Speak white
June 16, 2012 1:00 PM   Subscribe

Speak white.
posted by - (48 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
Interesting, this came up in Laurie Penny's report on the Montreal protests recently.
posted by The Whelk at 1:12 PM on June 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hell of a performance. Thanks.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 1:15 PM on June 16, 2012


For people like me who are terrible at listening to a foreign language, the text of the poem.
posted by winna at 1:16 PM on June 16, 2012


Merci!
posted by lazymuse at 1:17 PM on June 16, 2012


And oh lord once I scrolled down on the second link it's there, too. I had opened them both, listened to the poem and went looking for the text without scrolling to the bottom of the second link. Mea culpa!
posted by winna at 1:19 PM on June 16, 2012


Is this something that I need to know French to understand?
posted by Knigel at 1:21 PM on June 16, 2012


I found this bit (discussing inuits and their languages towards the end) quite interesting:
As one elder put it to me: “We have created a generation that speaks three languages poorly but has no mother tongue. Imagine lacking the safety of knowing that, in at least one language, you can describe both the world around you and the world within.”
I'm not very familiar with the multilingual debate. I know that at one point it was considered to be bad to encourage multilingualism amongst children, but that the debate has now moved to the other side. Given that generally it's accepted that multilingualism is good for children, how does this statement fit into that? Is it a problem that these children are learning two or three languages?

The statement seems to suggest that the children are learning how to speak one hybridised language. In my experience with multilingual children (and the little exposure I've had to literature) children who speak more than one language are very good at compartmentalising them and only using the one suitable for the situation. There is obviously the case in a lot of languages (especially with English) where native words essentially extend the adopted language as a form of slang, but my understanding is that those using a language in such a way are generally speaking one language (with all the rules that come with it) with some local modification, rather than using a true hybridised language.

It'd be interesting to know if there's been much research into that.
posted by leo_r at 1:23 PM on June 16, 2012


Peut-être, knigel. Peut-être.

I only got it in bits, myself, but très interressant.
posted by Diablevert at 1:25 PM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I always appreciate it when MetaFilter != AmericanFilter.
posted by desjardins at 1:28 PM on June 16, 2012 [20 favorites]


Je ne comprends pas.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:38 PM on June 16, 2012


Are francophones not the majority in Quebec? How is this poem anything but the same old jingoistic xenophobia typical of FLQ terrorists of the time?

The percentage of Anglo Quebecers has been steadily dropping for at least the last 50 years as their rights are gradually stripped away. Congratulations.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:57 PM on June 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


That was a very impressive performance. My husband is French Canadian; French is his first language but he speaks English with a slight Canadian accent but no French accent. His parents were conscientious to raise him and his sister in a bilingual household. I can tell which of his parents Mr. Ant is talking to by which language he's speaking (French with his mother, English with his father.)

My husband has never expressed anything but appreciation for his parents' diligence in raising him bilingual, and he's never lacked for a 'mother tongue' to express himself in.

Everybody in Mr. Ant's huge extended family thinks the Quebec separatists are loons, so I've never heard a cogent analysis of the situation there. Parenthetically, I speak French also but I speak Parisian French. I have a horrid time following conversations until around my third glass of wine, so I spend most of my visits with the in-laws slightly plastered. It seems to work for everyone.
posted by workerant at 2:05 PM on June 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Jingoism might be anglo, but Chauvin was french:

Section 6
"Every person eligible for instruction in Québec has a right to receive that instruction in French."
Section 75
"The Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports may empower such persons as he may designate to verify and decide on children's eligibility for instruction in English under any of sections 73, 81, 85 and 86.1.

In addition to the documents and information required by regulation, a person designated by the Minister may require a person to send the designated person, within a set time, any document or information relevant to the verification of a request made under this chapter. The designated person may also require that the documents or information be accompanied by a sworn statement of their veracity."
posted by ethansr at 2:27 PM on June 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


interesting post - quite unexpected.
(even for those who are not Canadian but who speak both languages, the constant switching between English and French makes the poem hard to parse, imo. Then again, that's maybe how a Quebecois thinks like. Interesting.)
posted by ruelle at 2:58 PM on June 16, 2012


All I know is about a weak ago some crazy guy shrieked ad me that I was a "liberal slut" for not wanting to indulge his effort to pick me up with my bad french, along with a number of other declarations that I was in a french country and I should speak french or get out.

It's a weird inversion, to be both part of the globally powerful group, but also to feel a bit like an unwelcome minority, despite being as native as anyone else born here. There's definitely no space on the debate to not try to slot somewhere into the oppressor/oppressed dynamic, and it's really discouraging to go to french classes and be treated to an assembly where its lauded that a recent immigrant and student is now going to french language protection rallies, and try to read french op-ed articles only to find people bitching about how it's shameful not to have enough french to understand a bus driver's complicated instruction about a route change.

