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May 1995, Week 4


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Lee Parpart <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 22 May 1995 08:08:40 CDT
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----------------------------Original message----------------------------
Ulf Dalquist says he doesn't understand why Daniel Seguin's goofy comment
about not speaking French should be considered racist. (Paraphrase: Seguin
admitting to Denys Arcand that he doesn't speak French -- despite the French
origins of his own (Seguin's) name -- would be like telling Spike Lee "You're
the first African-American I've ever met who doesn't own a handgun!") Although
I find this comparison exaggerated, (and unhelpful to the extent that it con-
flates the experience of white, middle class Quebecois and black Americans)
it's useful to know a bit of the social context behind Kovik's remark. Without
getting too deep into the whole sordid history of English Canadian blockheaded-
ness in relationship to Quebec (a history that, in the words of sociologist
John Conway, includes "the War Measures Act; the dirty tricks of the federal
secret police; the economic fear campaigns; the "stab in the back" of '81, the
collapse of the Meech Lake Accord in a welter of English Canadian hostility;
the Charlottetown insult...and so on..."), there is also the daily fact of
a linguistic double standard between English and French in Canada. English
Canadians are notorious for not bothering to learn French while expecting the
Quebecois to speak perfect English (even in their own province!), and this
kind of widespread, systemmic nose-thumbing can only be infuriating to French
Canadians. As an expatriate American who has lived in various parts of English
Canada for the past 12 years, I can only guess at the level of Quebecois
frustration over these issues. So while Kovik's remark may be an overstatement,
it's not simply reducible to hair-splitting. There's a history here which
others (including Kovik himself, no doubt) can explain in further detail if
you're really interested. Hope this provides a beginning.
Lee Parpart
York University, Toronto, Ontario