I have witnessed at numerous occasions the backlash that falls upon people of colour who speak out against injustices in Quebec. It thus took me, a Black female Quebecer, a lot of courage to come out and call blackface for what it is: a racist practice. Fueled by a feeling of responsibility to speak out against this recurring practice, I decided to speak my mind in a recent article published in the Huffington Post.
I knew I wouldn't be spared. And, of course, I wasn't.
Enter: an over-the-top-blowback-article-to-silence-Black-female-Quebecer-who-dared-to-share-her-opinion-perspectives-and-experiences.
Funny enough, in my previous post I even made reference to this knee-jerk reaction of many to reflexively reject criticism. I wrote: "In Quebec very little space is allotted for people other than francophone Quebecers to denounce discrimination. Often when [they] speak out, active attempts are made to silence them through hostility, indifference, or ridicule."
So in truth, I somewhat expected to see a response that expressed "hostility, indifference, or ridicule".
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But never did I expect to be defamed.
In this piece by Judith Lussier that was published by the Journal Montréal Métro entitled "All Quebecers are racist" ("Les Québécois, tous des racistes"), I am accused of, amongst other fallacies, calling all Quebecers racist. Yeah, you read that correctly. And somehow, by sharing my thoughts and experiences as a Quebecer, I ceased to be one myself -- placed by this media outlet as a spiteful outsider to the only society, culture, and civic family I've ever intimately known.
As you can imagine, this is extremely hurtful. However, in trying to keep a clear head about this, I interpret the surrealness of this act by Lussier and Journal Montréal Métro as an active attempt to set an example that would show all Quebecers of colour what will happen to them if they dare try to affirm their humanity by speaking up about racism in Quebec.
Of many, here are other inflammatory and upsetting parts about Lussier's Montréal Métro article: 1) I was never approached for an interview by Lussier, who used Twitter to contact me while never at any point identifying herself as a journalist who was preparing to write a story; 2) The 2 tweets (see in slideshow) I sent Lussier in response to her questions that I thought were posed for her personal interest were lifted to form the basis of an interview I gave, or refused to give her as she puts it in her article; and 3) My innocuous two Tweets were completely distorted in an apparent effort to paint me as dismissive, ignorant, immature and not willing to cooperate with Lussier's genuine attempt at real journalism.
After reading the manipulation of my two Tweets, you can imagine why I am left wondering, "have the standards of professional ethics for journalists become optional?" I invite people to weigh in on this question, as I am truly dumbfounded by how this has come about.
I am also troubled by Lussier and Journal Métro Montréal's response because, though a bit predictable, it is still a weird and alarming turn of events to have me going from trying to create a positive dialogue about a recurrent racist practice in Quebec to being banished from my own society as a "Quebec-basher" because I spoke up. How have I become the aggressor?
My article is framed as gratuitous Quebec bashing, although, as Lussier admits in the very first lines of her article, prior to reading my reaction to the most recent display of blackface in Quebec, she had never, in all her adult life, heard of blackface. This is a curious admission, because despite Lussier's acknowledged ignorance, she felt completely comfortable writing a full article dismissing my claims that it is a racist practice. My critique of the blackface incident at the Gala Les Olivier is brushed aside by Lussier as "political correctness pushed to the extreme."
My words where further distorted by Lussier as she reports that I called ALL Quebecers racist "retards" (yes, this offensive language was used). If this is not character assassination, I don't know what is.
Supporters of Lussier's piece came fully equipped with the usual dismissals: Quebec never had slavery (totally untrue, see Marcel Trudel's whole body of academic work on slavery in Quebec and Canada); that the Black comedian who had been "impersonated" was totally ok with it (I predicted that this would happen in my original article) and that somehow he, the Black comedian, was the only person affected by this incident.
Another dangerously problematic statement is the recurring "Blackface is an imported concept that has no bearings in Quebec or Canada." Symbols travel. Last time I checked Hitler's regime didn't originate in the US or Canada, and the Holocaust didn't take place in North America. So following this logic (also defended in Lussier's article), is it ok to adorn and promote Nazi symbols like the swastika here in North America and everywhere else outside of Europe because the racist use of those symbols originated in Europe and not here? And is the use of the swastika as a symbol of intolerance in North America completely devoid of any connection with the Third Reich?
Ms. Lussier and the rest of us should know how scary this is as a line of logic.
Ironically enough though, Lussier helped make the case for what I was saying in my original article: speaking out against racism in Quebec is clearly not an easy feat and doing it could get your name plastered on the front page of a Google search for saying things totally opposite or unrepresentative of what you actually said.
But at the heart of it all, this whole thing is hurtful. It makes you question that inner voice that tells you that you have the right to be respected as a human being. The voice that tells you that you should not be afraid to speak up for yourself. The voice that tells you that no one has the right to make you feel less than, especially in the only place you can call home. And more painful though is perhaps hearing another inner voice get louder: the one that says that you don't belong, that your right to be respected are more a luxury you cannot afford than an entitlement you possess as a human being.
Fortunately, the wide circulation of my post has generated much dialogue about the serious issues of race relations in Quebec. I've seen some hopeful exchanges online among anglophones and francophones, whites and non-whites. This puts a halt on any self doubt and fear that usually results from an article like Lussier's. It reassures me to witness this genuine thirst, desire and belief that we can do things differently to respect our fellow citizens regardless of racial differences.
Let this ordeal be a testament to the work that still needs to be done in Quebec as in any other cosmopolitan place in this world, and a salute to those brave enough to take this on.