Monday, September 19, 2005


In light of the recent events in New Orleans, a friend recently asked me to share my experiences of racism up here in Montreal.

To start, I am a bit surprised that in this day and age racism in the US still exists to the degree that it does. There has been a very gradual move toward equality, but it seems it should be faster. I don't think it is because elders are passing on their beliefs to the youth and I don't think it is people have direct negative experiences with people of color. I think it boils down to social class and the evening news. Unfortunately, blacks and Hispanics make up a higher percentage of the poor. The poor are more likely to commit crimes due to the hardship in their lives. So it always seems like a disproportionate number of blacks and Hispanics are shown on the evening news having committed murders or thefts. I wouldn't blame the evening news other than possibly exaggerating stories for better ratings. But seeing this on a regular basis has an effect on people's psyche. There is also a fear/anxiety/ paranoia trend in the US (that I will touch on next week) which feeds all of this. Whether the response to Katrina was racial driven is debatable. But the disturbing thing is the vast difference between how blacks and whites viewed the response.

So... Regarding life here in Montreal. There is not the same kind of racism because there are very few African Americans. It is interesting because there are people with black skin, but they are either from Africa or the Caribbean. They make up a much smaller percentage of the population and they are primarily concentrated in the metropolitan area. To tell you the truth, it has been an odd experience being among people primarily composed of Western European ethnicities. Being poor doesn't seem to discriminate, so the people committing crimes don't fall into easily defined categories.

That said, there are some tensions. I once took a cab to the airport where the driver ranted about how all the immigrants were taking the jobs. I guess he didn't consider me one. There is also the francophone/anglophone tensions. I have never noticed any first hand, but have occasionally heard about them through the news. Also a couple people I know have made comments suggesting the francophones don't like those who display their loyalty to Canada. But that has been the vast minority of my experiences so far. I will talk more about the separatist movement later. Please note that these are the views and observations of one person with only a couple years experience in this new environment. Also, my understanding of the language is evolving and I may have been blissfully unaware of some things said. I hope to cover the language topic soon.


Unknown said...

Dear Frank -

First off, it's nice to see such an insightful article written. I just wanted to point out something I myself have noticed and is directly related to your observation that the majority of montrealers are "white" (whether or not they're canadians or immigrants is another story, as you mentioned!). But these demographics make for a horribly skewed perception of how prevelant racism actually is in this city. I'm fortunate enough to work in a lab with several immigrants who are obviously of a different nationality (a muslim, and asian, and a brazilian), and some of the stories i've heard are absolutely horrifying. Unfortunately, because they are the minority, their complaints are either not heard, or are completely muffled by all of us whites (myself included) saying "I haven't seen any problems!"... Of course we haven't observed any racism, because we're not the target of it! It's very easy to say racism in montreal isn't a problem, when you haven't experienced it first hand. I personally am getting very tired of the media and representatives of various institutions referring to these incidents as "isolated" - how many isolated occurrences does it take to make something a real problem?

demontreal said...

In Nov. Ill be visiting Montreal for the first time. I am an African American from Chicago. Many of us believe that racism exist everywhere but somehow it mightbe "watered down" in Canada. Is this the case? Are interacial couples givn a hard time? Are there any establishments or areas I should avoid?

Anonymous said...

I agree with your thoughts, however, racism in Montreal is hidden under a veil of political correctness. The problem is exactly that, political correctness (which is EXTREMELY strong in Montreal). Montrealers have to learn to stop pointing at other areas of the world and discussing their media hyped "problems" and start tackling the problems in their own backyards. Politicians never like to be the target of "negative criticism".

Joel West said...

I have personally found, living in Downtown Montreal that it is one of the MOST racist places that I have ever lived. People are not worried about skin colour, rather they are more worried about 'ethnic groups'.

I am an Anglophone Quebecker. I mentioned a passer by that I thought it looked like it might rain. He told me in broken English that he did not speak English. When I attempted to say the same thing in French (My French can be poor at times) he proceeded to help me out IN PERFECT ENGLISH.

As well, I have found that Antisemitism is rampant. A was chatting casually with a couple of mixed race, he was Caucasian, she was Negroid (not being from Africa she refrains from calling herself Afro anything). SHE mentioned to me that she found the city to be Antisemitic.

