A Letter to the Majority

An appeal to the soul of Quebec

Dear francophones,

I am penning this letter to you with the vain hope that I can reach you with my pleas.

As we all know, another critical election battle is on the horizon — one in which, more than ever, Quebec’s future will be decided. Not necessarily a battle over its economic roadmap or even its place within Canada. Rather, this is a battle over Quebec’s soul. It is a crossroads in our history whereupon we must determine the degree of our commitment to a free and open society. But my intention is not to bring up the particulars of the various debates raging across our province, Bill 60 chief among them. No, this is a plea for your posterity and mine — let me explain. You see, I am considering taking my family out of Quebec for good.

I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if that last statement just elicited a huge “so what?” from a big chunk of you. Another Anglo leaving Quebec? Big deal. If you happen to lean towards Quebec sovereignty, you might well be crafting a reply at this very moment with offers to help me pack. After all, some 200,000 of us have already hit the road. What’s one more?

I’m going to assume that most of you aren’t naïve enough to believe that the Parti Quebecois and its dedicated base of support has any other agenda aside from Quebec achieving sovereignty. It is, in fact, their sole raison d’être and underlines nearly everything they do. Language, culture, identity, good governance and prosperity are either sideshows or distractions from the ultimate prize. And make no mistake, the realization was made long ago that sovereignty cannot come to be under the current demographic reality — some of us just have to go if a referendum is ever to be won. Anyway, I have been cautioned (read: lectured) by many wise friends that should I ever decide to leave Quebec, it would be tantamount to surrender. In essence, “they” will have won — that somehow this is a game to be won or lost. Once upon a time, I might have cared — but do you know what I care about now? The well-being of my family. Period. End of story. And so we come to the crux of my petition to you — it will matter if I go… and not just to me but to you as well.

Before any of you accuse me of delusions of grandeur, take my meaning as such: If I take my family and move to say, Ontario, it will represent but one example of a larger, more worrying trend. In other words, I am not arrogantly suggesting that I will be some sort of trailblazer — if I’m going, it means that many, many like me have already committed to leaving as well. It is this possibility that should seriously disquiet you, the francophone majority, because it will bring disaster.

Allow me to put my potential departure into some context. I am Quebecois. I was born here. My wife was born here. My children were born here. Three of our four parents were born here (one from Ottawa, so close enough). My family has been here since the 1800s — my wife’s family since the 1700s. So, please don’t assume that there is anything less Quebecois about us than you. As a fourth generation Quebecois, my understanding of the Quebec experience is beyond impunity. I eat bagels and lox… but am equally likely to slather it with creton. In “Bon Cop, Bad Cop”, I identified more with Patrick Huard than I did with Colm Feore. I’ve been to every corner of this province from Matane to Forestville, from la Beauce to Megantic, from Jonquiere to Val D’or. I’ve dined on the shores of the Saguenay and Lac Temiscouata. My accent and vernacular in both English and French is undeniably local, so much so that I am subjected to ridicule in equal measure from New York to Paris. I am, in my own way, pure laine.

So, why even consider leaving if my roots are so deep and identity so profound? I could quote many reasons but simply put, as the father of two boys, I’m looking ahead to their future happiness and prosperity — two things that may be increasingly difficult for them to secure in Quebec. I should also state an important fact — if I do leave, I will almost certainly never come back here to live. Once I am established in say, Toronto and the initial aches and pains of displacement subside, just knowing that I am no longer victim of the social dysfunction that is Quebec will be cathartic. Simply put, once you lose me, you’ve lost me.

While the intent of this appeal is to highlight what you stand to lose if I leave, I think it fair and wise to begin with what I and my family stand to lose… and it is not an insignificant loss. I think most would agree that family comes before anything. To wit, the largest impediment to us leaving and the primary reason we have stayed so long is our extended families, many of whom would almost certainly not leave Quebec with us. Setting aside the obvious and immediate emotional separation that they would feel, of bigger concern is the long term effect of being deprived of a readily available large family environment — that which study after study confirms is critical to a child’s healthy upbringing. So much weighs on this one factor that it alone might have convinced us not to consider leaving. However, when the full weight of the alternative is considered, the scale clearly begins to tip. I cannot discount the value of family one iota — but the entirety of my children’s future and happiness must trump this one concern.

Incidentally, family is only the first and biggest reason not to go — but it is by no means the only thing I stand to lose. Since the others are more quantitative, I thought it best to list them in brief but in no particular order:

  1. The bagels everywhere else just suck. They really do.
  2. I love my house, my neighbours and my neighbourhood. More importantly, my house is affordable.
  3. The Quebecois are cool. Montrealers are awesome. Ontarians? Polite… but admittedly a little less cool.
  4. Daycare is good and it’s cheap. So is electricity, fine dining and car insurance.
  5. Our mayor is more likely to surreptitiously scarf a doughnut than suck on a crack pipe.
  6. Montreal’s aura has a gritty, ancestral squalor to it that is the primary source of its charm. Nowhere outside of New York City has anything comparable to it.
  7. Most of my friends are here… for now.
  8. My wife and I have great jobs and excellent working conditions.
  9. I am generally happy.
  10. I am indigenous. Quebec is my home. The only one I have ever known and loved. I’ve spent good portions of my life defending or promoting it to outsiders.

Now, for comparative reasons, let’s look at some of the key benefits of moving to Toronto — aside from the obvious advantages for my children.

