believe its true, right?

The Anglo-Canadian smear campaign directed at Quebec sovereigntists has done a magnificent job convincing Canadians of what they already wanted to believe.

First, let's bring forward another recurring theme in these articles which the one in question predictably employs: English as the global language. These Canadian (cough) journalists and their devoted readers simply adore pointing out that English is the international language of prestige and commerce, almost as if they were patting themselves on the back, even though their nation had literally nothing to do with English's elevation to that status and they have simply been benefiting from the (often dirty) work of other nations, namely their former British and current American colonial masters. Be all that as it may, they make a cogent point in saying that English is an important component of the modern professional's repertoire of core skills. This is precisely, as I mentioned before, why the sovereigntist mainstream in Quebec fully supports and promotes the study of English in schools starting at the primary level. But a moderately toned article on the sensible and open-minded approach to foreign-language study backed by the PQ and of the sovereignty movement in general are not what Canadian readers want to read.

What they want to read is ridiculous codswallop like this: 'Linguistically, hard core sovereigntists always play a zero-sum game. They perceive every word of English learned as an insult to the French language and their vision of Quebec sovereignty. In their dream palaces, Quebec would be a linguistically cleansed island paradise -- or prison, depending on your perspective -- in which the right to speak English would be confined to perhaps a few science laboratories and the lobbies of tourist-dense hotels.'

I would laugh if I were able to forget that readers of this national daily news monolith are actually taking this as truth, giving them all the fuel they need to rationalise their already deep-seated distaste for anything French, anything Québécois. The author gives himself away when he asserts that 'independence from Canada is unlikely to be achieved in the near or even distant future'. It is precisely that smug certainty which has given the green light for quite some time to the Anglo-Canadian press and its target audience to let fly any half-assed generalisation they want about Quebec. What a change since the lead-up to the 1995 referendum, when Canadians (mostly funded by the Feds and thus, in part, by Quebeckers themselves) poured into the streets of Montréal by the hundreds of thousands to display their love and affection for la Belle Province. And the day after the NO option had won by an ultra-thin margin, they packed their shit and went back to la-la land. Even 15 years after half the population voted for independence, nothing has changed on the constitutional front, and yet we have millions of Canadians shocked, angry and indignant each and every time they pick up a newspaper to read about how the numbers have barely budged in the sovereignty debate. The 6 or 7 percentage points they have tilted away from sovereignty for the time being, however, have been all English Canada has needed to comfortably go back to its former, pre-1995 self. 

The myth of Quebec nationalism being a purely ethnic phenomenon is rather dubious, but that doesn't stop the Canadian media from nearly always presenting it as such. The grass-roots of sonvereigntism may have begun among ethnic French-Canadians, but as any literate Quebecker can tell you, it has evolved over the past 60 years to become a civic movement comprising actors from all ethnic, linguistic and economic backgrounds. Some of the most important and fervent sovereigntists are to be found among the many English-friendly professions the author of this article vaunts, 'business, law, retail sales, entertainment, real estate, you name it.' That too is something this type of article tends to avoid mentioning.

The author goes on to point out that 'Bill 101, forcing immigrants' children into the French educational stream, ensured that virtually all of Quebec's present generation of young adults is at least proficient, and most of them fluent, in French.' Is this the same Bill 101 that, at the time of its adoption and for years following was lambasted time and again as an intolerant, racist, extremist law that was meant to ethnically cleanse Quebec of all its non-French linguistic impurities? Is the consensus now that the Charter of the French language has actually succeeded in bringing two generations of immigrant children into the fold of mainstream Quebec society and actually *opening* the latter up to new cultures instead of the contrary?

The author states that 'apart from downtown Montreal and a few anglophone-dense neighbourhoods, Quebec is a totally francophone province'. Is that the same downtown Montreal which is supposed to be the seat of Quebec industry, the epicentre of Francophone culture in the western hemisphere, la métropole québécoise? And people are supposed to be comfortable with their national language taking second chair in the heart of its own metropolis? It would be like Toronto's majority language becoming Hindi or Mandarin, and don't tell me that the famous Canadian cultural void (cough) I mean openness is willing to accept even that. Why are Quebeckers once again held to a double standard for being reticent to accept invasive and threatening realities that no other nation on earth would be or has been willing to tolerate either?

What other country, and Quebec is not (yet) an independent country but it is a country nonetheless in a manner of speaking, sends their children to public school in a foreign language? Everyone can benefit from mastering a second or third language, and the numbers prove that no other nation on the continent has understood this more than Quebec, but where does one make the jump in logic to suggest that to do so requires the State to fund a parallel school system in a foreign language so that the citizens come out twice as literate and eloquent in the foreign language than in their own? Only Quebeckers could be accused of racism for being unwilling to accept such a thing, and only Canadians could be naïve enough to accuse them of it.

Attaining a sufficient command of the Globish being spoken in board rooms, taxicabs and whorehouses across the world does not require one to have studied everything from classical literature to geometry exclusively through the medium of English. The teaching of English as a second language in the French school system in Quebec should be the priority of the Ministère de l'Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport, not the enhancement of a public English collegiate system whose existence is anomalous in the first place. Anyone know of any other countries that have highly subsidised colleges offering all their courses in a foreign language? Private schools, sure. Certain programmes in mainstream institutions, okay. But a fully English post secondary education bought and paid for by the government of a non-anglophone country? Fat chance. Only Quebec is expected to do such ridiculous things. Quebec is the only society expected to guarantee that the linguistic über-minority never ever has to rub elbows with the majority, from the cradle to the grave. A similar number of francophones in Ontario could only dream of such immunity.

The virulence and outright ignorance shown towards Quebec and Quebeckers in many simple, everyday conversations where the mere uttering of the word Quebec has been enough to provoke a snide remark or even a vulgar insult, as though it were acceptable, turned this devoted federalist first into an apologist for the sovereignty movement, then into a sympathiser. However, the confirmation and legitimation of that arrogance and ignorance on the part of mainstream Canadian journalists has been enough to push me into full-fledged support for sovereignty. Never could I have imagined just how far removed Canada's two solitudes are from one another, but now after living on both sides of the divide, I see that the damage is irreparable, the gap too wide. There are two separate countries sharing the name Canada (not to mention the same chequebook) and I think it's best for both sides to finalise the divorce before the situation becomes even more desperate.

3 commentaires:

Thorny Rose a dit...

Excellent post my friend!

First of all, don't take anything the post says too seriously. I used to get equally injured by this "mainstream" "national" newspaper until I realized there is a reason its circulation is poor and it has never turned a profit - people want news, not 25 pages of neo-con commentary.

And thank you for lambasting the self-aggrandizing bullshit "globish" speakers now feel entitled to launch into at every turn. A complex issue to be sure, but one toward which as many voices of reason as possible need to be directed towards

Fair Dominion a dit...

Thanks for reading. The post could have been a lot more succinct, but hey.

I actually enjoy reading all the big papers, including the National Post. I'm interested in what their people have to say, but when it comes to Quebec, the only well-known columnist that comes to mind who can seemingly be trusted to not bugger up the facts is Chantal Hébert (and we know why).

ThoMiCroN a dit...

What bugs me is that whatever I'll tell them, I'm always wrong. They simply don't want to understand, they just want to hate and to be given what keeps them in their predjudices. I'm being told if Quebec separated, Canada should be asked the permission, that Canadians should do referendum too. What is this bullshit ? They have no right to decide for us in our internal affairs (it's even more true for the indigenous). I'm being told I'm selfish to want separation. I don't even understand what they mean by that. Selfish ? What are they talking about ?