AngryFrenchGuy

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. Acajack writes:

    “English schools in Quebec are actually more of a relic of colonialism than anything else.”

    If English schools in Quebec were a relic of colonialism, English would be the ONLY language of education in Quebec.

    Both the English and French were HUGE colonial powers. The difference between them in North America is that the English were successful and the French weren’t. However, if you were to examine the “scorecard” as it were between these two colonial powers worldwide, you’d see that the French were a more successful colonial power than the English.

    But pettiness and the spirit of colonialism is alive and well in Quebec in the hate law/race law Bill 101.

    Tony Kondaks

    October 7, 2009 at 10:35 pm

  2. right you are again obelix.

    in the usa on the fed level is the Dept of Education – meddling in the affairs of the states.

    what are you gonna do? politicians are constantly shooting themselves in the foot. and if they’re not doing that they’re off in a corner planning to stab someone in the back.

    i believe the adq were on the right track when they suggested the decentralisation of the school system in quebec would beneficial – too much power in too few hands. decisions could be made by communities.
    vouchers anyone? parents send the kids to the school of their choice. choice – there’s that bad word again – has the same effect on politicians as sunlight on vampires.

    but acajack thinks parents should not be making decisions for their children like this – don’cha there sunshine?

    johnnyonline

    October 7, 2009 at 10:43 pm

  3. I’m not sure what you’re trying to do johnnyonline. Acajack’s saying that the separate English-language school system in Quebec, while it owes its existence to the legacy of colonialism or to pragmatism, can be seen today as an example of accommodation for a minority. Since Quebec funds it, it is under no obligation to allow its use by anyone but this minority. When Quebec (or anyone or anything) decides to be generous, they shouldn’t expect that this generosity will be used against them in the future, or else what is the incentive to be generous?

    I guess you disagree with his position, but it’s still a reasonable one. But you’re pretty much claiming he must be drunk to think that. Can you please debate honestly and allow that people can disagree with you?

    Obelix

    October 7, 2009 at 11:05 pm

  4. you and me and acajack are quebec (i guess raman and marc and agf too ;) and maybe tony and yeah antonio too – the government of quebec which is a different animal altogether is in place as a trusted servant with powers.

    the funds directed in the society are our funds – our money. governments do not create money – they spend it – it is the fruit of our labour and generousity plays no role in this whatsoever. they are temporary stewards.

    i have never once complained that my children could not have gone to the school of their choice in quebec. french or english – the choice was always there. however it is entirely strange that my neighbour mandip’s children do not have that choice – it is just plain bizarre. i can live with it, he can live with it, we all do live with it but that does not make it right or healthy for our society.

    please remind acajack that my legitimate concerns, no scratch that… let me remind him myself.. again… my legitimate and reasonable position can be disagreed with and debated honestly without being distorted. it would be terribly dull on this blog if everyone agreed with me no?

    and obelix – i’m sorry if you felt that i portrayed acajack as a misguided and drunken idiot – that was a portrayal of somebody who looks like me NOT him – feeling sorry for myself and getting drunk because he angers me with his ease in twisting my words and defending the compromise of individual liberty in the name of some great state plan. he is skillful in this regard and i admire it from a distance because:

    one would think that the colossal failure of communist russia would have convinced anyone and everyone to run the other way at the mere mention of central planning. not acajack tho’ – i believe he is a secret government mole. :-)

    johnnyonline

    October 8, 2009 at 12:14 am

  5. Maybe you think it would be better if the government had no business in education at all, johnnyonline. (And I am really saying “maybe”; I’m not sure if that’s what you’re actually advocating.) This is a position I disagree with since I think offering important public services is part of what the government is for. But nobody can reasonably say that the concept of public education shows us a glimpse of Soviet Russia. Every country in the world except perhaps failed states like Somalia has a public education system. And as long as the government is involved in education, the government can decide how public education will be dispensed, and should strive toward the collective good.

