Saturday, October 15, 2016

On Genteel Racism

On Genteel Racism: Ever since French aristocrat Arthur de Gobineau helped legitimize "scientific" racism in the 19th century (with his writings), there have been numerous cultural consequences. First in Europe, and later in the Americas, the idea that people could be categorically separated and classified according to certain genetic traits or physical features spread like wildfire. From anthropologists measuring skull sizes to psychologists recommending lobotomies (eugenics), "scientists" started to take racial theories to extreme lengths by the early 1900s. Yet what was particularly intriguing about the rise of scientific racism was how much it permeated Western culture in song, dance, art, advertising, and cuisine. Regarding song and dance, minstrel shows ("Jump Jim Crow") and blackface actors were widespread well into the 20th century. As for advertising, the creation of a character like Bibendum (by the Michelin tire company) has dubious origins at best (esp. since tires are generally black). Perhaps most controversial with cuisine is the nickname "jimmies" for chocolate sprinkles, which remains popular even today throughout the Northeastern region of the United States.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

On Québécois Separatism

On Québécois Separatism: At the bottom of Quebec's license plates it reads "Je me souviens," which translates from French to English as "I remember." For decades, the meaning of this phrase has been debated among Canadians. The phrase dates back to the 1880s, when the architect of Quebec's provincial Parliament had it carved into the stone above the main doorway. That architect, Eugene Taché, never left an explanation of the phrase's meaning. But in the early 1900s, the phrase became adopted as Quebec's official motto. And early historians of Quebec's heritage began to reconcile the phrase with Canada's colonial past. Ever since Canada gained its independence from Britain in 1867, there had been a large constituency of French-speaking people in Quebec who resented ever being subjected to British rule. By the mid-twentieth century, however, Canadian historians started to see the phrase more as a rallying cry for the Quebec sovereignty movement. Thus, whenever the phrase "Je me souviens" gets uttered, it's a reminder for the people of Quebec to recall the days of Jacques Cartier, Samuel de Champlain, and New France. Days when French Jesuits missionized the natives while settling the St. Lawrence River. Days before Quebec became part of British Canada.