Anonymous said...

native people = Indian
first wave of immigrant = Quebecois
2nd, 3 ... immigrant = immigrant

I have been living in Montreal for 20 years and I haven`t realized thate there is a presence of racism or discrimination until I start to work or find a job.

The form of racism isn`t in a verbal way but more in the action of the Quebecois people. The ratio of employment by immigrants is far less than the ratio of the immigrant people living in Montreal in any department of employment.

We don`t find a job not because we are not educated. Statistic found more immigrants graduate from university than Quebecois. The reason behind this is that there is a bias employment recrutment in favor of Quebecois people in the government department and private sector based on racial name profile and not on the educational or experience profile.

There is another form of discrination in working area. Quebecois people tend to form a small group of friends among them in working area. Their priority is not working hard but more how to please the Quebecois manager or superviser such as going out after work or doing activities with them in the weekend. You might be the best but you will be fired not being able to please the supervisor.

Quebecois people complain and criticize a lot about immigrants but their efficiency at work is far less than immigrant since their priority is not working.

In order to hide this form of discrimination, Quebecois is willing to hire a few black people in every department to hide this form of discrimination. Just look at publicity, advertisement or poster and you will understand what I am talking about: Montreal is composed of Arab, Black, Asian, Romanian, italian....


I don`t hate Quebecois.
I don`t hate my unemployment status.
I just want to point out the reality of Montreal city.
I am like water. Put me an obstable and I will change direction accordingly.


This type of discrimination only weaken Montreal city. I hope it will change for the best if not well, I just change city.

Anonymous said...

Hi. I wanted to add to what other posters have written. When I initially arrived to this city 2.5 years ago (Asian Canadian, therefore an "anglo"), I had the naive perception that this city (considered a large one by Canadian standards) would be multicultural, so therefore, open-minded. I took intensive french classes immediately, as when one makes the decision to live in Quebec, it is naturally imperative to make efforts to fit in with the prevailing culture. So when I started my job, I believed that I would fit in fine. Despite my efforts to learn french and speak french to my colleagues (which admittedly, was unsuccessful; I needed more time to be able to speak), and my upbeat attitude, one particularly nasty group of people decided to target me; within 4 months, they managed to get me fired. Numerous colleagues (francophones, allophones) warned me about the smear campaign but all felt powerless to do anything.

Unfortunately, this incident just reinforced what other anglophone friends were telling me and experiencing themselves. I had managed to keep an open mind until this point, hoping to believe that such types of incidences were isolated. Unfortunately, I was proved wrong.

Anonymous said...

I am also an Asian Canadian. I've lived in Montreal for 20 years entirely. I graduated from Concordia 12 years ago, not being able to speak French back then, I've not been in the work place much. My husband is White Quebecois. We have always having a hard time here and there.Unexplainable. I have tried to deny there is a serious problem about racism in Montreal. Interracial couples could be given bad treatments.

I have also experienced the racist attitudes of the Montreal police. Nov 1th, I called 911 to report a damage on the window of my house from the previous evening(Halloween), the woman answered 911 told me to go to the police station myself. On the way to the police station, we saw a patrol car parked very near our house, I decided to stop and asked the policemen if they could come to look at our house. One man's attitude was rude, cold, arrogant, treating me like I was totally stupid(I could not speak well enough French, like my English)I decided to leave him and go to the station after all, but then he called me back and wouldn't let me go. He accused me raising my voice to him. When I told him he had also raised his voice to me and that was wrong, he went totally mad, he started swearing and threatened to arrest me. I told him "Go ahead to arrest me since I've done nothing wrong." He and his partner swore even more, and they gave me a ticket of "Screaming in the public".
Have any colored people out there ever experienced such racist police brutality?

Racism in Montreal is a problem many people hate to admit(even try to hide or furiously deny.)

Anonymous said...

I'm a San Diegan of Asian heritage, speak a bit of French, visiting Montreal for the first time. Most of the Montrealers are nice... but a significant enough of the people here gave off the same insecure vibe I got when I visited Lyon. Then in the RESO these people (maybe they're Montrealers... or tourists from Vichy France) started saying shit about the Chinese right behind me, trying to provoke a response. I have had several years of martial arts training and am quite sure I can take all four of them down. But they're French... and worse... they're Canadian... they should be scared. I'm done with the French-speaking world... and am sorry I wasted so many years learning that irrelevant language.