    Obelix

    October 8, 2009 at 12:47 am

  6. and so it comes full circle:
    yes the government has a role in education and no i do not advocate government getting out of education.

    and this is where the two subjects of choice and education intertwine if only for a moment:

    when individual liberty (in this case choice) is compromised by government law then the collective good (society) has been damaged. the moment law mandates a collective good at the expense of individual liberty, each and every citizen’s remaining rights are in jeopardy.

    so while it is easy to ignore such a trifling event because on the surface it appears to be nominally good and practically speaking, harmless; the truth and history have shown innumerable times that tyranny is not an “if” but a “when”.

    and “when” that happens (whenever it inevitably does) – the government no longer works for you, your rights or your “collectivity” (a marxist concept). in fact, “when” that happens you work for the “government”.

    i recommend a short book entitled “a day in the life of ivan denisovich” by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – that ought to illustrate my point nicely.

    johnnyonline

    October 8, 2009 at 1:28 am

  7. Kondaks : «French-language schools, a minority language in Canada.»

    Damn, so you mean that you don’t have any clue about Canada’s constitution at all, after writing a whole book that pretends to solve Quebec’s sovereign movement?!!

    Raman

    October 8, 2009 at 1:31 am

  8. johnnyonline,

    Wait there, I think I lost a step there:
    When you mention socialism and the dangers of government imposing collective good at the expense of individual liberty, you did mean American states being totalitarian by enforcing a single language on ALL their citizens, right?

    Raman

    October 8, 2009 at 1:41 am

  9. littlerob:
    > @ Obelix–yes, education here is in the hands of the states, and while a state
    > could theoretically have a public school system in a language other than
    > English, I don’t think it will happen soon. A theoretical separate
    > Spanish-language school system, for instance, would run up against over
    > 50 years of case law mandating desegregation of schools, for one thing.

    Let’s say that Puerto Rico becomes a state. Could they maintain a single Spanish-language public school system, as I believe is currently the case? Or a bilingual system?

    Obelix

    October 8, 2009 at 1:52 am

  10. …Wow, what a rich day.
    Between Kondaks’ “Fatherland” allusions and johnnyonline wisely warning us against the dangers of totalitarianism, I’m starting to wonder what Quebec has done to merit so much suspicion.
    You’d think it wouldn’t be worse if we’d started 2 World wars and exterminated 6 million Anglos.

    Raman

    October 8, 2009 at 1:56 am

  11. 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?

    no?

    does any of this make sense to anyone or am i just talking to the wall?

    and that was really funny raman – ha ha ha.

    johnnyonline

    October 8, 2009 at 2:39 am

  12. Raman:” i am starting to wonder what Quebec has done to merit so much suspicion”
    The Quebec bashing is a practical way for english canadians to be racists without consequences: to blame Quebec or quebecers is ok everywhere in Canada, it’s even politically correct. Look at Star or the globe and mail readers commentaries EVERYDAY SINGLE DAY, Quebec is responsable for everything’s going bad, in Canada,and abroad. They don’t want us to exist in french, they don’t want us to be different from them, and the equation you speak french, so you are racist is well alive. I think it’s even unconscious..

    midnightjack

    October 8, 2009 at 3:08 am

  13. hum..i mean every single day…sorry for the mistake..

    midnightjack

    October 8, 2009 at 4:07 am

  14. @ Obelix: Good question. I don’t know. There has been some talk here to the effect that one of the conditions for admitting Puerto Rico as a state should be a requirement that it change its educational system to English-only. I don’t know if Constitutional law permits that kind of Federal intervention in the affairs of a state, and I don’t think such an idea is workable in practice.

    Under the current state of affairs a Puerto Rican kid, who has all the rights of an American citizen, loses his/her right to be educated exclusively in Spanish once s/he moves to the mainland.

    littlerob

    October 8, 2009 at 6:01 am

  15. Johnnyonline:

    “When individual liberty (in this case choice) is compromised by government law then the collective good (society) has been damaged. the moment law mandates a collective good at the expense of individual liberty, each and every citizen’s remaining rights are in jeopardy.”