Economically, separatism was a disaster for the province. A lot of the headquarters decamped for Toronto, and the curious effect of the language laws is that you need french to get the job, but a lot of places specify bilingual because the alternative is isolationism- since the other french speaking countries are not exactly easy markets, though there's a heavy attempt for things like student exchanges with France.

It's definitely not fair to try to turn the tuition hike into a separatist issue. it's not the only attempt that's been made at raising the cost of education, and though the local PQ (provincial level big nationalist party) is eager to see the liberals fail, they're just as untrustworthy in practice, in this sort of thing. It's also a place with an odd flip, where the NDP -slaughtered- in this province, knocking the BQ (Federal level Quebec nationalist party) out hard, even the BQ's leader. So you have a strong cleaving to the left, that transcends the language/culture and it's weird seeing the tuition thing being made into yet another nationalist rallying cause.
posted by Phalene at 3:33 PM on June 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


The only time I ever heard "speak white" in Montreal was from an American film director addressing members of his local crew.
posted by Jode at 4:52 PM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow. That was intense. Excellent post.

In some ways that is how French works in Quebec, with Englishisms thrown in. My relatives switch between English at French mid-conversation all the time, occasionally mid-sentence. The Tetes-a-claque Willy waller sketch uses this at an extreme. (I feel kinda dumb posting this in such a serious thread but... it's great. It includes the French verb bullshiter.)
posted by sixohsix at 4:56 PM on June 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was born in the '80s and live outside Quebec, so I'm not about to deny that this is a thing.

That said, it doesn't make a lick of sense, and I can't imagine anyone ever saying it.

It occurs to me, however, that "speak white" sounds an awful lot like "shh--be quiet."

I mean... That can't be it, right? The whole thing couldn't be based on a simple misunderstanding, could it?
posted by Sys Rq at 5:23 PM on June 16, 2012


Our teacher played a recording of this for us back in Grade 12 or 13 french class, and while my friends and I were joking about it for weeks afterwards - "speeeg wide, and tell us dat god is a great big shot.." - there's no denying it was a very powerful work; I mean, just that I remember it so well.
posted by Flashman at 5:38 PM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have mixed feelings about a FPP that only members who speak a particular foreign language can understand, with no translation given.
posted by timsneezed at 5:58 PM on June 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


It has nothing to do with Canada or a bathhouse, but while reading this I couldn't help but think of a certain (in)famous cheesesteak restaurant in Philadelphia...
posted by trackofalljades at 6:07 PM on June 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


For those complaining about not understanding the post, did you examine both links?

Good poem. I lived in Ottawa during the 90s and never encountered the phrase.
posted by dazed_one at 6:24 PM on June 16, 2012


> I have mixed feelings about a FPP that only members who speak a particular foreign language can understand, with no translation given.

That's exactly her point.
posted by - at 6:33 PM on June 16, 2012 [9 favorites]


> I have mixed feelings about a FPP that only members who speak a particular foreign language can understand, with no translation given.

That's exactly her point.

If that's her point, that she doesn't care about non-speakers understanding, then she's just preaching to the chorus
posted by timsneezed at 6:47 PM on June 16, 2012


*to the choir
posted by timsneezed at 6:53 PM on June 16, 2012


“You have good style for a French girl,”

From the second link. I lived in Quebec for about seven years. I'm struggling to imagine under what bizarre circumstances such a statement could possibly have been made unless it was intended to be ironic (like "hey, you've got pretty good rhythm for a black guy" or something). Which is not to say that I don't believe that she subjectively believes that that is the message that she has been sent. It's more to say that this is a pretty good example of how utterly fucked we all are by social prejudices once they are unleashed. I mean, if there's one area where anglo Canadians DEFINITELY do not think they have any superiority over French Canadians it would be in stylishness of dress (particularly for women) -- and yet a free-floating inherited insecurity complex is sufficient to wipe out her ability to recoognize that the vast majority of Anglos that she has ever met would automatically assume that being francophone gives her a head start at having a sense if personal style.

No doubt she has no idea at all of the number of anglo women friends she has whose spirit she has crushed by some passing reference to the unstylishness of some item of clothing with which their closets are stuffed etc. We really never can see ourselves as others see us, can we?
posted by yoink at 7:26 PM on June 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


For those complaining about not understanding the post, did you examine both links?