  1. Toronto is nowhere near as bad as people think it is. It is multicultural. It has great food, It has great people, it has great neighbourhoods. Time to lay off the stereotypes.
  2. Opportunity, opportunity. For every good job in Montreal, Toronto has 8 counterpart positions. Way to go PQ for making that a reality.
  3. The tax burden is way less. That’s partly because Ontario isn’t spending money on referenda and identity commissions.
  4. The infrastructure is better, newer and far better maintained at a much lower cost. The Mafia may exist in Toronto but they aren’t running it. (Granted they may be supplying crack to it).
  5. I will never have to worry about what language I or my family are speaking anywhere… ever. I also won’t be told what school to send my boys to or what hospital they can visit for care. I will never encounter language police, language watchdogs, language zealots or language ministers. I can wear a kippah, a turban, a hijab, a clown suit or a freaking toga without fear of reproach or state intervention. We would be equal citizens in the most multicultural city in the world.
  6. We will never feel like a minority or a majority or be made to feel that way. There will be no divide to bridge. Y’know why? People have better things to think about like their family’s prosperity. Not saying there isn’t bigotry or cultural misunderstanding in Toronto — far from it. What I’m saying is that it’s found on the fringe of society there — not in the mainstream.
  7. My sons’ last name will no longer be a hindrance or cause for someone to question their place in society.
  8. It’s usually a couple of degree warmer than here and a few less inches of snow. Every goddamn degree helps.
  9. The city is growing and dynamic. Montreal and Quebec are stagnant and backwards.

Yet after all of that, I still don’t really want to go. I want to stay.

All of this is good and grand but you might still be wondering: “how does this affect me and what the hell do I care if he’s living it up in Toronto?”. Well, here’s how. You need me… and those like me. Since 1960 and the advent of the Quiet Revolution, Quebec has fancied itself as a progressive, globally-aware society that is on the cutting edge of reason and liberalism. Well, allow me to challenge that image just a bit. Yes, Quebec in many ways has been liberally progressive — in terms of equal rights and opportunities for women and the LGBT community, gun control, parental assistance and most recently, the right to die. I do not intend to debate the merits of those achievements. What I will challenge is the “globally-aware” pretention. Quebec is aware of the world insofar as it acknowledges that there exists a world outside of Quebec. However, it has had great difficulty in abandoning its traditional insularity. It is an oft-ridiculed dichotomy — Quebecois don’t want the world to dictate cultural norms or infringe upon their cherished identity yet they care deeply about how they are perceived in the world and take great offence when criticized — especially by other Quebecois airing dirty laundry. Most Quebecois know about the world but don’t understand it. Nor do they accept that the world can ever possibly understand them. After all, our contradictions only make sense to us.

There is a particular fear of the English-speaking world — especially since Quebec knows it must intrinsically interact with it in order to prosper. In spite of everything, English is the global language, particularly of commerce.

And therein lies my primary value to you, the francophone Quebecois. As an Anglophone Quebecois, I am uniquely able to help you bridge that divide and help the world understand you and be open to you. I can also help you reach the world. I am not special. It is happenstance — I am a fluent English-speaker living seamlessly within a French-speaking domain. I am a godsend to you. This is not speculation: In many past functions, both private and professional, I have been called upon to bring two cultures together to a mutually beneficial understanding… and I have been successful through no great skill of my own. If I leave — and most others like me do as well — Quebec risks closing itself into a very dark room of narrow provinciality and self-isolation. This can and will happen. But don’t take my word for it. If you prefer to hear it from someone more credible to the average sovereignist, how about Jean-Francois Lisee, discussing his belief that as many as 300,000 Anglos would leave Quebec in the event of a “yes” vote in a referendum:

There is no doubt this exodus would be all kinds of trouble for Quebec. The Anglophone community contributes to Montreal’s and Quebec’s economic success, to its progress toward a knowledge economy … and powerfully contributes to connecting us with Anglophone America, our main client and partner. The departure of 100,000 or 200,000 of them would stop Montreal’s economic recovery in its tracks and aggravate Quebec’s demographic decline …

Yep. He actually wrote that in his book. Surprised that you don’t hear it oft-quoted as a PQ sound bite? Let’s just say that the disclosure of hard truths is not the typical bailiwick of the professional Quebec nationalist.

The English-speaking world is not a belligerent monolith looking to swallow up the French language and murder it. It is dispassionate — language to most Anglophones is but a means to communicate, nothing more. If lots of people happen to use our language in the world, so be it. But that in and of itself doesn’t sound the death knell for French in North America. If French is imperiled in Quebec, it is self-inflicted through neglect and frankly, no amount of legislation will keep English out forever anyway. Ask yourself how little Armenia manages to preserve its language in the midst of 120 million Russians. Or how does tiny Bhutan maintain nineteen different indigenous tongues while nestled in between 1.3 billion Chinese and 1.1 billion Indians. Kind of makes those 350 million English-speakers in North America seem less intimidating, doesn’t it?

The instinct for Quebec to retreat away from perceived domination will cloud it from a better understanding of the truth: that English, while undeniably the emerging global language, is not the enemy. It is your friend. It will help you prosper and expand and abandon fear. It will give your children opportunity and allow your lives to be enriched through them. We Anglos? We can help with this… if you’d just let us. Once we leave, who will be left to demand equality and freedom of education? Do you not understand that we are the LAST bastions of resistance against state-imposed restrictions on access to English education? This is not for our own benefit — we are ALLOWED to send our children to English school. No, our protest was for your benefit. Oh, and make no mistake, once we’ve packed up and moved, the point will be moot because few to no English schools will remain in Quebec anyway.

