Racism and perceptions of the Quebec student movement

| December 1, 2012
Photo: Tina Mailhot-Roberge

The Quebec student strike may be over, but it continues to cast a long shadow on Canadian students. Faced with much higher tuition fees and a similar neoliberal curves, many have resolved to seek inspiration from the mechanisms that made the maple spring a success.

Yet in recent months, after the initial honeymoon, some may have hit structural walls. As the CFS-FCÉÉ AGM begins in Gatineau, strong qualifiers -- "racist," amongst others -- have allegedly been used to describe Quebec student associations, specifically targeting CLASSE's culture of general assemblies.

Is this strong claim legitimate, or is it being used to justify inertia?

Accusing Quebec of racism is commonplace, even politically fashionable. Language laws, successive referendums and the recent immigration debate have framed Québécois as intolerant. Trudeau multiculturalism, by contrast, garners consensus, negating Quebec's -- and other people's -- right to exist outside of a sweeping rhetoric of national unity. All standard so far.

Yet increasingly, those who jump to accusations of racism are themselves guilty of exclusion. In the debate which concerns us -- the student strike -- they adhere to a certain vision of Quebec, that of a distinct society, both culturally militant and racist. When these two stereotypes are considered as a whole, one can easily mistakenly imagine rows of rowdy Montrealers loudly protesting a rise in alcohol prices while chanting anti-synagogue slogans. Might as well. 

I have been to dozens of general assemblies. No, our student associations generally don't benefit from reserved constituency seats. Queer theory has yet to gain acceptance within those who fill executives, and our syndicalist structures are reminiscent of the 1970s, far away from the currents of the post-Left.

Yet we hold regular general assemblies, regrouping one, two, ten, fifty per cent of the entire membership of the association outside of periods of mobilization. The few (and effective) structural mechanisms favoring participation of women only seek to reinforce this core, self-governed collective decision-making body. Which is more inclusive? 300 000 students know the answer by heart. 

Challenging racism within and outside is not our movement's forte: I have no trouble admitting that we have a lot to learn. However, to discount general assemblies or, more generally, structural change on that basis is not only mistaken: it is a political smokescreen used to draw attention away from awkward, yet necessary debates about direct democracy. Because the Quebec example is not one of racism.


Jérémie Bédard-Wien is a Montreal student.

Photo: Tina Mailhot-Roberge




I was actually hoping to read arguments against the "racism" or "intolerance" canards, but all I saw was a simple denial. Perhaps Bédard-Wien could be invited to write a further article on that?

This article doesn't:

1. Present the other side.

2. Refute the otherside.

3. Present a logical pathway to its own conclusion.

The fact that it is completely dismissive of possibly legitimate concerns is scary.  

"If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” -Malcolm X

We certainly need more action to promote people from racialised groups (in terms of feminism, Québec is ahead of pretty much anything else in North America), but I am very annoyed at the idea that post-modern US-based theories of "anti-racism" should be gospel for the rest of the world, including the non-English-speaking parts of the Americas. 

I'd love to hear  more from QuébécoisE students of colour about the discrimination they face. And more bridges between the student movement and citizen movements such as Montréal Nord Républik. 

Solidargee, what is the "other side"? Bédard may be a typical Québécois francophone name, but Wien certainly isn't... 

"the other side" I'm referring to is the side Bédard dismisses.  I'm not agreeing with this other side because I know nothing about what they have to say.  This is my critique of the article, it dismisses a group without explaining the group's concerns.  

It is not that important that a group thinks something is racist.  What is important is why the group thinks racism is present.  

I have no idea whether or not Bédard is right or wrong in his conclusions, but I do know Bédard gives no reason for us to believe him.  In fact, since his arguments are quite reflective of most journalists lacking critical thinking, I'm inclined to not believe him.  If this "other side" 's arguments are so unfounded, why has he not presented them for debunking?  

