I don’t usually comment on topics related to race and racism. They tire me and it is not my job to educate idiots and bigots. But I could not let this one pass. Québec columnist Sophie Durocher penned a racist article for Le Journal de Montréal, a popular and cheap tabloid owned by Pierre Karl Péladeau’s Quebecor. In her article, Sophie Durocher defended the illustrious practice of blackface performance by Quebec stage and vaudeville actors.
Blackface in Quebec is more alive than it has ever been. As Rachel Decoste explains, blackface frequently appears in public and private Quebec television under the guise of humour and comedy. The butt of blackface jokes are often black Canadian public figures such as hockey player PK Subban. It seems that in an effort to be as authentic and genuine as possible, Quebec comedians have to paint their faces when mocking blacks. When told about their racist wrongs, they resort to two defenses.
The first defense is that blackface is a cultural problem in the United States but not in Quebec. It has strong racist meaning there, but in Quebec, it has none of the negative connotations. What these apologists really argue is that Quebec society is different and that racism as it occurs in the United States does not occur in Quebec because it is a “superior society” so advanced in its dialogue with the other, that it is capable of mocking minorities in good faith. One theatre director, Denise Filiatrault justified staging blackface by claiming that she frequently hires black performers for vaudeville acts, so therefore she cannot be racist.
The second argument, which is the one strongly defended by Durocher, is that blackface practices are not racist. They are legitimate artistic performances that are criticized by overtly sensitive and political correct “bêtes noires.” Yes, Durocher used the word “bêtes noires” to describe those who criticize blackface in Quebec. For those of you who do not know French, a bête noire means a pesky devil’s advocate. But literally, which is what is more shocking and callous in Durocher’s rant, a bête noire means a black beast. There are many other words that Durocher could have used to describe people who disapprove of blackface in Quebec. She used the word bête noire as a covert and racist pun.
The problem with much of Quebec’s media is that such flagrant racist episodes often go unopposed and unpunished. There will be no consequences for Sophie Durocher publicly using racist slurs and defending racist practices in one of the most read newspaper in Canada. Quite the opposite, Durocher is protecting the traditional Quebec “nous.” She is protecting Quebec’s culture, no matter how racist it is. She is defending the right of Quebec to be an exception. Whereas even the Netherlands are finally coming around and questioning the practice of Black Pete, in Quebec, blackface is surging and occurring more frequently than in the past.
Sophie Durocher says that blackface is not racist. I wonder how she feels about this old cartoon featuring lazy Southern blacks, with the biggest lips ever lusting after a woman.