We can also help protect the French language in Quebec — something that we cherish and champion as much as you — because it’s what makes us unique. We are your ambassadors to the rest of the world, introducing the richness of Quebecois art, music, and literature and advocating its survival. Incidentally, while we’re on the topic of rights, who will you benchmark francophone rights in the rest of Canada against? Who will ensure that Canadians continue to appreciate and respect the status of French in North America? Even if you achieve independence from Canada, (without us, because we’ll be a goner) all you will have accomplished is to gain a bit more short term cultural security at the expense of prosperity, freedom and contentment. Ideological states that are founded on the basis of xenophobic identity politics and nationalistic aspiration can NEVER be bastions of true liberty and free expression — the two concepts are fully at odds with each other.

I know, I know… you’re still afraid of the big, bad English bogeyman coming in the dark of night to assimilate you. Let me reassure you. Americans, in their arrogant splendour, scarcely know you exist. And English Canada? They just want to get on with their lives. They aren’t the least bit interested in cultural conquest — they are barely even aware of their own cultural identity. However, what they don’t understand is a) what makes Quebec unique and b) the root of Quebec’s insecurity — that’s where we Anglos come in again.

Whether the Quebec border remains a provincial boundary or becomes an international one, there will always be trade — both commercial and cultural. If Quebec ever wants to see that trade flourish, there needs to be mutual respect and understanding. We “get” Canada and we “get” Quebec. Use us. Keep us. Make us want to stay. You can’t just cut us loose like a needless appendage — we are integral to Quebec society and thus represent a potential gap that would be impossible to backfill. We are doctors, lawyers, engineers and accountants. We work in restaurants, bars and boutiques; work as landscapers, salespeople and handymen; there’s even a handful of us who snuck into jobs in the public service. Most importantly, we can speak French and can move lithely within the various corridors of Quebec society. How do we do this? Well, quite naturally… because we’re Quebecois, like you.

If we leave, who in the hell is going to replace us? I wouldn’t count on immigration as a panacea — they’re likely none too thrilled nowadays about the prospect of living under the anvil of institutional discrimination, courtesy of Bills 14 and 60 (not to mention 22, 101 and 178). Quebec, with its aging population and declining birth and immigration rates can ill afford to lose any people, let alone fully assimilated ones. Let’s face it — without us, Quebec is like a table with only three legs. Similarly, without Quebec, something in me would always be missing… however, forgive me for being glib but, I’d survive just fine.

So what am I asking of you? Why this (extremely) long letter? There are a few things. Let me begin with an appeal to reason. First, you need to acknowledge that the battle of the Plains of Abraham is over. It ended 253 years ago and long gone is anyone who had a stake in its outcome. There are many less-than-genuine individuals who occupy the halls of power in Quebec and they profit greatly from making you believe that the battle still rages. If it does, then it is a battle with only one side still fighting and no good can come from that. So, put the old battles where they belong — in the history books. Then embrace your Quebecois brethren — Anglophones, allophones, francophones alike — as equals and let them know that this is their home as much as it is yours.

Second, you must decide what is more important to you — the fears of the past and the intolerance that it breeds or the hope of the future and the rewards of inclusiveness. You cannot have both at the same time. If you choose fear and embrace the xenophobes in a desperate effort to preserve a static and archaic image of the Quebec ideal, you guarantee disappointment for yourself. The proverbial wall erected by repressive law will only serve to stem progress and openness for so long until the mortar between its fragile bricks begins to crack and heave — eventually giving way to reason and enlightenment. So why delay the inevitable relief and prosperity you’ll experience in joining the global village? Start now. The alternative is a descent into social decay and economic squalor — reminiscent of la Grande Noirceur that Quebecers worked so hard to lift after the death of Duplessis. So, if repeating the mistakes of the past is not your thing, when the time comes to vote in the next election, tell us non-francophones that you want us to stay by NOT voting for the party of intolerance and division. Make no mistake — I am not endorsing any other party or platform or cause. If you’d rather spoil your ballot than vote PLQ, QS or CAQ or anyone else, fine by me — that is a valid political statement. But I need to hear this proverbial plea from you loud and clear… ASK me to stay. If you do, I promise I will. I mean, where else would I rather be?

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What’s Good For the Gander

The Bitter Pill of Linguistic Equality

The provincial election in Quebec is over. Yes, I know, it wasn’t just any election — it was THE election. Everybody, breathe easy. The bullet has been dodged and a collective sigh of relief is audible right across the province. That’s because an unlikely alliance of interests in Quebec combined forces to oust a government that threatened to permanently rip apart our social fabric. At one point seeming inevitable, many of us in Quebec became apoplectic at the mere thought of a Parti-Quebecois majority government. Yet most of us are now enjoying a smarmy sense of satisfaction, particularly among Quebec’s minorities. So what now? Before we get too comfortable resting on our laurels, maybe we should take stock of this “victory” because, lest we forget, a more familiar problem still looms large.

Mostly lost in all the campaign hoopla around value charters and referenda was the fundamental and traditional discourse on language rights. It reared its head briefly, if only to victimize our incoming premier as a language “weakling” — someone ill-prepared or unmotivated to defend Quebec’s French character. Though for the most part, language issues stayed on the backburner this time.

Over the last twenty-odd years, most language “moderates” in Quebec have bought into the popular narrative that we have reached a so-called equilibrium between minority rights on the one hand, and the defense of the French language on the other. Anglophones have been mostly cowed into accepting the status quo through a feeling of resignation. Most francophones aren’t thrilled about the idea of raising the spectre of language either, fearing the scrutiny and instability that inevitably results. But, somehow, the language issue keeps annoyingly popping up, rearing its ugly head every few months without fail (see: Pastagate).

