The Québécois, Bruny Surin and Donovan Bailey

with 120 comments

Bruny Surin et Pauline Marois

I’ve alway though the story of Bruny Surin and Donovan Bailey were the perfect metaphor to explain Québec identity to those who couldn’t understand it in other terms than ethnicity and race.

On the 27th of september 1996 at the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Donovan Bailey ran the 100m dash in 9.84 seconds, broke the world record, clinched the title of fastest man in the world and vindicated Canada’s honour after the humiliation of the whole Ben Johnson episode.  A Canadian hero had arrived.

Well… except in Québec.  People in Québec appreciated what Bailey had done, but they didn’t quite identify with the Jamaica-born athlete in the same way other Canadians did.  In 1996 another runner who hadn’t even qualified for the final became Québec’s hero. Bruny Surin.

Why did people in Québec identify with Bruny Surin and not with Donovan Bailey?

Bailey and Surin are both black.  They were both born in the Caribbean  in 1967 and emigrated to Canada in their teens.  Bailey and Surin both loved playing basketball and it is while they were dribbling and shooting hoops that some Phys. ed. teacher noticed their potential and encouraged each of them to persue athleticism and running.

Both Surin and Bailey quickly achieved international success.  They worked with the best european coaches and trained year round on the sunny campuses of american universities.   They both became key members and medal hopefuls of Canada’s Olympic team in 1996 and it is wearing the same red and white maple-leafed uniform that they won the gold medal of the 4X100m relay. Today they share the Canadian record for the 100m sprint: 9.84 seconds.

Objectively, Bailey, not Surin, is the great Canadian hero.  Bailey set the Canadian (and then world) 100 meter dash record while winning a gold medal in Atlanta.  Surin failed to make the final as a solo runner in 1996 and only equaled Bailey’s performance years later in Seville when he finished second at the 1999 World Championships.

Yet, in 2009, Bruny Surin is still a star in Québec.  He’s a successful businessman, big corporations pay him thousands of dollars to give pep talks to their employees and he is still a regular on the television and media circuit.

Meanwhile, if it wasn’t for racial profiling, thirteen years after his triumph in Atlanta, Donovan Bailey could probably cross the entire city of Laval could without a single person stopping him on the way.

The reason people identify with Surin and forgot Bailey has nothing to do with race, ethnicity or immigration.  It’s very simple actually.  Bruny Surin and his family live in Québec and speak French with an (haitian-flavoured) Québec accent.  Bruny Surin lives in their world and Donovan Bailey, no matter how many maple leafs are on his jacket, does not.

That’s it. It’s not anymore complicated than that.

There is no great anti-Québec conspiracy theory here.  Donovan Bailey won fair and square.  Bruny Surin succeeded at all he did, yet always seemed to carry the stigma of the one who chokes at great historical junctures.

Hey, maybe that’s what the Québécois identify with.

This doesn’t mean there is no racism in Québec, or that young Haitians in Montreal do not face discrimination.  But this is not different than the discrimination black and Jamaican kids face in Toronto, despite Donovan Bailey’s success.

Bruny Surin’s biography just came out (haven’t read it) and he is said to be shopping for a political party to persue a political career.

Surin isn’t associated with any political team yet, but he has publicly supported the Parti Québécois‘ Richard Legendre in the past.

Should that ever happen,  I can’t wait to see Canada’s reaction when an Olympic medalist who carried the Maple Leaf flag up high countless times joins the Parti Québécois.

I know, I know, you won’t hate him because he’s an ungratful immigrant.  Just because he’s a separatist.

Written by angryfrenchguy

October 6, 2009 at 5:22 pm

120 Responses

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  1. The best of Quebec


    October 10, 2009 at 5:19 am

  2. The above is:
    Title: Petite Annonce Amoureuse
    Artists: Kate & Anna McGarrigle

    The main reason why I can conceive liking Quebec at the same time as liking Canada.

    But if you feel like liking Canada a bit more, here’s a great classic
    (My granddad, Will Lafleur, was a log driver in the earlier part of his life.)