    All individual liberties are compromised by governement laws.

    I pay taxes despite it compromising my right to property.

    If I hire people, I have to pay them at least minimum wages, which compromises my right to property.

    If I receive a subpoena, I have to go testify in court, even if it restricts my right of movement.

    If I build a house, I have to respect the Building Code, which compromises my right to property.

    If I commit a crime, I can be jailed, which compromises my freedom.

    Etc.

    In fact, I cannot find a law which doesn’t compromise at least one right or freedom.

    So your argument seems a little bogus to me.

    FX

    October 8, 2009 at 7:53 am

  16. “Good question. I don’t know. There has been some talk here to the effect that one of the conditions for admitting Puerto Rico as a state should be a requirement that it change its educational system to English-only. I don’t know if Constitutional law permits that kind of Federal intervention in the affairs of a state, and I don’t think such an idea is workable in practice.
    Under the current state of affairs a Puerto Rican kid, who has all the rights of an American citizen, loses his/her right to be educated exclusively in Spanish once s/he moves to the mainland.”

    Everything I have read about Puerto Rican statehood points to language (English vs. Spanish) as being a significant stumbling block. Of course, there is also the fact that PR is much poorer than any existing state, quite a ways behind Mississippi even.

    This may be so much the case today, but historically the perceived “anglo-ness” of regions was a big factor in admitting them to the Union. Boundaries in the West were often drawn up so that anglo settler populations were more numerous than other groups in a new state, or they simply waited until enough anglo settlers had moved in to outnumber the existing population before creating a new state.

    They did make an exception for Hawaii, which has never been close to being majority anglo in the broadly ethnic sense, but did have a majority of primarily English-speaking people (most of whom are of Asian or Polynesian origin there) when it was admitted to the Union.

    Acajack

    October 8, 2009 at 8:13 am

  17. “Many of the Hispanics in New Mexico and southeastern Colorado have been there for a long time. I have met one who said that part of her family had been living in the area since the 17th century. And she still spoke Spanish”

    Yes, and I believe a lot of these people (especially New Mexicans) actually came directly there from Spain and were not in any way people who settled in Mexico first and then moved north.

    But I have never read of any type of societal organization (including schools of course) put in place in this region by either the Spaniards or Mexicans in this area. Maybe I am wrong.

    Acajack

    October 8, 2009 at 8:38 am

  18. Getting back to the original topic, I was thinking of how my mom used to always cheer for teams from Quebec. Be they professional like the Canadiens, Expos or Alouettes, or also amateur, like Quebec’s representatives at the Memorial Cup junior hockey tournament. If I was watching a sporting event
    and she came and sat down with me for a bit, instinctively, she would cheer for the Laval Rouge et Or or the Océanic de Rimouski, or the Quebec rink (team) at the Brier curling championship.

    Now, my mom is a died-in-the-wool francophone from outside Quebec (FHQ). She has never in her entire life been a resident of Quebec. As far as I know, all of her family tree is non-Québécois. And like many francophones from outside Quebec, she has a number of “issues” with Quebecers, including of course the whole independence question. Also like many francophones from outside Quebec, she sometimes finds Quebecers a bit odd – in the sense that they are quite different from FHQs in ways that she doesn’t expect or want them to be. Most FHQs tend to think that Quebecers should be just like them (since they started out as the same, single “people” or “people” way back when).

    But in spite of all those “issues”, there is still among many FHQs that pull in their guts that tells them that people from Quebec are part of their “us”.
    My observation is that among the younger generation of FHQs, which is much more integrated into the (anglo) ROC mainstream than their parents or grandparents were and is often indifferent to francophone culture, the identification of Quebecers as part of their “us” is fading away.