How can we resolve it once and for all? Always fearful of giving language hawks an excuse to clamp down even further, Anglophones might wish to leave things well enough alone, lest they poke the sleeping bear. But privately, most would admit that their utopian Quebec would be one free of the shackles of language legislation, where English could once again flourish. As if the repeal of Bill 101 would mean the sudden and miraculous appearance of new English schools, English storefronts and English place-names. Not likely to happen, of course, but this IS the vision that so many of us not-so-secretly aspire to. Well, maybe we should be careful of what we wish for.

I, like most Quebec Anglophones, have bitterly opposed our language laws and the various methods by which they are enforced since I was first old enough to understand them. My virulent opposition was centered solely on two arguments and they are both compelling: that a) legislating against a language or its speakers is an affront to the fundamental right of free expression and b) this type of social engineering creates two classes of citizens — with one of them on the losing side of discrimination. Beginning in the 1970’s, Quebec made a series of dubious choices to sacrifice some of our rights, ostensibly to protect its linguistic heritage. I’ve heard many argue that language laws are “necessary” to protect the French language. I think they sincerely believe that this cause trumps our sacred fundamental rights. What seems of less concern to them is how dangerous it is to cross that line — I mean, what other freedoms should we abandon in the name of a “common good” and where would it end? The reality is that you cannot equivocate on individual rights — either you believe it is an inviolable legal precept… or you don’t. This is precisely why we have entrenched certain principles into our constitution — to protect them from the vagaries of the majority’s opinion. Fear of something has never been a valid excuse to rescind or diminish the rights of an individual, even if that fear is justified. Benjamin Franklin said it best: “Those who would sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither.”

I think it’s fair to suggest that most Anglophones agree with the above. However, therein lies the problem: these very same Anglophones have no issue with those parts of our language laws that actually protect English-language public institutions. It’s the least we can expect, we argue. How else to ensure our minority rights and the survival of our culture amidst a sea of French? Sound familiar? If it does it’s because it is precisely the same argument used to justify harsh measures that protect French from English. The old idiom of having your cake and eating it too is fitting. This hypocrisy would be tolerable save for one little fact that seems to be inconvenient to English-speaking Quebecers — the lingua franca (pardon the pun) in Quebec is French. Always has been, always will be. It may not have always been the dominant language of business or of the power-wielding elite but it has always been the mother tongue of the vast majority of Quebecers. Time to not only accept this reality but to realize that it is actually a good thing. The French character of Quebec is beautiful, enriching and pleasantly quirky. It is a source of pride for all of us. And let’s all admit — when we’re abroad, we all like to show our feathers and dabble in the language of Moliere to impress our poor, unilingual brethren in the rest of Canada or the U.S.

Putting aside the idiosyncrasies of French in Quebec, one cannot deny its natural linguistic supremacy in our province. Even if no language laws existed, save for a few small enclaves, French would still enjoy hegemony over other languages here — and rightly so. I cannot for the life of me understand why so many Anglophones have failed to come to terms with this one fact. I mean, no one questions the supremacy of English in the U.S. or of Polish in Poland.

Right about now I would expect to hear the common refrain that equates the status of French as a minority language in Canada with English as a minority language in Quebec. It goes something like this: It is French that is the true minority language in Canada — not English — and therefore, Anglophones in Quebec should not be treated like a minority at all. This leads to the related argument that if one minority in Canada can impose the supremacy of its language in one particular region of the country then another minority within that same region should be able to do the same. Why make distinctions between minorities? It should be an equal playing field for all. The above proposition might seem reasonable to many but that doesn’t make it any less wrong. One can indeed make a distinction. First off, Quebec is a defined jurisdiction with its own history — a large volume of which precedes its confederation into Canada. The Anglophone minority in Quebec was never a separate entity with a fully distinct history from the rest of Quebec. Whatever our underlying intent, we migrated gradually to Quebec over two and a half centuries always with a full understanding that we were moving to a place where French was already entrenched as the common tongue. In short, what that means is that Quebec and its French heritage should rightfully enjoy a status in Canada that the English minority in Quebec cannot reasonably claim. What it doesn’t mean is that we are obliged to assimilate and abandon our own language. We can even hope for some special considerations. In some countries the language minorities are substantial enough (but without any defined regional delineation) that accommodations are made, such as multilingual government services. But let’s be clear — these are accommodations, not rights. That is a crucial distinction at the very heart of the argument. Yet, we Anglos still cling to our cherished schools and hospitals and the various crumbs we’ve been thrown as though they were sacrosanct and undeniable. They are neither.

The desperate way that we hold on to these vestigial English institutions and ”rights” speaks directly to the mistrust we have towards the succession of Quebec governments that have victimized us in the name of either misplaced ideology or political expedience. Make no mistake — this mistrust is well earned. It is the residue of pre-Quiet Revolution Quebec — a zeitgeist still fresh in the memories of those old enough to recall when English held dominion over French in many key aspects of the Quebec experience. Equally remembered is the often deliberate nastiness and prejudice that coloured the dialogue between these two communities. Needless to say, these are memories not easily forgotten. Quebec’s political arena has been reduced to a grudge match between curmudgeonly old boomers trying to either recreate or stave off a bygone era.

But times have changed and younger Quebecers — English and French-speaking — need to disregard the apocryphal and incendiary narratives of previous generations. As for us Anglos, the only real rights we should insist upon with regards to English in Quebec is the right to speak it, post it, write it and advertise it anywhere or anytime we want. That’s what we’ve been denied and that’s all we should be demanding. No more, no less.