    Title: The Log Driver’s Waltz
    Artists: Kate & Anna McGarrigle


    October 10, 2009 at 5:28 am

  3. Johnny:
    “it’s all about choice.
    all of it. everything.
    free will defines us as humans and distinguishes us from the beasts. no choice = no understanding of the difference between right and wrong = no morality = everything is ok?”

    Hmmm… I thought that it was art, literature, music and science that distinguished us from the beasts. Beasts in the wild have pretty much nothing but free choice.

    But as a conservative, you probably believe art, music and science are unwelcome impositions on ordinary citizens, who are forced against their will to pay taxes to support these unproductive wastes of time.


    October 10, 2009 at 2:45 pm

  4. edward,

    if you’re looking to branch off into a third perspective on choice – you might find yourself talking to a wall.

    you know as well as i do that the defining characteristics of human beings were listed quite nicely by rom tobbins well before i lost my sense of humour.

    i’ll be going to the waterhouse exhibit @ beaux arts sometime next month. i don’t think he was an artist subsidised by the state. You?


    October 10, 2009 at 6:20 pm

  5. Edward : «Hmmm… I thought that it was art, literature, music and science that distinguished us from the beasts. Beasts in the wild have pretty much nothing but free choice.

    Whoa there!
    If you go on like this, pretty soon you’ll be telling us that humans are evolved animals.

    You should know that real “free will” is the choice that God gave us in face of good and evil.


    October 10, 2009 at 7:17 pm

  6. Raman writes:

    “You should know that real “free will” is the choice that God gave us in face of good and evil.”

    …how about applying this principle to language of education in Quebec so that everyone — not just anglophones — can freely choose to send their children to either French or English publicly-funded schools?

    Tony Kondaks

    October 11, 2009 at 5:22 pm

  7. I see sarcasm is lost on you too, Tony.


    October 11, 2009 at 6:46 pm

  8. Does that mean you weren’t serious when you wrote “You should know that real ‘free will’ is the choice that God gave us in face of good and evil”?

    That makes sense to me…

    Tony Kondaks

    October 12, 2009 at 12:22 am

  9. For AFG:

    Apropos a previous thread. Read it and weep, AFG:


    Tony Kondaks

    October 12, 2009 at 1:32 pm

  10. I’m not sure what you want AFG to say about Johnson’s column, Tony. He’s just describing the theoretical underpinning of Falardeau’s opinions, and expressing what he thinks of those opinions. It’s his right, but it’s still only opinion of course. I still want to comment on two things he said:

    > In fact, the poem is entirely a fabrication. I never heard an English-speaker
    > say “speak white,” though it’s commonly evoked by French-speaking authors
    > and journalists.

    I believe it’s true that Johnson never heard anyone say this (neither did I, to be honest), but it doesn’t mean it’s never been a common phrase. Let’s face it: I’m young, from a time where such overt racist slurs aren’t socially acceptable anymore, and I’m quite sure nobody’s ever told Johnson to speak white. But this Yiddish-speaking columnist, for one, claims to have heard it quite often as a child (and proceeds to use it to ask Stéphane Dion to “speak white”). I think Bernard Landry also claimed people told him to “speak white” when he was doing his military service. I’m sure there’s no way to “prove” it was a commonly used expression, but it seems likely that it was the case.

    > The anglophobia that underlies separatism and is expressed in the poem (and
    > film) “Speak White,” probably the most recited and anthologized in the entire
    > Quebec corpus, constantly evoked, and never denounced for the racist forgery
    > that it is.

    I’m not sure what Johnson is trying to say here. He seems to say that Quebecers (okay, only “separatists”, which is probably defined as anyone who feels some attachment to the Quebec nation, regardless of whether they’re actually sovereigntists or not) are racist because they think anglophone Canadians are racist against them, which Johnson claims they aren’t. That’s convoluted as all hell, and seems contrived to smear Quebecers (“separatists”) with the label of racists, which we all know by then will stick as far as the anglophone psyche is concerned. Honestly “racist” isn’t the word that comes to my mind when I think of someone claiming (even falsely, which is something Johnson definitely hasn’t proven) that another people is bigoted against his people. But I guess Johnson is free to try.