    Acajack

    October 8, 2009 at 3:42 pm

  19. @ Acajack: I believe that another exception to the rule you posit was Louisiana, admitted to the Union in 1812, at a time when I believe (no reliable data exists AFAIK) it was majority francophone.

    One thing you can always count on here is that every time an English/Spanish language issue comes up—the Puerto Rican statehood debate is no exception—someone on the “English only” side will say something like, “if we aren’t careful, we’ll wind up like Canada! We don’t want that, do we?!”

    littlerob

    October 8, 2009 at 6:44 pm

  20. littlerob,

    i often wish the canadian charter of rights was as well written as the american constitution – that the powers of the state/government were as clearly delineated.

    while the legacy of common law (largely unwritten) is a great foundation, the real difference in approach is pragmatic vs orthodox.

    it is very difficult to contend the american way is not the greatest the world has ever seen – but, the really good thing about the canadian approach is that it is adaptive and has been built in stages like a large house. the foundations are strong enough to take many more floors.

    of course on the downside (no pun intended) the double edge presents itself and dictates that there is nothing to say it cannot write itself into a structure that will collapse under the weight of its own regulations.

    and we certainly wouldn’t want to do that.

    johnnyonline

    October 8, 2009 at 8:05 pm

  21. Acajack:
    > Most FHQs tend to think that Quebecers should be just like them (since they
    > started out as the same, single “people” or “people” way back when).

    It seems to me that anglophones would like this as well. In my discussions with them, the concept that francophones in Quebec and outside Quebec are culturally different, with Quebecers’ identity tied to the territory of Quebec and with being a majority there (even if weak), seems to be a major stumbling block.

    littlerob:
    > One thing you can always count on here is that every time an English/Spanish
    > language issue comes up-—the Puerto Rican statehood debate is no exception
    > -—someone on the “English only” side will say something like, “if we aren’t
    > careful, we’ll wind up like Canada! We don’t want that, do we?!”

    The “English only” side is likely to lean to the political right, and probably sees Canada as a failed experiment in multiculturalism and political correctness, as well as socialist! healthcare. I’m not surprised that Canada’s linguistic duality is also a negative thing for these folks, but I’m not exactly going to take their claims at face value.

    Obelix

    October 8, 2009 at 11:34 pm

  22. ” I believe that another exception to the rule you posit was Louisiana, admitted to the Union in 1812, at a time when I believe (no reliable data exists AFAIK) it was majority francophone.”

    It’s tough to find data as you say. From what I have read, the constitutional convention in 1811 that led to statehood was made up of a half French, half anglo group of free white men. So the white population was likely half franco and half anglo at the time as well.

    Note that about half of Louisiana’s population of 75,000 at the time was made up of black slaves.

    Acajack

    October 9, 2009 at 9:11 am

  23. “It seems to me that anglophones would like this as well. In my discussions with them, the concept that francophones in Quebec and outside Quebec are culturally different, with Quebecers’ identity tied to the territory of Quebec and with being a majority there (even if weak), seems to be a major stumbling block.”

    These days, most people in the ROC have few issues with the francophones that live among them (in many areas there are very few, but in some places they may make up a good proportion of the population). They speak English “when spoken to” and are seen as loyal, good Canadians (and in fact ROC francophones are some of the most fiercely patriotic Canadians you will find). That’s why many Anglo-Canadians tend to see ROC francophones as something of an ideal model for Quebec’s francophones.

    Acajack

    October 9, 2009 at 9:15 am

  24. “I realized we were two distinct societies”

    No shit, Sherlock.