I've been reading all of it with great fascination. However the writer in the second link says that an English translation follows the film, but I don't see it. I'd like that--I've been trying to pick up more French over the last few years, and plan to be in Montreal later this summer, and every little bit helps. So if there is a good translation that I'm missing I'd love to be pointed to it.
posted by TreeRooster at 8:03 PM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


That was painful to read, and just a week before Saint-Jean, too...

I'm French Canadian. My family moved to an major western Canadian city... in the summer of 1995.

Tensions were high that summer. Not only was my family told to Speak White frequently, we were throw out of several shops -- "You want to leave this country? Get the fuck out of my store."

Eventually, my mother asked us kids to say we were from France, not from Montreal. People were a little kinder after that.

I moved back to Montreal eventually, and I, too, heard "You're cool for a francophone" many, many times from my anglo friends.

Those of us who grew up in both languages, we can "pass" in both cultures. We're lucky, it has opened many doors, but it's also deeply painful to be told that you're an exception, that if you had trouble pronouncing that damn "th" sound, you wouldn't be as good to hang out with.

The language tensions are not over. They still exist, in both groups.
posted by third word on a random page at 1:27 AM on June 17, 2012 [12 favorites]


I have mixed feelings about a FPP that only members who speak a particular foreign language can understand, with no translation given.
posted by timsneezed at 1:58 AM on June 17


I'm not sure French-speaking Mefites would get your point about their language being "foreign".
posted by Decani at 2:56 AM on June 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Excellent post, thanks.

> Are francophones not the majority in Quebec? How is this poem anything but the same old jingoistic xenophobia typical of FLQ terrorists of the time?

C'est quoi cet ostie de merde la? Get a grip.
posted by languagehat at 6:53 AM on June 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


The language tensions are not over. They still exist, in both groups.

Hey third word, those anecdotes are pretty crazy. I'm sorry to hear about all of that. I come from Toronto myself, and like some of the other posters, I find it hard to imagine that people would receive condescension for being Quebecois. Everyone I know loves Montreal and Quebec and value the French part of our Canadian heritage.

J'ai aussi des amis de Montreal, et je connais un peu l'histore, les differences, et les difficultes. Et j'espere que tu as aussi rencontrer des Anglos un peu plus comme moi, qui en parlant avec les Quebecois et les Canadiens Francais devienent seulement plus heureux et fiers d'etre Canadien eux-memes.
posted by Alex404 at 7:42 AM on June 17, 2012


It's all relative. This is an English-speaking site. On a French-speaking site, English would be a foreign language.
posted by timsneezed at 8:53 AM on June 17, 2012


Powerful poem, powerful delivery.
Here's an English translation.
posted by Killick at 9:02 AM on June 17, 2012


C'est quoi cet ostie de merde la? Get a grip.

No, seriously. Co-opting the suffering of black Americans for their own ends was the FLQ's shtick, and it completely ignores the fact that a) no, sorry, you don't have it nearly that bad, and b) most anglo Canadians are in exactly the same boat.

What this sort of sentiment does is blame a minority, some of which are successful entrepreneurs (but most definitely aren't), for all the problems of the majority. Sound familiar?
posted by Sys Rq at 9:45 AM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


third word on a random page: “The language tensions are not over. They still exist, in both groups.”

Maybe so, but the linked interview has some stuff in it that is at best laughable and at worst offensive to me personally; maybe I'm not allowed to feel those feelings, being an American at all, but I was a bit taken aback at this:
“Is it recognized that up until the 1960s, our level of education was lower than that of African Americans in the United States? No. They easily name how African Americans were oppressed, but it is still not named that we too come from such a place.”
Really? Did the integration of Francophone Quebecois have to be enacted by military force? Were they lynched, their bodies burned, by the dozens? Were they shunned from whole areas of society, forced to use different toilets and drinking fountains? Were laws passed which forbade the Francophone Quebecois from marrying Anglophones? I'm sorry, but this seems to be a massive failure of perspective.

And I'll be honest, never having been to Canada, the only thing I ever hear is a hue and cry demanding that public figures in Quebec must be made to speak French. This seems more than a little unfair to me. This happened again just last year.

Maybe this is unfair. I guess I need to read a bit about Quebec history. But I still can't help but have some conflicted feelings on this. And this poem (yes, I can read French) meant more to me than the "Speak White?" poem did:

Speak What?
posted by koeselitz at 11:18 AM on June 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Is this the line for the oppression olympics?
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 11:23 AM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sys Rq you just beat me to it, I literally had the exact same link copied - I was just reading through the thread.

I grew up in Quebec in the 70's and largely because of the madness of the Partis Québécois, we left when they got into power.

Sys Rq's link goes a long way to providing the context for the poem. The francophone were undergoing an enormous change fueled by the decreasing power of the Catholic church, the influx of money from the hydro Quebec project and a general effort to get out from under the Anglos.