Anonymous said...

I am a Toronto-born Asian that has lived in Quebec for 3 years now. I have lived in Toronto for most of my life, but have seen most of the small towns in both Ontario and Quebec. It is interesting to see the difference in both the large cities and the small cities in both provinces.

Toronto: Growing up with friends from an extremely diverse background of ethnicities in Central Toronto, I grew up not noticing the colour of my skin or the colour of skin of my Indian, Irish, Vietnamese or Italian friends. We hung together, played baseball and ball hockey together and luckily never really thought about skin colour. Friendships were based moreso on who liked sports or who could have friends over to play Atari...

In small town Ontario, I experienced some discrimination in the form of snobbery, but that was more the exception and not the norm. Generally any initial coldness changes once I begin a warm conversation with someone at which point they have been quite responsive.

Enter Quebec. Here I am today a 30-plus year old, with a Masters degree and a comfortable living with my own business, and a Quebecois girlfriend. I constantly laugh at the fact that I rarely get a response when I say hello to a neighbor walking past, even though they make eye-contact (often a dirty look), and yet my Quebecois girlfriend gets the full-on hi, how are you the next day from the same neighbor when she is on her own. lol.

I have overheard my neighbor talking to another, saying that I must be a drug dealer because I am a "Chinois" (I am not, actually, but apparently all asians in Quebec are grouped together) with a fancy car, that works from home. I can't decide to laugh or swear.

Walking the streets hand in hand with my girlfriend draws a ridiculous amount of staring and pointing. Can't an Asian male and Quebecois female be a couple? I am blessed to have found someone as open as her.

I also remember a distinct conversation happening next to me about a girl telling another girl about how dirty, dumb and poor the Chinese were after seeing me warming up on a sports field with my Francophone teammates (who luckily have taken me in with kindness). I held my tongue, but may not have been so even-tempered on another day. I want to take it as an exception, but have been told from my Francophone teammate that Quebeckers are a racist people, thus the reason that I can make so many friends though sports in Ontario, and yet here am lucky to even be acknowledged. I don't want to believe it, but I feel it.

This is a cold city and a cold Province to those with a different skin colour. It is possible that the same proportion of people in Ontario feel the same way about minorities, but simply do a better job of hiding their prejudice views. I'll tell you this, if given a choice I'd rather be in a place where I believed I was welcome even if not true, than be reminded daily that I was a second-class citizen in the eyes of a large chunk of the population.

If it wasn't for the fact that the Quebec-market paid me so well, I'd be outta here on the next train back to Toronto. I hate to say it, but in the long term, this will not be the Province where I raise my children. Yes they will learn both languages for their benefit, but not in a place where the tension forces them to discover the hatred underlying the language-tension here.

So I have decided that I will be overly nice and open to all at first, knowing that I will get my fair share of ground-spitting pricks who will continue to treat me like dirt. For those that respond with kindness, thank you. To the rest, you can kiss my CANADIAN-BORN ASS.

Anonymous said...

Pure bullshit. I'm a visible minority who has lived in Peru, Brazil, England and Scotland. I now reside in Montreal where I have been for 14 years. I am in an interracial marriage with mixed children.

And I have to say that all of this is bullshit. Racism in montreal is near ZERO. The only racism I ever experienced is from police, but the people are some of the most accepting and loving people I have ever been around.

Maybe you people need to travel to other countries to realize how good it is here

Mommyof3 said...

I can relate to the posters above. As a black Ontario born married to a Laotian husband with three mixed children, we got no glances when we were in Ontario.People would comment how cute our kids were etc.. in Montreal, they look at my family like we are aliens.

I have been living in Montreal for about ten years now. At first, I thought it was great. I thought the rudeness everyone showed me was due to me not speaking french well. I went to classes and learned and thought I fixed my problem, until realized that now I could actually understand the insults that were being said to me.