    So you’re a separatist because Quebec is different culturally from the ROC and the ROC doesn’t care about Quebec. Sorry to have to break it to you, but that’s how things work. People just don’t care. I doubt an average guy in BC will care about Nova Scotia either. Likewise, your average Jean from Trois-Rivieres won’t care about Alberta. C’est la vie. That’s no grounds for tearing the country apart. Two distinct societies can still be part of the same country.

    allophone

    October 9, 2009 at 2:32 pm

  25. @ johnny/Obelix: There is an oddball thing about the issue of how the Constitution would apply to potential Congressional intervention in the affairs of the educational system of a future state of Puerto Rico. The “English-only” people, who are mostly conservatives who traditionally oppose the extension of Federal power at the expense of that of the states, would find themselves supporting Federal intervention in favor of English, while supporters of Spanish, who I suspect would be mostly liberals and lefties who have traditionally looked favorably on the extension of Federal power, would for once be on the side of states’ rights.

    @ johnny—don’t forget the legacy of civil law in Québec. We have that here too, but only in Louisiana.

    @ Acajack—It would be interesting to know what language(s) black Louisianians spoke in 1812, but I suspect there is no way to find out. My guess, though, ranked in order of number of speakers, would be 1) Pidgin or Creole French; 2) French; 3) English, probably creolized. I am pretty sure that blacks made the transition from French to English more quickly than whites did after statehood.

    littlerob

    October 9, 2009 at 4:21 pm

  26. allophone : «That’s no grounds for tearing the country apart. »

    Apparently, many of us disagree.

    If we lived in a real federation maybe…

    Raman

    October 9, 2009 at 5:43 pm

  27. allophone : «I doubt an average guy in BC will care about Nova Scotia either.»

    No, but Cod Co., from the Maritimes, were known coast to coast. So were the Kids in the Hall, from Toronto. So is Sarah mclachlan…
    Opposite, any Quebec production or artist, no matter its qualities, faces a wall of indifference beyond Canada’s linguistic borders. (In fact, Quebec productions are more likely to receive attention in Europe and Asia than in the RoC.)

    But you’re completely right : That’s a natural fact. And I’m not complaining about it. Nor am I saying in any way that Anglo-Canadians are somehow bigoted in not being interested by French-speaking culture.
    Again, it’s a natural reality.

    The problem is how the RoC tries to exist as if this reality, this language barrier, didn’t exist (and was a separatist invention). Canada lives within the myth that we’re all one great happy nation, and that French is but a local quirk which shouldn’t really matter for anybody.

    -That simply doesn’t concord with the cultural reality.

    A true federation would take this fact into account. But Canada only pays lip service the its federative constitutional principles.
    So, in face of that, separation is the only option that could possibly adjust the political and ethnological realities.

    Sorry if, to you, that means breaking up “your” country.
    As far as we’re concerned, Quebec is our state. And, in fact, that’s how the fathers of the federation had intended it. That’s the condition under which we joined this so-called federation.

    Quebec nationalists are only asking the Roc to respect its engagements. And when you guys refuse, then we become separatists.

    Raman

    October 9, 2009 at 6:02 pm

  28. raman,

    please do not confuse “us” with “you guys”.

    you work on the contractual obligations and i’ll work on less intrusive government.

    we’ll get a lot more done and faster working together.

    johnnyonline

    October 9, 2009 at 8:06 pm

  29. littlerob,

    “The “English-only” people, who are mostly conservatives who traditionally oppose the extension of Federal power at the expense of that of the states, would find themselves supporting Federal intervention in favor of English, while supporters of Spanish, who I suspect would be mostly liberals and lefties who have traditionally looked favorably on the extension of Federal power, would for once be on the side of states’ rights.”

    a confirmation that politics makes for strange bedfellows.

    that prospect is hilarious. thanks for that.

    johnnyonline

    October 9, 2009 at 8:25 pm

  30. Raman,

    “That’s the condition under which we joined this so-called federation.”

    That is not completely accurate. There was no referendum or any other form of direct democracy asking Quebec to join Canada in 1867. It was the Quebec politicians such as George-Étienne Cartier who forced Quebec into the so-called federation. The people were not consulted and if they were, I suspect the answer would have been no.

    So, Quebec did not join Canada in the strictest sense.

    Antonio

    October 9, 2009 at 10:18 pm


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