The CRTC, Pierre Vallières and Postmodernism

The recent CRTC decision, reprimanding Radio-Canada, is unjust and foolish.

2022-07-03 (Link added 2022-07-04)

Instead of puritanical censorship of mere words, we need to be able to discuss freely racism in general and, in particular, the issues raised by Pierre Vallières’ famous 1968 book, in which he drew parallels between anti-Black racism in the USA and anti-Francophone prejudice in Canada.

Sommaire en français Au lieu d’une censure puritaine des mots, nous devons pouvoir discuter librement du racisme en général et, en particulier, des questions soulevées par le livre célèbre de Pierre Vallières de 1968, dans lequel il établit un parallèle entre le racisme anti-Noirs aux États-Unis et le préjugé anti-francophones au Canada.

Recently (2022-06-29) the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) reprimanded Radio-Canada for using the word « nègre » during a radio show without sufficient warning to listeners, calling on the broadcaster to make a formal apology. The word was used in the title of a book being discussed. Fortunately, two members of the Commission disagree with the majority decision and reject the complaint against R-C.

Unfortunately, the controversy over a mere word has obscured the real issue: the ideas in the book whose title contained the word. The Radio-Canada radio broadcast (2020-08-17) discussed those ideas, but the recent CRTC reprimand contains only condemnation of use of the word, without discussion of context. So we need to recall that context.

In 1966, Pierre Vallières, writer, journalist and FLQ activist (Front de Libération du Québec), took refuge in the USA with the help of the Black Panthers. He was arrested for participating in a demonstration before UN headquarters in New York City and was imprisoned for several months. During that period in prison, he wrote the now famous book Nègres blancs d’Amérique, published in 1968, in which he drew certain parallels between the situation of French-speaking Québécois in Canada and Blacks in the USA and expressed solidarity between the two liberation movements.

The word « nègre » in French is roughly equivalent to the English word “negro” which was considered correct at the time. If you put « sale » (dirty) in front of it, then the French word becomes racist, but of course you could put « sale » in front of « blanc » or any other colour and the result could be a racist insult. But taken alone, « nègre » does not have the extreme racist connotations and enormous emotional charge of that other English word, six letters beginning with “n” and ending with “r” and which I cannot even mention here without risking serious repercussions. However, when Vallières’ book was published in English translation, it was precisely that very strong n-word which the publisher chose to use in the title. I assume they did so because they wanted the title to be hard-hitting and highly charged. I think they succeeded.

Francophone men in Quebec were in a slightly worse position (compared to Anglophones) than Afro-American men in the USA (relative to whites).

Vallières’ parallel between the Québécois and Afro-Americans was not spurious. It is important to recall the economic situation of Francophones in Quebec at the time. In the 1960s, the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, known also as the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission, was set up by the federal government to study the relative situations of the English and French languages and cultures in Canada. Among its findings were that, in 1960, in Quebec, the average employment income of unilingual French-speaking men was 51% of that of unilingual men of British descent. At the same time, in the United States, the average employment income of black men was 56% of that of white men. In other words, Francophone men in Quebec were in a slightly worse position (compared to Anglophones) than Afro-American men in the USA (relative to whites).

This was not to suggest that the two situations were identical. The history of slavery in the USA and the racist propaganda which was used to legitimize the enslavement of Blacks are specific to that country. Vallières’ intent was to express solidarity among oppressed peoples, not to ignore the variety of different forms of oppression.

The CRTC’s dreadful decision to censure Radio-Canada for merely quoting a book title is not the first time that antiracist intentions have degenerated into puritanical censorship. Remember the dismissal of Wendy Mesley in 2020 for quoting Vallières’ title. (And I understand this occurred during a preparatory meeting, not even on the air!) Let us hope that Radio-Canada management does not capitulate and respond with the same abject cowardice which the CBC displayed in the Mesley case.

We should also not forget that this Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism was the seed from which the Canadian Multiculturalism Act eventually developed. But that development was a corruption of the original intent. Biculturalism began as a consideration of Canada’s two founding European peoples, the British and French. But over time, that concept faded, to be replaced by multiculturalism which reduced the French to just one minority culture among many, thus assuring the dominance of English language and culture in Canada.

Antisecularism and Postmodernism

Although the situation has evolved considerably since Vallières’ time, anti-Québécois prejudice is nevertheless still present today. It has been recycled and weaponized by antisecularists in order to denigrate Quebec’s secular legislation, Bill 21. In fact, obscuring the content of Vallières’ analysis by censoring its title, as the CRTC is attempting to do, plays right into the hands of those antisecularists. Some particularly dishonest opponents of Bill 21 even accuse that law (and by implication, Quebecers who strongly support it) of “racism.” Their hypocrisy is blatant, for it is they who are using a racist prejudice to oppose the law.

…the obsession with “offensive” words is a particular preoccupation of the anti-Enlightenment pseudo-left…

In general, the obsession with “offensive” words is a particular preoccupation of the anti-Enlightenment pseudo-left (a.k.a. the “woke”). It is based on the postmodernist idea of the power of language. As Pluckrose and Lindsay explain in Cynical Theories (page 60),

“The power and danger of language are foregrounded in all the new applied postmodern Theories. […] the idea that words are powerful and dangerous has now become widespread and underlies much scholarship and activism around discursive (or verbal) violence, safe spaces, microaggressions, and trigger warnings.”

Put succinctly, the “woke” choose to conflate words with physical violence.

In this particular case, pseudo-leftists refuse to recognize the existence of the anti-Québécois prejudice which Vallières denounced in his title because most Québécois have the wrong skin colour. Furthermore, pseudo-leftists tend to be resolutely antisecular by virtue of their racialization of religious affiliation. Objecting to an “offensive” word in the title is a convenient distraction from the issues which Vallières raised.


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