    Hey, I’m thinking of something. Johnson says that we’re racist because we think anglophones are racist against us. Am I allowed to say that he’s racist because he thinks we’re racist against them because we think they’re racist against us, while they’re not actually racist against us, but he’s wrong and we’re not racist against them, they’re actually racist against us? :-p


    October 12, 2009 at 2:36 pm

  11. Tony,

    If you can read French, try reading something not from the Gazette. Furthermore, Falardeau didn’t die of lung cancer, as the article says. :-)

    Thomas Dean Nordlum

    October 12, 2009 at 3:30 pm

  12. Obelix:

    Note that the Landry example (in the army where there would be at least 75% anglophones from OUTSIDE Quebec making up the troops) and the yiddish guy from Winnipeg are giving examples from OUTSIDE Quebec.

    Like you, I never heard the expression either growing up in Quebec. Gee, I thought we (and Falardeau) were talking about Quebec.

    Tony Kondaks

    October 12, 2009 at 5:12 pm

  13. Obelix:

    Uh, you are aware, aren’t you, that William Johnson is a francophone?

    Tony Kondaks

    October 12, 2009 at 5:13 pm

  14. the language of an individual has zero bearing on the content of their message. i’m a racist, you’re a racist, she’s a racist, we are all racists, they are all racists. accusations are a dime a dozen.

    in any case, any individual worth their salt would never utter such a phrase as “speak white”.

    if ever a day comes that someone will attempt to intimidate me with, “speak some colour”, my first reaction would certainly be “f**k you”. i believe this would be the reaction of any self-respecting individual.

    as human beings, we are under no obliglation to converse with idiots. and scrapping with a bigot is a complete waste of time.


    October 12, 2009 at 9:41 pm


    «Le 12 octobre 1889, au cours des débats à la Chambre des communes, Henri Bourassa se fait huer par des députés anglophones. Quand il tente de s’expliquer en français, il se fait crier : « Speak White ! » [1] Le dictionnaire québécois-français a une entrée tirée d’un numéro de Maclean’s datant de 1963 : « For every twenty French Canadians you encounter in my house or yours, fifteen can affirm that they have been treated the discreditable “speak white”. » (Sur 20 Canadiens-français que vous rencontrez chez moi ou chez vous, 15 peuvent dire avoir été intimé ce méprisant speak white.) Dans la nuit du 9 décembre 1999, des vandales ont installé une banderole sur le pont séparant le Québec et l’Ontario où l’on pouvait lire : « From this point speak white! » (À partir d’ici, parlez blanc)[2].»


    October 12, 2009 at 9:59 pm

  16. Btw, in order to call the poem Speak White anglophobic and racist, one has to be seriously unable to understand poetry.


    October 12, 2009 at 10:03 pm

  17. 1889?
    get serious.

    in 1889 more than 2,000 people died in a flood in johnston pennsylvania., apparently because some wealthy individuals wanted a lake but not the responsibility of taking care of the dam.

    a litle perspective please. see previous post.


    October 12, 2009 at 10:44 pm

  18. « a litle perspective please. see previous post. »

    “Speak White” (the poem) decries over 200 years of French-Canadians being socially degraded and used as cheap labour.
    “speak White”, the expression, symbolizes the racist attitude that allowed the English overlords to keep that regime in place.

    Going back to 1889 seems to me like quite a lot of perspective.

    But here’s more recent for you :


    October 12, 2009 at 11:20 pm

  19. As of Raman’s post at 9:59 on Oct. 12, we now have four specific incidents of “speak white” recounted and all four take place outside of Quebec or involve non-Quebec anglos.

    Tony Kondaks

    October 13, 2009 at 12:43 am

  20. RE: Speak White

    How can one anecdotally prove something happened OR anecdotally prove something didn’t happen?

    It seems to me that Johnson’s and others’ assertions that it never happened are just as flimsy of those people who says it did.

