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After Legault says Quebec has no racism problem, Black Quebecers disagree
MONTREAL -- For almost 30 years, Seeta Ramdass worked in public relations in the health-care sector. She says she had one boss, more than a decade ago, who she’s never forgotten.
He’d say, she recalls, “that I was a lucky little… n-word to have a job of this prominence.”
That “no one's going to hire a woman who’s Black, with a name like Seeta Ramdass. No one is going to hire you in Quebec.”
She says she complained, but not much came of it. And eventually, she lost her job.
“I was told by an all-white administration that I was not needed,” she said.
“I was the only visible minority, the only anglophone, the only person of colour, the oldest, the one with the most experience—in a CIUSSS that has a large visible minority and ethnic population.”
Events south of the border in the last two weeks have sparked an outpouring of stories from Quebecers. They want it known that the racism that has sparked marches and riots across the U.S. is not just a problem there.
Tennis star Félix Auger-Aliassime spoke of his father being stopped by a police officer, seemingly for no reason, while driving his Mercedes.
“She tells him, basically makes him understand, that it's pretty odd or pretty rare to see people of colour driving this type of vehicle in the neighborhood,” Auger-Aliassime said.
Alouettes coach Khari Jones said he received vile letters when he played football in Winnipeg: “Calling my wife names, calling my just-born child just horrible names, and then it just got violent… with him saying ‘I hope someone shoots you,’” he recounted.
And Lionel Carmant, Quebec’s junior health minister, says he’s also been racially profiled.
“It happened to me a few times when I was younger,” Carmant said. “For no reason, I was stopped and asked why was I in this neighborhood.”
On Monday, Premier François Legault said he believed that only a very small minority of Quebecers were racist and that there was no bigger problem of systemic racism.
“I don't see a system, an organized system, in the police community or anywhere,” Legault said.
Seeta Ramdass calls those comments a type of whitewashing of the truth.
“I don't know where he’s getting his data from, or where he’s getting his information from, but there’s plenty of systemic racism that exists,” she said.
While Legault seemed to suggest that “systemic” meant an intentional, methodical system of discrimination, the term “systemic racism” refers to the idea that organizations and societal institutions, such as health care, housing and the justice system, routinely end up creating or perpetuating inequalities, even if the individual workers in those institutions don’t believe they’re doing so.
For his part, Carmant has been supporting the party line, saying he doesn’t think all the known problems do amount to systemic racism.
At the same time, he says he tells young Black people that to succeed, they need to work harder and be better than others.
This weekend, the West Island Black Community Association is holding a virtual town hall, via Zoom, to discuss racism in Quebec.