Do you mean anglos who systematically accuse Québécois of "racism" and "intolerance"? Or Québécois students of colour? Two very different "other sides". 

The story behind the twitter-sphere accusations of racism is confusing and deeply political - and has nothing to do with Quebec. I feel sorry for Jeremie and the ASSE, as well as the FEUQ and the FECQ for having been dragged into anglo-Canadian internecine conflicts with unfounded accusations of racism. I'll try to lay out what's been going on so that the (rightly) confused Rabble readers can follow.


1. Last week was a General Meeting of the Canadian Federation of Students.

2. A group of left-wing students, largely led by the U of T Graduate Students Association, are levying a serious critique against the fundamentally undemocratic governance structures of the CFS, and trying to push for the recognition of the sovereignty of local student associations, along lines of direct democracy. This includes the recognition of referendums held three years ago by the McGill grad students, and Concordia grads and undergrads -- all three associations of which voted to leave the CFS, and are in court with the CFS to have those referenda recognized.

3. As the "attack" on the CFS comes from left-wing students, the classic refrain of "conservative conspiracy" which is used to ostracize those against the CFS can't work. The rhetorical tactic that was chosen to counter the calls for direct democracy consists is twofold: one, to claim that the UofT grad students are Communists and thereby ideologically opposed to the sort of organizng the CFS does, and two, claim that direct democracy as practiced in Quebec by FEUQ, FECQ, and ASSE member associations in General Assemblies is racist because these structures do not have 1990s-style identity politics "constituency groups" the way the CFS does. The ASSE et al are road-side wreckage in the CFS' mis-guided attack against the democratic desires of its own membership.

4. And the worst of it all, is that standard Anglo-Canadian tropes about "racist" and "xenophobic" Quebec are being deployed by people who ostensbily represent the left of English-Canadian politics, in order to demonize and delegitimize democratic oposition to non-democratic principles.


5. Poor Jeremie, in his attempt to deal with the overflow on the Twitterverse of people re-tweeting claims of ASSE being racist, has responded the best he can. It's not in ASSE's interest to get involved in internal CFS hair-pulling -- nor is it particularly enjoyable to be treated as a racist without any good reason and for political reasons that the ASSE has nothing to do with. It might have been wiser for him not to engage at all, but it is certainly understandable. The reality is also that ASSE member assocations are wrangling with how to work with, in a nuanced way, issues of gender/race/class in their organizing structures - but they are do so in a way that involves a careful critical analysis of their power structures and inter-personal interactions. (E.G. A workshop a few weeks ago at UQAM on the image of the "manarchist" and gender relations in anarchist organizing.) This process is complicated and difficult - and important - and not easily reduced to a glib tweet of "racist" coming  out of the CFS to stave off a legitimate challenge to its illegitimate processes.


I hope that clears a few things up...




People say that there’s this RACISM problem. People say that this RACISM problem will be solved when the developing world pours into EVERY white country and ONLY into white countries.

The Netherlands and Belgium are just as crowded as Japan or Taiwan, but nobody says Japan or Taiwan will solve the RACISM problem by bringing in millions of non-white people and “assimilating” with them.

People say that the final solution to the RACISM problem is for EVERY white country and ONLY white countries (along with EVERY white community and white institution) to “assimilate,” i.e., intermarry & amalgamate with all those non-whites.

What if I said there was this RACISM problem and this RACISM problem would be solved only if hundreds of millions of non-blacks were brought into EVERY black country and ONLY into black countries?

How long would it take anyone to realize I’m not talking about a RACISM problem. I am talking about the final solution to the BLACK problem?

And how long would it take any sane black man to notice this and what kind of psycho black man wouldn’t object to this?

But if I tell that obvious truth about the ongoing program of genocide against my race, the white race, Liberals and respectable conservatives agree that I am a naziwhowantstokillsixmillionjews.

They say they are anti-racist. What they are is anti-white.

Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white.



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