About ten years ago I went back to Quebec with my (now wife). By dumb happenstance our neighbors across the street from where I grew up had started renting out rooms in their nice, big farmhouse. Our families weren't close, and I never really knew why. That night we were sitting on the veranda talking about whatever - she had not really put together who I was, I don't think - but I told her, again, I lived across the street for five years. She nodded in sudden comprehension, "oh, of course - you were that peculiar French family who spoke pretty good English. We always thought that so odd."

In our room shortly thereafter my gf asked me, "and what the fuck was that about?" "Well. Quebec."
posted by From Bklyn at 11:29 AM on June 17, 2012


More seriously, the interviewee is basically right that saying the two solitudes situation has ended is highly silly. We may think we're through with the past, but the past isn't through with us. Lalonde and her generation were told to speak White, and they're still around. Anglo-Franco fights were a common occurrence in Ottawa in the 1960s.

Vallières's analysis, for all its inflammatory rhetoric, was mostly right. Until the 1960s, French Canadians formed, by and large, an underclass, and almost all of their employers were English-speaking.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 11:44 AM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Until the 1960's? I think the feeling has persisted, Vallières' big contribution was 'naming' it (in a manner at once inflammatory and perfectly of it's time. I know the title of that book has sat in my head since I first started to read and the various meanings of it have reverberated through my thoughts about what it is to be French-Canadian).
posted by From Bklyn at 2:22 PM on June 17, 2012


In 1960, if you ranked ethnic groups in Quebec by wealth, it went...
.
.
.
next to last) French Canadians
last) Native Americans

This isn't the case anymore. Most French Canadians don't live in overcrowded apartments and work low-paying industrial jobs. A much larger portion of them can hope to go to University. The economic situation has changed.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 2:43 PM on June 17, 2012


The arrogance of the anglos is not just in Canada, but all over the world.
posted by - at 2:46 PM on June 17, 2012


I have mixed feelings about a FPP that only members who speak a particular foreign language can understand, with no translation given.

I fail to understand a lot of posts, because of their topic and specialized content. It does not offend me. Quite the reverse, I like to be reminded that there is a much larger world out there than the tiny part that is familiar to me, and treat such exposures as either an invitation to grow a little, or at worst, something I can skip over and ignore.

At no time does it ever occur to me to actually go in the thread and suggest that this alien-to-me thing is somehow universally alien and should not appear on the site. And if I ever do that, I hope someone will verbally slap some perspective into me.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:24 PM on June 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


Thanks, this was very interesting. Reading non-technical French is a real challenge for me but worth it in this case. I was glad to have the poem to read through before I saw the video; made the video more impressive because I'd already puzzled through the bits I had trouble with linguistically.

I couldn't really tell from the links though: was this phrase, "Speak white", used only against French-Canadians? Or would it have been used against native peoples or anyone who spoke another language/spoke English with a strong accent?

Also, on a more pedestrian level, it's sort of making me reevaluate Don Draper's in-laws in Mad Men.
posted by nat at 10:13 PM on June 17, 2012


-: “The arrogance of the anglos is not just in Canada, but all over the world.”

Thankfully, the arrogance of the gauls is generally confined to Canada, France, Algeria, Cambodia, Viet Nam, and maybe a few other isolated places.
posted by koeselitz at 1:33 AM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


ruelle: "
(even for those who are not Canadian but who speak both languages, the constant switching between English and French makes the poem hard to parse, imo. Then again, that's maybe how a Quebecois thinks like. Interesting.)
"

Counterpoint: I had no such problem. American; bilingual in French since 1978, but never have been conversationally fluent.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:01 AM on June 18, 2012


Decani: "I have mixed feelings about a FPP that only members who speak a particular foreign language can understand, with no translation given.
posted by timsneezed at 1:58 AM on June 17


I'm not sure French-speaking Mefites would get your point about their language being "foreign".
"

Metafilter is an English-language site. Almost all of the posts here are purely English. It may not be "an American site", but try getting a FPP up in Xhosa or Portuguese, with no translations. Even if there have been some, I suspect 90% of the discourse within is in English.

Ergo, on Metafilter, English is the accepted "native" language.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:07 AM on June 18, 2012


Re: appropriateness of non-English links: there's an open MetaTalk thread for that.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:03 AM on June 18, 2012


Monday, stony Monday: "Re: appropriateness of non-English links: there's an open MetaTalk thread for that."

Heh, cool! And I'm perfectly happy being proven wrong - but up until now in Metafilter's history, I don't think I am.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:37 AM on June 18, 2012


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