As a mom, I get so annoyed that so many people will swear in English in inappropriate places.I remember going to a certain popular restaurant that will go unnamed. The people at the next table kept swearing so loudly. My husband politely asked the waiter if they could mention to them to lower their voices. I even turned to them and told them to please mind their language because of my kids. That began a tirade of insults from professional people ! They said nasty things about me being a 'ch-nk lover and a n-ggr 'and comments about my husband's manhood etc. all infront of my kids ! When I corrected them about my husband being Laotian, they told him to go back to his country. We had no support from the staff and the other patrons were sitting there agreeing with them ! The manager actually asked us to leave, saying that we were making a scene. When I called to place a complaint, I was hung up on, and when I went to talk to the owner, he told me to leave or he would call the police.I will never go back !

Even my kids experience such racism at school and two of them were born in Quebec. Their are the little things like parties at classmates homes and things. My daughter was so upset because only the "white french" children were ever getting invited to parties, her and her 2 other coloured classmates were not invited. And at my daughter's birthday, even though we invited all the kids politely,only the little nigerian boy and middle eastern girl showed up. It is so different from the experience in Ontario, where there are so many different people, colour is rarely ever an issue.

Honestly, if it was not for my husband having a good position here, we would have left long ago. I think also to be fair, we were trying so hard to give it a try,because once you get past the people, it really is a pretty city. It has had a huge toll on our marriage. I am actually considering moving back to Ontario and staying with my parents in St Catherines until my husband's permission for transfer goes through.

Léo said...

i am chinese living in montreal for very longtime already.
i had been together with a québécoise woman for about 9 years.
everywhere we go....people from different background ( white and immigrants especially white immigrants) alway stare at us......they think it is like what the fuck i am doing with this white woman.....all the is like that i am not allow to be with a white woman....people in montreal immigrants or not are all so weird.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that people call those Frenchies "Natives". They are not natives. We, Native Indians are natives. Everyone else are "Immigrants" Whites,Blacks,Asians, Indians, etc..They all "Immigrants". I tell everyone "Welcome to my country"

Ne said...

Dear Frank : Nice to see this topic floating. I've been hearing only negative things about Quebeckers. I had decided to immigrate to Quebec but now i'm going to reconsider my decision. I think I should live in toronto and visit MTL for vacations. Sad. i'm an asian born in the US. My Husband is Asian too.

And yes, Quebekers- just so you know, you were not the "owners" of Quebec or Canada. The Indians were m we are all immigrants and you have come from Europe.

Anonymous said...

By being a Black-American, I have visited Montreal in March 2010 and I found there was rudeness mainly from the immigrants that have migrated to Canada. I stayed at the Comfort Inn and upon check, the attendant check my room to see if I stole anything. Since I paid for my room in cash with a personal check hold, the clerk stated to me, "next time we can't take that payment like that." Of course my Chicago came out and I don't give a DAMN what part of the World I am in..CHICAGO WILL COME OUT AND BUYER BEWARE AND BARACK AIN'T GOT NOTHING TO DO WITH IT BECAUSE HE IS NOT FROM CHICAGO, WE SOUTH SIDERS MADE HIM!! I corrected sister girl and told her,"WHAT A DUMP, IT WON'T BE A NEXT TIME."

Also, I find that the Blacks in CANADA are not friendly to other BLACKS..It's like being in ARIZONA AND SEATTLE, WASHINGTON!But the sterotype from the USA of we Black Americans is from our own country... which historcially have been lies and insults,therefore; historically we have left the USA, especially entertainers!! But all in all, CANADA IS A NICE COUNTRY

Anonymous said...

I am American African and I was thinking of moving to Montreal in 2 years before my daughter starts high school. I want her to speak French fluently and both of us to be free to be ourselves. I was born and raised in Detroit but I never fit in or felt accepted.

Unknown said...

i am an immigrant myself from north africa. i have settled in mtl since my arrival in 2012. i am white so i have not faced any direct discrimination. The real discrimination for me resides in emplyoment. i have done several jobs well below my qualifications. discrimination in hirring in qc is so real compared to to rest of canada and the usa. its very simple to prove just check through linkedin by checking percentage of non quebeckers employees in the gov and private sector. percentage is well below demographics distribution in mtl.

Unknown said...

Un des article parmi les plus stupides jamais écrit et les commentaires viennent tous d'angryphone racistes incapable de dire deux mots en français au Québec. Pour les moins ignorants si vous voulez qui est le plus raciste aller voir le site OFFICIEL de Statistiques Canada ....vous allez rire à plein poumon de ces xénophobes du Dominion.������