Let us for a moment imagine a Quebec with no language laws. There are most certainly many francophones who shudder at the mere thought of this but I am convinced that the supposed peril that French faces internally is mostly imagined. It’s true that no language laws would mean that English-only signs could once again dot the landscape. But while this will be of small reassurance to the language cabal in this province, I can confidently state that francophones cannot and will not suddenly “catch” English like they would a flu simply by reading a sign.

More to my point and more worrisome to the majority, it would also mean that all newcomers to Quebec could once more begin to choose English public schools for their children. Wouldn’t that endanger the future of French in Quebec due to the declining native birthrate of francophones? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But in my vision of a just and fair Quebec, the point would be moot. Why? Because there would be no more English public schools. Yup. You read that right. No more English schools, English Hospitals or English daycares. For that matter, there wouldn’t be officially French ones either. There would just be schools, hospitals and daycares. And since the common language of Quebec is French, it follows that it would be the common language of our schools and of other public institutions as well. I’m not saying this would be enshrined in some sort of official language law — it would just be de facto. Do American schools need to expressly state that they are English? Are there laws in Mexico stating that hospitals must operate in Spanish? Of course not. It just is that way. Before any of you start screaming about impracticality or constitutional amendments, I am merely outlining a vision — one that could settle the language debate for good. I am stating that if we Anglophones want the freedoms we hold so dear returned to us, we must distinguish between our rights and our wants. I’m not saying that a public school or a hospital couldn’t make accommodations or cater to some degree a particular linguistic minority. A school board in Montreal’s West Island might opt for a more enriched English language program or a hospital might decide to keep more multilingual people on staff if it is in a particularly immigrant-dense neighbourhood. And why not? The whole idea is to remove restrictive legislation from the entire equation. Only then can equality reign and linguistic peace be achieved.

For you Anglophones who suspect that I’ve gone insane in order to suggest the above, consider this: The legal protections and institutions you hope to maintain are the very instruments of your subjugation. When you differentiate yourselves from other Quebecers by seeking special status, you highlight a distinction between “us” and “them.” Might you not be inviting reciprocal discrimination? How can you be accepted as equals when you demand privileges that no one else has? At what point — if there is one at all — should a minority get special considerations? Should we create public Italian, Hebrew or Tamil schools? Arabic hospitals? The lines become blurred. Who gets to decide when or where we need to create a new linguistic sub-state? Too many exceptions can nullify a rule. It should also be considered that demanding this degree of privilege infantilizes our entire community, as though it couldn’t survive without its proverbial nanny. This archaic concept of “separate-but-equal” does nothing but exacerbate and propagate mistrust between people and taken to its extreme, can result in pernicious levels of bigotry. Just ask our neighbours to the south how much pain it caused them (and still lingers) before they finally abandoned the idea. I mean, is this what we really want? Not if we claim to stand for true equality for all.

As I said before, Quebec is French. Get over it. That means that if I want to send my child to a public school, I should naturally expect that the curriculum is taught in French. It means that no public servant should be compelled to speak any language whatsoever by virtue of law, including nurses, judges or police officers. It should be up to common sense and proper hiring practices to make the determination what languages are required to do one’s job. But it also means that absolutely no limitations on English in the private sector can be permitted if we are truly to call ourselves a free society. This is how it is elsewhere in democratic societies. The majority should never infringe on individual rights. But beyond that limit, one must accept the principle that the majority still does rule. That is, in essence, the very definition of democracy.

As minorities, we are entitled to our fundamental rights. This includes the right to speak English but does not extend the right to hear it. The same goes for our French-speaking brothers — it is a mistake that far too many make. For too long, we all have been waiting for the other side to blink. Anglos have spent decades waiting for language-fueled nationalism to die — language hardliners in the francophone community have spent a generation waiting for us to leave. Neither will really happen. The sooner everyone awakens to reality, the better. Then Anglophones can learn to accept the supremacy of French in Quebec by setting aside unreasonable demands and francophones can loosen their stranglehold on English language rights without the fear that cultural extinction will ensue.

So it comes to this: The English-speaking community cannot at once argue the Darwinian point of view that the francophone community must survive on its own merits without protection while simultaneously demanding protections of our own. At different scales, we both face a similar challenge: we are linguistic islets surrounded by a vast ocean. We must be no more afraid of assimilation that we expect our counterparts to be. Guile, trust and intrepidity are needed for us to rise above past pettiness. If we can find that trust in each other and bring a fresh perspective, then perhaps one day soon we can boast of a sublime Quebec where people are judged only by what they say and not by the language in which they say it.

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An Open Letter from a Black Man to His White Family in a Moment of Violence

Photo credit: Love and Struggle Photos

To the white people I share home with,

I’ve gotten degrees. I’ve been published. I’ve spoken at academic gatherings. I’ve taught classes and workshops. I’ve built up a resume. I’ve gained employment in the acceptable fields of social justice. For years, you told me these were the things I needed to do in order to be listened to.

I’ve participated in direct action. I’ve been arrested. I’ve survived nearly three decades in a country that hates me. I’ve predicted the formation of movements, the swell of riots, months and even years before their occurrences. I don’t know what else I need to do to be legitimized, be validated, to be worthy of being heard and taken seriously.

I am exhausted from trying to get you on board with a movement–one that mirrors those from previous eras you claim to revere, and that has reignited calls for social transformation once heralded by the writers, speakers, musicians and artists you claim to hold dearest. I wonder if you understand what any of the struggles which have occurred during your lifetime were ever actually about.

I am not naive nor arrogant enough to believe my imploring can achieve in this moment what centuries of Black imploring has not been able to. I am not foolish enough to believe this letter will be the letter that changes your minds. I write because I need to speak, because I am in pain. I write because I cannot bear any more condescension, more indifference. I write to tell you I am not going to.