    My wife says it happened to her – in Ontario. So there you have a fifth *anecdotal* report of the expression being used outside Quebec.

    I guess we should forget that probably few of us here grew up in the Quebec of the 50s and 60s, and that the social climate in Quebec had changed a lot from those years in the late 70s, 80s and 90s (the video is a good example).

    Though it is not proof, it is not a stretch either to think that the way francophones and their language were treated in Quebec in those days was that different from the ROC today, and that some were indeed told to speak white.


    October 13, 2009 at 1:37 am

  21. Acajack : «My wife says it happened to her – in Ontario. So there you have a fifth *anecdotal* report of the expression being used outside Quebec.»

    I guess, for some people, 1 million anecdotal evidences will always remain “just anecdotal evidence”…


    October 13, 2009 at 2:18 am

  22. This is all part of the “victimizer-portraying-himself-as-the-victim” BS that took hold in the latter part of the 20th century. You know, how white anglo males are supposedly the only group against whom it is acceptable to discriminate these days… the poor dears.

    In Canada in particular, Speak-White-is-a-fabrication is a key element of the propaganda campaign that aims to convince people that there never actually was even the slightest bit of discrimination against francophones in this country, and especially not in Quebec.


    October 13, 2009 at 7:54 am

  23. For the record, I lived in the ROC for more than 25 years and although I was personally insulted as a francophone in a variety of ways during that time, not once has anyone told me to speak white. Nor has anyone said that to me since I moved to Quebec. I have, however, been told to “speak Canadian”, and I think I am smart enough to know that it wasn’t the language of the original “Canadiens” they were referring to.

    I have also heard in response to French being spoken or requests for service in French, both in Quebec and outside the province, “We’re in Canada here, so speak English”, and also stuff like “I am Canadian, so speak to me in English”, or “Yeah, I speak only English… I am a Canadian”, or variations on these themes.


    October 13, 2009 at 8:13 am

  24. I have a new friend here who has an Anglophone mother and he told me a funny story about being a child with his brother and going to visit grandma and while playing on the floor, the old lady said, ”children children . . .speak white.”

    Thomas Dean Nordlum

    October 14, 2009 at 7:54 am

  25. 15 years ago, in my very own office, I was
    told by a peddler (a Concordia student from
    the east indies — judging from his accent)
    that I should speak english.

    Score another “anecdotal evidence”. Tony Con-
    daks and Gazette columnists obviously live in
    some kind of la-la lands.

    Johan Naeymaard

    October 14, 2009 at 9:04 am

  26. Angry French Guy, you could’ve saved us a lot of time if you just typed, “English Canada is more racist than Quebec and here’s an example (#456 to be precise) I pulled out of my ass to prove my dumb claim.” Because essentially that’s what you did, despite all the extra words to the contrary.
    Obviously Surin couldn’t have been a better businessman, a better schmoozer with more charisma, built better networks with more connections, have been a more interesting interview, have had more of a reason to stay relevant since he didn’t receive the endorsements Bailey did (which, Bailey probably could’ve retired and lived comfortably off of) etc. Nope, none of that has anything to do with anything. It’s all les maudit anglais proving yet again that they’re evil hicks, even if they didn’t know that they were on trial in the first place.


    October 19, 2009 at 8:11 am

  27. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by swanpr: Angry French Guy nails it once again 2/2…

    uberVU - social comments

    November 4, 2009 at 8:02 pm

  28. All you ever prove with your writing is how stupid inbred french faggots are.


    December 5, 2012 at 9:59 pm

  29. Bailey is famous all around the world. the USA even got him to race against Johnson in a big prime time special to declare who is the fastest man in the world.

    Quebec people don’t like him because he’s not from Quebec is what you’re saying. Fuck you filthy french frog pieces of fermenting human waste. Grow up.


    December 5, 2012 at 10:03 pm

  30. maybe it’s due to my close and long association with sotrps performance, but I do tend to see things more along the lines of a track and field coach when it comes to this issue.a0 Of course, too, we need to recognize that the per-workout inroads


    December 30, 2013 at 10:54 am

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