The cry of this moment is Black Lives Matter. If you are not involved, I assume this is a statement you take issue with.

When we say Black Lives Matter, we mean Black people are the experts in their own lives, their own history, their own struggles. We mean your opinions are not necessary, and that debating you is a waste of our valuable energy, mental health and time. We mean you do not get to speak on issues with which you have no experience, which you have not studied nor researched, but on which you feel entitled enough to award yourself authority. We mean you must be quiet and listen to Black people.

You can no longer hide behind your idealism. The very existence of this moment proves your ideals to be misled and hollow.

If legislation alone could save us, the 13th Amendment, Special Field Order №15, and Brown vs. Board would have saved us. If electoral politics alone could save us, then the innumerable Black justices and representatives elected in the last half century would have saved us. If white saviors could save us, we would have been saved a million times over. But we are here and we are dying, and you are watching from the sidelines.

You call me an anarchist. You say you fear chaos. If you knew what it means to be Black, what is happening in your towns and cities daily, you’d know that chaos and bloodshed are already here. They are visited on women, on people of color, on poor people, workers, on immigrants, on trans people, on queer people, and they are done so constantly. Chaos is our bed, our sheets, our water, our front steps, our sidewalks. The systems you insist we trust to address it, the leaders you elected, are its source. Your fear of movement, and your denial of this reality, is what allows it to continue.

This is the last time I will say this to you:

Black people are dying. Every day, Black trans women are dying. Black children are dying. Black mothers and sisters are dying. Maybe I have to die for you to understand what this means.

If the demands of our movement are unclear to you, that is your fault. We have stated them concretely and concisely, over and over again–not just at this moment, but at every time in history Black people have fought for their lives. Don’t pretend that because the sources you read don’t report it, the information is unavailable. Don’t act as though your selective hearing is the result of our lack of organizing. Don’t tell the leaders who have penned the most passionate pleas for justice in US history they need to be more articulate.

And when the police come for me, don’t cry. When I am murdered by a supremacist in the street, don’t mourn me. If I am put in a cage for speaking out, don’t call it a travesty. Because it is happening, has been happening unceasingly for the last five centuries, and you have done nothing to stop it.

Do not feign shock at the inevitable. It disrespects me, and the memory of every Black person your system has purposefully killed.

When I tell you my needs, talk of my pain, my anger, all my stories, it is a privilege and blessing you haven’t earned. It is a profound form of vulnerability I engage not because you deserve it, but because I as a Black person choose to share it with you. I do so for the sole reason that I do not wish to lose you from my life, do not want the most core parts of my existence to be hidden from you. But when you refuse to look, they remain invisible. When you resist seeing, you deprive yourself of authentic entrance into who I truly am, and what I truly need from you.

And your denial cannot protect you, just as my silence cannot protect me.

This movement is happening without you, despite you. But real transformation is not possible unless you listen deeply, sincerely, even when it is painful, and take brave action at your own risk to fight for the things the Black community is demanding of you.

When Black people speak, and you do not listen, you are creating the conditions of a riot. And when you tell us we are exaggerating, playing the martyr, making it all up, then you cannot be surprised when we elect militancy to make you comprehend what you refused to understand when we were peaceful.

A son, brother, nephew and grandson of Black, queer liberation

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The Fascist Bogeyman

There’s a noise under the bed and it won’t stop

The current debate about fascism in America has, thus far, centered on the definition. Many publications have been musing in the same direction: “Is Donald Trump a fascist?” (Slate, The New York Times), “Is Donald Trump an Actual Fascist?” (Vanity Fair), “Donald Trump and Fascism: Is He or Isn’t He?” (National Review), etc. People want to know what to call things and that’s understandable, but I’m not sure how useful this exercise is. Fascist is as fascist does, and by the time we can agree on the exact definition it may already be too late.

When I planned to write about ¡No Pasarán!, a new collection about the Spanish Civil War edited by Pete Ayrton, I thought there might be some good lessons in there about fascism. With the Trump campaign improbably continuing and the alt-right Nazi brand on the rise, many of us agree that a solid operational understanding of fascism is increasingly necessary. Whether or not the label applies to our present situation, I’m pretty sure it’s valid when talking about Generalissimo Francisco Franco of the Spanish Falange.

I figured I would outline the historical timeline, cite a couple historical curiosities, draw some ominous connections to the election, get a check, and move on. Instead, I got stuck on a couple anecdotes in one of the pieces, an excerpt of the Basque writer Bernardo Atxaga’s book De Gernika a Guernica. The first is from the village of Fuenteguinaldo, and it happened in 1936 but wasn’t revealed publicly for 70 years:

“Apparently, the Falangists asked the priest to draw up a list of all the reds and atheists in the village … They went from house to house looking for them. At nine o’clock at night, they were taken to the prison in Ciudad Rodrigo, and at four o’clock in the morning, were told they were being released, but, at the door of the prison, a truck was waiting and, instead of taking them home, it brought them here to be killed.”

The second comes from the failed coup attempt in 1981:

“I was living in a village in Castille with fewer than two hundred inhabitants. I became friendly with a young socialist who was a local councillor. When I met him one day, he was looking positively distraught. He had just found out that in February of that year, on the night Colonel Tejero burst into Parliament and the tanks came out onto the streets, the local priest had gone straight to the nearest military barracks intending to hand in a list of local men who should be arrested; my friend’s name was at the top of the list.”

Someone puts your name on a list and you disappear. And maybe all the people who care enough to look for you disappear too. And no one hears what happened until everyone you ever knew is dead. That is, if you’ll excuse my language, the fucking bogeyman. It scares the hell out of me.

There’s a danger to thinking about fascism as something other than human, not just because it is people, but because it presents a temptation to dehistoricize. Fascism becomes something existential, a tyrannical tendency somewhere deep in the character of all people or all societies that needs to be restrained but occasionally breaks free to wreak havoc. Once we start down that path it’s not too long before we get to “We’re all a little bit fascist,” and “Was Alexander the Great a fascist?” That is lazy, useless thinking, the kind of “human nature” nonsense that is the first resort of the uninformed and uninterested.

Monsters and ghouls have always been a part of human community as far as I know, but they each emerge under particular circumstances. Think FernGully: The evil spirit Hexxus is freed from a tree (where it’s been imprisoned) when a timber crew chops it down. Ancient Hexxus seeps out with the character — even the name — of modern pollution. The creature is the externalities of industrial production embodied. It moves like oil and smoke. That pollution makes monsters is not a special insight; everyone knows about Godzilla. But moral pollution, of course, yields demons as well. Monsters show up when some scale is stubbornly uneven, when karma is repressed. Toxic waste dumped in the swamp, but graves disturbed too. That we’ve always had evil isn’t a way to avoid understanding the specifics of its incarnations. Thinking about fascism as a bogeyman in this way could be more useful. What kind of monster is it?

Allow me some speculation. Fascism is a nation-shaped monster. It arises alongside the modern state, and though they share sympathies (and weapons) across borders, fascists are nationalists. One of the conflicts that feeds fascism is between 19th-century ideas about the racial character of states and 20th-century pluralist ones. Our global system is supposedly based on something like collective self-determination, but it’s grafted onto a map drawn by colonial violence and pseudo-scientific ideas about Gauls and Teutons. Fascism is a particular combination of Romantic/Victorian ambitions and modern tools that sparks to life as the two eras grind against each other. Frankenstein with the arms of capitalist industry and the heart of a monarchist. Patriotic young Hitler inhaling mustard gas in the trenches, like a panel from the first issue of a comic book.

One of those modern tools is the list. We’ve always indexed information, but our ability to do so grows in qualitative jumps. To round up all your enemies at a national level is an analytics problem, and it’s one we solved under particular circumstances. The quantitative management of populations doesn’t just happen to emerge around slavery, it emerges out of slavery. And the Civil War didn’t break the line: At the Eugenics Records Office (ERO) in Cold Springs Harbor, New York, so-called scientists of the early 20th century kept lists of the genetically (and racially) undesirable. They embarked on sterilization campaigns and lent their expertise to help halt the flow of immigrants. The Nazis infamously used IBM to manage the Holocaust; the Americans (less infamously) also used IBM to manage the Japanese internment camps. When NYU’s Asian/Pacific/American Institute recreated an ERO office in 2014, they called the exhibit “Haunted Files.” Perhaps our filing systems are haunted too.

Modern liberal states have never truly reconciled their racial character with their democratic pretensions. I’m not clear on how such a thing could be possible; where would a truly pluralist state draw its borders and why? Flipping through a history book it’s hard to argue that the nation-state system doesn’t exist for the arbitrarily divided glory of western Europeans. The official line is that we’re supposed to ignore that part, or be sad. But some people don’t want to ignore it and they aren’t sad. Instead they wonder why we have the nice borders that their conquering “ancestors” drew but all these people on the wrong sides. If taking Mexico’s land for white people was illegitimate, then why haven’t we given it back? And if it was legitimate, then what’s wrong with a wall to protect our side from a reversal? The liberal patriots, they say, are lying to themselves; there is no nationalism that is not ethno-nationalism.

The persistence of the fascist bogeyman suggests that they have a point. The beast can skulk in the basement for decades, feeding off the contradictions at the foundation of the pluralist state and its own waste. This is 2016 and we can’t claim that fascism is a birth pang of the global democratic order, an enemy defeated. (Ghosts, zombies, the terminator: monsters so rarely go away when they’re supposed to.) Fascism seems inextricably tied to what we have, like Dorian Gray’s portrait locked in a closet, consolidating ugliness.

Whether or not they could finish off fascism once and for all, liberals usually aren’t tempted to try. I don’t know if that’s because they sense something irradicable there, but liberals have historically found deals to make with their shadow. Spain is one of the more striking examples. When Franco’s insurgents escalated, the rest of the world agreed to stay neutral so as to stall the already foreseen World War II. But the war had already begun: Hitler and Mussolini flouted the agreement, intervening most dramatically with bombing raids. The Soviet Union breached as well, sending weapons to badly armed Madrid. The western democracies, however, stayed neutral. In return, Franco maintained Spain as a non-belligerent when world-wide hostilities broke out. It’s an agreement that lasted into the 80s.

Part of what makes the Spanish Civil War so important for leftists is the sense that it could have gone the other way. There’s an urban legend that infighting among leftists — communists, anarchists, and Trotskyists — caused the Republic’s defeat. ¡No Pasarán! has accounts of this friendly-ish fire, but no one thinks it decisive compared to German and Italian air power or the western arms embargo. Spanish republicans and their study abroad comrades fought bravely, but the bogeyman has an advantage at the insurgency stage. Violence is its thing.

The bogeyman makes a real offer: Delegate to me your capacity for limitless violence and together we will dominate. That they’re able to do it justifies the undertaking, and they are, under some circumstances, able to do it. A willingness to strike first, to drag your enemies from their beds in the middle of the night, to steal their babies, that’s a force multiplier, especially when combined with the right information technology. There is strength in white nationalist unity. Horrifying, despicable, anti-human strength, but strength still. The fascist image is a bundle of sticks or arrows — the fasces, harder to break. And they are.

I think of the 2015 movie Green Room, about a band of punks who get trapped inside a Nazi club and have to try and fight their way out. Joe Cole plays the drummer Reece, and he’s the only one who shows any sort of confidence, preparation, or leadership when it comes to fighting fascists. With his MMA skills he incapacitates a giant skinhead bouncer and directs the gang to make a break for it. He’s not out a club window one moment before two faceless, nameless Nazi henchmen have stabbed him to death. For me this moment illuminates a basic truth about fascist strategy: It does not matter how smart or brave or capable or strong you are. There are two of us, we have knives, and we’re waiting outside the window.

Liberal democracies are constitutionally vulnerable to the bogeyman. We civilians have already delegated our capacity for violence to the military abroad and the police at home. If there’s a threat to law and order, then the forces of law and order will take care of it. We don’t have to worry about protecting our democracy, there are professionals for that. All we have to do is vote for the right people to manage them. But that plan has risks.

America’s founders thought they could write the standing army out by fiat, and they have been proven very wrong. Liberal democracies maintain giant war machines. Within each of these war machines — as in the religious and business communities — there are cults that worship the bogeyman. Members wear tattoos, patches, insignias to identify each other. They recruit. Some of them go to meetings, most probably don’t. I imagine that many of them get fulfillment from their work. Why wouldn’t fascists feel at home in the police, the border patrol, the army? Asking these organizations to maintain anti-fascist vigilance on behalf of the whole population is a fox and henhouse situation.

If Donald Trump is a fascist — as even the liberal media is beginning to agree — and has a non-negligible chance to winning the presidency, what is the contingency plan? If a Trump administration were to flout what’s left of our democratic norms, how would our system protect itself? I don’t know how Trump polls among active-duty military, but the Fraternal Order of Police has already endorsed him. Part of me thinks “Troops loyal to Hillary Clinton,” is a phrase we could get used to fast, but I’m not sure how many of those there are. Are the Vox dot com technocrats expecting a Seal Team 6 bullet to solve the Trump problem if things get too hairy? It seems remarkable that the two 20th-century American politicians we talk about getting closest to fascist takeovers — Huey Long and George Wallace — were both stymied not by the democratic process but by lone gunmen. That’s a bad defense strategy. Thankfully, it’s not the only one available.

Via Richmond Struggle, anti-fascists in Richmond, VA

Wherever there have been fascists there have also been anti-fascists: Traditionally communists, anarchists, socialists, and some folks who just hate fascists. When left-wing parties have on occasion decided to stand by while fascists targeted liberal governments, anti-fascist elements have still distinguished themselves. Anti-fascism is based on the idea that fascists will use content-neutral liberal norms like freedom of speech and association as a Trojan Horse. By the time the threat seems serious, the knives are already out. Antifa seek to nip the threat in the bud, attacking fascists wherever they’re weak enough to attack. If that means busting up their meetings with baseball bats, then that’s what it means.

In America, we remember the Spanish Civil War mostly through anti-fascist anglophone writers — George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway being the most famous — who decamped for Spain. Unlike fascists and liberals, anti-fascists are internationalists, and no citizenship takes precedence over the struggle. When the call went out for sympathizers to come and defend the Spanish Republic, one young British volunteer, Laurie Lee, called it “the chance to make one grand, uncomplicated gesture of personal sacrifice and faith which may never occur again. Certainly, it was the last time this century that a generation had such an opportunity before the fog of nationalism and mass-slaughter closed in.” Comrades of all sorts of nationalities and particular left-wing political views signed up for the motley “International Brigades.” There was and is a purity to this gesture; to go and risk your life alongside your attacked comrades is among the highest imaginable acts of solidarity. “¡No pasarán!” (They will not pass) is an anti-fascist slogan of such power that it’s still in use today, many decades after it turned out to be a lie.

Because pass they did. The righteous rag-tag army was no match for the German and Italian bombers. Spain stands for anti-fascism across borders, but also the catastrophe of its failure. If there’s one lesson we can learn from the War it’s that fascists don’t always lose. The arc of history is not a missile defense system and sometimes righteous solidarity makes for full prison camps.

For years American anti-fascists have been very effective. Up until the Trump campaign, they had largely prevented white nationalists from meeting in public in cities. It usually works something like this: Antifa finds out where the Nazis are planning to meet and they call the hotel or conference center they’re going to use and explain who exactly “American Renaissance” is, and what will happen if the meeting happens (chaos). Most reputable establishments exercise their right to decline Nazi business. This kind of tactic offends the liberal sensibility, but it’s the only choice. The least violent way to oppose fascism is to disrupt them before they feel strong enough to act in an organized way. I fear that window is closing.

I don’t think Donald Trump is going to be elected president, but the fascists who have found a vessel in his campaign have been licking their lips for months straight. Things are going better than they could have hoped and they won this round a long time ago. I have no doubt they’re thinking about how to organize their engorged base in November’s wake. Fascists aren’t democrats and they don’t need a majority.

The bogeyman is in the closet and he’s making so much noise it’s hard to pretend we can’t hear it. We have a choice to make, if not as a country, then as members of this society. We can get out of bed, open the door, and confront the social infection that is fascism. Or we can pull the sheets up over our heads, pretend history ended 25 years ago, and try to get back to sleep. Maybe the noise will stop on its own — it is possible, even likely. But maybe we’ll wake up with our throats slit. There won’t be a different kind of warning.

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